Everything to Know About Niacinamide

If you heard about a single skincare ingredient that could effectively treat signs of aging, dark spots, and breakouts alike, you might think it’s too good to be true — right? But in the case of niacinamide, there’s no catch or drawback to be found. (And, yes, it really can do all of those things.)

While there are a seemingly endless (and ever-growing) number of skincare ingredients to choose from, niacinamide stands out in part because the science is there to back up its impressive resume. In fact, it’s one of the best-researched ingredients out there.

As one 2010 paper in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology put it: “With the available scientific evidence on topical niacinamide, clinicians are able to adequately answer questions about permeability, mechanism, and clinical effect.” Basically, it’s well understood that niacinamide penetrates skin, how it works in the skin, and that it shows clinical improvements in everything from barrier function to antioxidant activity. So, if you haven’t been using it, here’s why now is a good time to start.

What Is Niacinamide?

“Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that our bodies and skin require to be at its optimum health,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “It acts as a free radical neutralizer, meaning it can take unstable molecules and make them less damaging to our skin.”

As free radicals contribute to accelerated skin aging by harming collagen and elastin, niacinamide, conversely, can defend skin from its signs, such as dark spots and wrinkles.

How Niacinamide Benefits Skin

Niacinamide is unmatched in its versatility. “Aside from working to counteract oxidative stress on the skin and neutralize environmental damage, niacinamide can also calm inflamed skin and improve the moisture barrier by improving production of ceramides — another molecule that maintains hydration,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “There’s also more recent evidence that very specific forms of niacinamide may help prevent skin cancer, although this topic is still evolving.”

Furthermore, a 2002 review of niacinamide’s many functions found that it’s a powerful ingredient for treating breakouts. While the exact mechanism is still inconclusive, researchers found that a niacinamide-rich formula significantly reduces the production of excess sebum in skin — which is a major factor in pimple formation. And, as Dr. Nazarian noted, it offers anti-inflammatory properties, ultimately giving you a one-two punch of acne-fighting benefits.

Niacinamide is also a winner for addressing dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Unlike the traditional ways of treating dark spots, which often lighten them via exfoliation — and therefore focus on dealing with them after they’ve formed — niacinamide actually interferes with your skin’s process of creating pigmentation by stopping melanocytes (the cells that make melanin) from sending pigment to the surface of your skin. So, to recap: Niacinamide can improve fine lines and wrinkles, breakouts, dryness, and hyperpigmentation. Clearly, it’s an ingredient that sells itself.

How to Use Niacinamide in Your Skincare Routine

A little-known perk: Niacinamide stands out among other ingredients in its unique ability to play nice with other actives. “Remarkably, niacinamide works very well with lots of other skincare ingredients, including glycolic acid, retinoids, peptides and antioxidants,” says Dr. Nazarian. So it’s both safe and easy to incorporate it into your existing routine. (Try it in a serum, in which it can be concentrated for the best results.)

Last but certainly not least, niacinamide can be used by anyone and everyone, no matter the skin type. Indeed, “it’s good for sensitive skin, dry skin, acne-prone skin, and aging skin,” Dr. Nazarian says. “That pretty much covers everyone.” Consider this your cue to give it a top spot in your skincare ritual.

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