Written by: Desiree Stordahl
Medically Reviewed by: Debra Jaliman MD Board-Certified Dermatologist
Niacinamide has a plethora of benefits as a skin care ingredient including its ability to:
- Minimize the appearance of enlarged pores and improve “orange peel” textured skin
- Restore skin’s defenses against moisture loss and dehydration
- Visibly even out skin tone and discolorations from sun damage
As many of you know, but for those who don’t, the conclusions we make about any ingredient are always based on what the published research has shown to be true—and the research about niacinamide unanimously demonstrates how special it is. Ongoing research keeps confirming it’s one of the most exciting skin care ingredients around.
What is niacinamide?
Also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinamide, niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin that works with the natural substances in your skin to help visibly minimize enlarged pores, tighten lax or stretched out pores, improve uneven skin tone, soften fine lines and wrinkles, diminish dullness, and strengthen a weakened surface (1,2).
Niacinamide also reduces the impact of environmental damage because of its ability to improve skin’s barrier (its first line of defense), plus it also plays a role in helping skin to repair signs of past damage (3,4). Left unchecked, this type of daily assault makes skin appear older, dull and less radiant.
What does niacinamide do for your skin?
Niacinamide’s abilities are made possible thanks to its status as a multitasking bio-active ingredient. However, this powerhouse form of vitamin B takes a bit of a journey before our skin and its supporting surface cells can reap its benefits.
After niacinamide’s applied to skin, it’s broken down into the form of this vitamin that our cells can use, the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (5). It’s this coenzyme that’s believed to be responsible for niacinamide’s benefits to skin.
Niacinamide skin benefits
This multitalented ingredient is truly one that all can add to their routine, no matter skin type or skin concern. Some people’s skin may have more concerns niacinamide can address, but without question everyone’s skin will gain something from this B vitamin. Speaking of, let’s dive into the specific concerns niacinamide can help improve.
Minimizes enlarged pores
Niacinamide is most famous for its ability to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores (6,7,8). As we touched on above, research hasn’t determined how this B vitamin works its pore-reducing magic, but it seems that niacinamide has a normalizing ability on the pore lining. This plays a role in helping to keep oil and debris from getting backed up, which leads to clogs and rough, bumpy skin.
As the clog forms and worsens, the pores stretch to compensate, leading to enlargement. Routine usage of niacinamide helps pores return to their natural size. Sun damage can cause pores to become stretched, too, leading to what some describe as "orange peel skin". Higher concentrations of niacinamide can help visibly tighten pores by shoring up skin’s supportive elements, often dramatically improving orange peel texture.
Other benefits of niacinamide are that it helps renew and restore skin's surface against moisture loss and dehydration (9). When key fatty acids in skin’s barrier known as ceramides gradually deplete, skin is left vulnerable to all sorts of problems, from persistent patches of dry, flaky skin to increasingly becoming extra-sensitive.
If you struggle with dry skin, topical application of niacinamide has been shown to boost the hydrating ability of moisturizers so skin’s surface can better resist the moisture loss that leads to recurrent dryness and flaky texture. Niacinamide works brilliantly with common moisturizer ingredients like glycerin, non-fragrant plant oils, cholesterol, sodium PCA, and sodium hyaluronate.
How does niacinamide help discolorations and uneven skin tone? Both concerns stem from excess melanin (skin pigment) showing on skin’s surface. In concentrations of 5% and greater, niacinamide works via several pathways to keep new discolorations from appearing (10). At the same time, it also helps reduce the appearance of existing discolorations, so your skin tone looks more even. Research has shown niacinamide and tranexamic acid work particularly well together, and as mentioned above, it can be used with other discoloration-reducing ingredients such as all forms of vitamin C, licorice, retinol, and bakuchiol.
How to use niacinamide
Niacinamide is compatible with other powerful ingredients like peptides, hyaluronic acid, AHAs, BHA, and all types of antioxidants. This multi-ingredient approach to skin care is important because as great as niacinamide is, it’s not the only ingredient skin needs to look and feel its best.
Think of it like your diet—as healthy as kale is, if kale was all you ate, you’d soon become malnourished because your body needs more than one healthy food to maintain itself. The same is true for skin, the body’s largest (and most exposed) organ.
Adding niacinamide in skin care routine
Using niacinamide is as easy as finding great skin care products that contain it and applying it in order of:
- Layer the rest of your skin care serums, treatments, and moisturizers (including those with niacinamide) in order of thinnest to thickest texture
- During the day, finish with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater
How long does niacinamide take to work?
Generally speaking, you should start to see results after 2-4 weeks of twice daily usage (depending on the severity of your skin concerns and how concentrated your niacinamide product is). Ongoing use is required for continued improvement and maintaining results.
Results will continue to improve over time but do not expect your skin to be completely “poreless”—that isn’t possible for any skin care product (not to mention, your skin needs its pores for many vital functions). What you can expect is pores that look smaller, skin tone that looks more even, visibly reduced fine lines and wrinkles, and an overall healthier glow.
Side effects of niacinamide
Widely tolerated, niacinamide typically assists in soothing and contributing to skin health. However, for some, niacinamide can cause a flushing effect on skin, both when applied topically and when ingested via a supplement. Research on niacin-based facial flushing has shown tolerance to it “develops rapidly.” (11). This flushing event occurs due to the niacinamide containing too much free niacin. Special purified grades of this ingredient, such as what Paula’s Choice Skincare uses, have vanishingly low levels of niacin, meaning they’re highly unlikely to cause this issue.
Recommended niacinamide products
For best results, use niacinamide products that are meant to be left on skin (such as serums or moisturizers) instead of rinse-off products (like cleansers) where contact time is limited.
- A niacinamide toner can be especially beneficial when applied after cleansing to rehydrate and replenish skin.
- A concentrated 10% Niacinamide Booster can be used on its own (much like a serum) or mixed into your favorite non-SPF moisturizer, based on personal preference.
- Those with stubborn concerns around advanced signs of sun damage, orange peel texture, lax pores, and oil-related bumps should consider trying an advanced strength 20% niacinamide serum.
- You can use niacinamide-containing products around your eyes, too. Some might find applying a moisturizer or niacinamide eye cream helps soften the appearance of crow’s feet and dark circles, not to mention enables this delicate area to retain skin-smoothing moisture and resist loss of firmness. Facial care products with niacinamide can also be applied to the neck and chest.
- For skin concerns beyond the face and neck, a niacinamide body serum can be advantageous. Niacinamide’s benefits on the body include tackling uneven tone, discolorations (including dotted marks around the hair follicles), plus restoring and strengthening skin’s moisture barrier. Our 5% Niacinamide Body Serum targets uneven tone and signs of aging on the body, making it a terrific addition to any post-shower body care routine.
Learn more about skin care ingredients.
References for this information:
- Antioxidants, August 2021, ePublication
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, May 2019, pages 454–459
- Experimental Dermatology, February 2019, Supplement 1, pages 15-22
- Journal of Investigative Dermatology, May 2017, page S116
- American Chemical Society, May 2020, pages 25625–25632
- Dermatologic Surgery, March 2016, pages 277-285
- Dermatologic Surgery, Volume 31, Part 2, 2005, Discussion 865
- International Journal of Cosmetic Science, October 2004, pages 231-238
- International Journal of Pharmaceutics, January 2013, Pages 192-201
- Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, June 2014, pages 311-315
- International Journal of Clinical Practice, September 2009, pages 1369-1377