skin care

What Is Niacinamide? The Lowdown on This Superstar Skincare Ingredient

By June 7, 2021 No Comments

Niacinamide has taken the world by storm, flaunting a plethora of skin benefits—from smoothing wrinkles and evening skin tone to treating skin conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea. But is it truly effective or just another fad?

The truth is, niacinamide has a ton of studies backing up these benefits. And it’s kind of a unicorn of a skincare product: It has a low risk of irritation while still delivering powerful results. Everyone’s skin is different, so whether an ingredient is popular or not, you need to make sure it fits into the right skincare routine for your skin. But it’s worth considering adding niacinamide as a skincare staple. But before you do, you should know its benefits and how to integrate it into your routine for the most impact.

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide) is a form of vitamin B3 (niacin) and is used as a topical in skincare. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, so our bodies mostly don’t produce niacin on their own. We can convert some tryptophan into niacin1, but primarily, we need to consume vitamin B3 through foods or supplements. Or, in the case of our skin, we can use it as a topical to send the benefits of niacin right where we want them.

While niacinamide is generally used for skincare, nicotinic acid (the other main form of niacin) is found in food and supplements. When used as a topical, nicotinic acid is more likely to cause irritation and flushed skin2, so you want to avoid that in any vitamin B3 creams or serums. Niacinamide, on the other hand, has a low chance of irritation, so it’s better suited to skincare.

What are the benefits of niacinamide?

As a skincare ingredient, niacinamide benefits all skin types. And we are here for it.

Smooths fine lines and wrinkles

Niacinamide plays an important role in reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

Wrinkles in the face are linked to collagen health. Collagen serves as a flexible, supple support network in the skin. When collagen production drops (a natural process of aging) or collagen health isn’t maintained, wrinkles and fine lines form.

Oxidative stress as we age causes collagen to break down and collagen production to drop3. Niacinamide is an antioxidant, so it’s ideal for counteracting oxidative stress, thereby supporting collagen health. Studies show that niacinamide increases antioxidants in the skin4 and stimulates collagen production. Say goodbye to premature skin aging.

Repairs the effects of sun damage

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.” Additionally, “skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.” So, we need to protect our skin from the harmful effects of UV rays that we’re inevitably exposed to.

Sunscreen, while important, only provides partial protection from the effects of sunlight5. Niacinamide can prevent UV damage6 and repair DNA7 after sun exposure, making it a great complement to your SPF.

Eases skin sensitivity

If you have sensitive skin or if you’re getting used to a new skincare regimen that’s making your skin more sensitive, niacinamide may help reduce redness8 and ease irritation.

Niacinamide thickens the outer layer of your skin9 (also known as the skin barrier), which provides more protection against irritants.

So if you’re concerned about skin sensitivity while starting a new skin treatment (such as with retinol or retinoids), adding niacinamide can help counteract some of the side effects as your skin adapts to your new regimen.

Remedies sallow skin

Sallow skin, or yellowing of the skin, can be improved with niacinamide. Skin sallowing is due to something called the Maillard reaction, which is one of the oxidative processes that occur in the skin10. It’s a natural process of aging. One study showed that niacinamide significantly reduced sallowness over a 12-week trial11.

Evens skin pigmentation

Hyperpigmentation (aka uneven skin tone) shows up as melasma, freckles, or dark spots or patches. Niacinamide can help make skin pigment more even. It works by inhibiting the enzymes involved in melanin production12.

It’s a comparable treatment for melasma to the more traditional hydroquinone with fewer side effects13. Another study found niacinamide to be effective for decreasing hyperpigmentation in Japanese women14.

Treats acne

Treating breakout-prone skin often takes some experimentation to find what works for you. Antibiotics are a crucial part of some treatment plans to keep acne-causing bacteria from returning. Niacinamide has anti-inflammatory properties, so it can take the place of other antibiotics in treating acne.

Clindamycin is one antibiotic often used in acne treatments, but it has a risk of creating bacterial resistance. In other words, the bacteria on your skin can become resistant to clindamycin and stick around. Niacinamide doesn’t have the risk of creating bacterial resistance, so it’ll continue to fight acne. In comparing niacinamide to clindamycin, one clinical trial found that it was just as effective, if not more, at improving inflammatory acne15.

Shrinks pores by regulating oil production

Enlarged pores are caused by the build-up of oil (sebum), dead skin cells, and other debris in the pores. When you reduce build-up, pores can shrink back to their original size. Niacinamide helps by slowing down oil production16, so there’s less build-up.

What are the side effects of niacinamide?

Good news: There are virtually no side effects to using this superstar skincare ingredient. Niacinamide is generally non-irritating for most people17, while others will experience a small amount of irritation that will subside with consistent use.

The higher the concentration, though, the more risk you run of experiencing redness or dermatitis. Most studies have been with formulations of 2–5% niacinamide. So, even though there are serums on the market in the 15–20% range, 5% is plenty to reap the benefits of this amazing active ingredient.

How to integrate niacinamide into your skincare routine

While other skincare actives can be delicate, niacinamide is a stable compound. It won’t likely be affected by your other skincare ingredients, light, or oxidation. You can use niacinamide products whenever it’s convenient for you. But there are a couple of reasons you should consider it as part of your nighttime skincare regimen.

Pop quiz: Remember the relationship between niacinamide and UV rays? Niacinamide can repair DNA and prevent UV damage after sun exposure. So it’s ideal for nourishing your skin at the end of the day.

It’s commonly thought that niacinamide and vitamin C don’t mix, but that could be a myth. Beauty publication Byrdie interviewed cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski on the matter. He says those claims are based on outdated research. So if you want to use niacinamide and vitamin C at the same time, the two are unlikely to have an adverse reaction. Regardless, vitamin C is better suited to your morning routine to prep your skin for UV exposure.

As always, start slow and with a low concentration to see how your skin reacts. Some people start seeing results in as little as two weeks, but it could take 8–12 weeks to see significant results.

What to look for in a niacinamide serum

You can get niacinamide as a stand-alone serum or get a moisturizing cream with niacinamide in it. But we always recommend getting a serum separate from your lotions and other actives. By separating your actives, you can get the right concentration of each for your skin. Plus, by having a neutral moisturizer, you can use it as needed without worrying if you’re using your actives too frequently.

Most studies have been done with concentrations of 2–5% niacinamide, so you really don’t need anything above that to get the benefits. 10% is a pretty common concentration, but if you have sensitive skin, you might want to start lower with a lower strength. At 15% or higher, you’re more likely to get irritated skin.

Niacinamide and retinol (and retinoids)

Niacinamide also plays well with retinoids. Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives like retinol and tretinoin that treat photoaging. When starting a new retinol or retinoid treatment, it’s not uncommon to have slight irritation and dryness as your skin adapts. By adding niacinamide to your regimen, you can lessen irritation and dry skin18 vs. using retinol or derm-grade retinoids alone.

Apply niacinamide after your cleanser and before your retinoid serum as part of your nighttime skincare routine. This will give the outer layer of your skin a protective barrier, but the retinoids will still be able to permeate your pores where they can work their magic.

By using retinoids and niacinamide together, you can fast-track your way to healthier, smoother skin. This combo complements each other by tackling the same problems from different angles. While retinol and derm-grade retinoids clear pore build-up (including oil, dead skin cells, and comedogenic products), niacinamide reduces oil production. Retinoids fight acne by reducing comedones and microcomedones, while niacinamide helps kill bacteria. And retinoids disperse melanin while niacinamide regulates melanin production. They are the skincare power duo to help you reach your goals with less irritation.

The derm-grade retinoid to use with niacinamide

Night Shift is a dermatology-grade retinoid serum custom-tailored to your skin by certified dermatologists. It uses tretinoin—the only FDA-approved retinoid for photoaging—and an ingredient that is 20x more potent than retinol. It’s formulated with hydrating hyaluronic acid to reduce irritation.

After sharing your skin story, a provider will determine the right concentration of tretinoin for your skin. Then, your tailored retinoid serum will be delivered by mail.

If you have sensitive skin or are new to retinoids, your provider might give you a starter strength to give your skin a chance to adapt before ramping you up to a higher strength. You get the convenience of a doctor’s consult online without the cost of an in-person consult.


Skincare can be confusing to navigate, so if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. We’re always here to help.


  1. Cherney, K. (2018, August 29). Everything You Should Know About Niacinamide. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/niacinamide
  2. Levin, J., DO, & Momin, S., DO. (2010, February). How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/
  3. Tu, Y., & Quan, T. (2016, August 05). Oxidative stress and human skin connective tissue aging. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/3/3/28
  4. Levin, J., DO, & Momin, S., DO. (2010, February). How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/
  5. Damian, D. (2010, February 08). Photoprotective effects of nicotinamide. Retrieved from https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2010/PP/b9pp00146h#!divAbstract
  6. Damian, D. (2010, February 08). Photoprotective effects of nicotinamide. Retrieved from https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2010/PP/b9pp00146h#!divAbstract
  7. DL;, T. (2014, July). Nicotinamide enhances repair of ultraviolet radiation-induced dna damage in primary melanocytes. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24798949/
  8. Bissett, D. L., et al. Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18492135/
  9. Levin, J., DO, & Momin, S., DO. (2010, February). How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/
  10. Levin, J., DO, & Momin, S., DO. (2010, February). How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/
  11. Bissett, D. L., et al. Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18492135/
  12. Sarkar, R., & Et al. (2013, January). Cosmeceuticals for hyperpigmentation: What is available? Retrieved June 07, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3663177/
  13. Navarrete-Solís, J. et al. A double-blind, randomized clinical trial of Niacinamide 4% versus Hydroquinone 4% in the treatment Of melasma. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21822427/
  14. Hakozaki, T., et al. (2002, July). The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12100180/
  15. Shalita, A. R., et al. (1995, June). Topical nicotinamide compared with clindamycin gel in the treatment of inflammatory acne vulgaris. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7657446/
  16. Zoe, D. D., et al. (2006, June). The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16766489/
  17. International Journal of Toxicology. (2005, September 1). Final report of the safety assessment of Niacinamide and Niacin1. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1080/10915810500434183
  18. Song, X., et al. (2008, August 01). Nicotinamide attenuates Aquaporin 3 overexpression induced by retinoic acid through inhibition of EGFR/ERK in cultured human Skin keratinocytes. Retrieved from https://www.spandidos-publications.com/ijmm/22/2/229/abstract
Angela Rollins

Angela Rollins

Angela is a health enthusiast who is passionate about taking care of ourselves inside and out. She believes that by prioritizing our wellness, we can feel more confident in our skin. Angela is devoted to making skincare science accessible for all so that you can make educated decisions for your skin’s health.

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