Why You Should Try Niacinamide
In the hierarchy of ingredients, it’s stiff competition to become the shiny-new headliner everyone’s over—Vitamin C, retinol, hyaluronic acid, collagen—and wait, now niacinamide? Touted on TikTok as the latest must-have secret sauce for your skin, this incredible Vitamin B3 has an impressive checklist of benefits including complexion brightening, pore tightening, scar fading, and acne fighting. But just one problem: many of these beauty perks might overlap with your current go-to product. So in an already-crowded pecking order of ingredients, why should you give niacinamide a try?
To make your decision easier, we’ll explore how niacinamide measures up to other popular anti-aging vitamins. We gathered key insights from Dermatalogical Researcher, Dr. Jacquelyn Levin, one of the world’s top authorities on cosmetic science.
What is niacinamide?
This Vitamin B3 is not your average nutrient. When applied topically to the skin, it can spark the activity of a vital co-enzyme (a kickstarter for metabolism) within your cells called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). By creating these molecules, our skin cells get a leg-up for critical activities like repairing damage and reducing oxidative stress.
These processes go beyond delaying visible signs of aging because niacinamide treats the true root of the problem. According to a report by Dr. Levin, “niacinamide has the potential to act as an antioxidant, can improve epidermal barrier function, decrease skin hyperpigmentation, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, decrease redness/blotchiness, decrease skin yellowness (sallowness), and improve skin elasticity.” While this goldmine of benefits sounds appealing, let’s see how they compare to other leading ingredients.
Minimizes fine lines and wrinkles
Just when we thought retinol didn’t have any rivals, niacinamide stands to turn our heads. In the war on wrinkles, both these ingredients are top contenders.
Retinol vs niacinamide to treat wrinkles
Whereas retinol keeps skin looking fresher and firmer by speeding up cellular turnover, niacinamide has its own way of doing things; it increases the production of three types of skin proteins: keratin (the main protein), filaggrin (the moisturizing protein), and involucrin (the binding protein). This combo is a triple threat to the aging process! As Dr. Levin explains, by promoting filaggrin and involucrin for structural support, this improved protein synthesis slows down the age-related effects of reduced collagen on elasticity and overall plumpness.
Although retinol can be the ultimate miracle worker for some, its resurfacing action may be too aggressive for those with sensitive skin. And in this case, retinol would damage the skin’s protective barrier and its hydration levels. That's where niacinamide might be a better option! Rather than forcing your baby skin cells to the surface, niacinamide builds up its protein matrix over time.
Clear complexion? Check! Studies confirm that topical niacinamide is effective in decreasing epidermal hyperpigmentation and reducing dark spots as we age.
Now, if you’re already loyal to Vitamin C, a known skin-brightening solution, then here’s something interesting: niacinamide produces these same effects, only differently!
Vitamin C vs niacinamide to fade pigmentation
Unlike Vitamin C, niacinamide doesn’t have a direct influence on melanin synthesis (color creation) by the melanocytes (color cells). As Dr. Levin explains, instead it reduces the transfer of melanosomes (color carriers) from the melanocytes to the surrounding skin cells. By controlling the cause of pigmentation at the source, niacinamide provides an excellent way to achieve that clear, mark-free complexion.
Vitamin C, on the other hand, fades dark spots without affecting the melanosomes. Rather, it works by slowing down the function and quantity of melanocytes. Since niacinamide is the gentler of the two, it may be more suitable for acne-prone skin. Yet if your skin can tolerate the acidity of Vitamin C, go for it!
Or in some cases, there may be room for both in your routine. For example, the 10-step Korean skincare routine involves layering a serum (a high-concentration treatment for a specific skin concern) on top of an essence (a lightweight elixir with an active ingredient). This way, you can target multiple problems based on your individual needs. Starting with a niacinamide-based essence, you have your first line of defense against aging, followed by a Vitamin C serum to brighten your complexion.
Builds dermal immunity
Having a high dermal immunity means your skin barrier is better protected against the aging effects of invaders like free radicals, pathogens, and pollution.
“Niacinamide may improve the skin barrier function in two ways: first, by its ability to upregulate the synthesis of ceramides [fatty cells] as well as other SC intercellular lipids, and second, by stimulating keratinocyte [keratin-producing cells],” explains Dr. Levin.
But of course, you may have heard of another heavy-hitter ingredient that helps improve the skin barrier: hyaluronic acid. How do these two ingredients compare?
Hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide to improve the skin barrier
Hyaluronic acid is a gel-like fluid that helps retain water in the skin. By fortifying the dermal barrier, it helps lock moisture for an even more dramatic smoothing effect. Niacinamide delivers these nourishing effects with an opposite mechanism: rather than attracting water, it promotes the growth of lipids (fatty acids), creating a layer of lubrication that prevents water loss.
Another key difference is that the hydration boost from hyaluronic acid is temporary; but with niacinamide, there may be longer-lasting improvements for the dermal barrier. Keep in mind that hyaluronic acid found in skin care products (the ones made outside of your body) does not help your skin’s natural ability to make its own.
Shrinks pore size
Getting that airbrushed look (sans the photo filter) is one of those #beautygoals we all chase. Fortunately, Dr. Levin confirms that niacinamide can be a key to solving the puzzle of your pesky pore problems.
“A clinical trial using 3.5% niacinamide cream was compared with placebo for four weeks and demonstrated a 14.8-percent reduction in skin roughness,” she reports. With its ability to thicken the dermal layer and promote elastin, pores may appear smaller and tighter for a more luminous look.
However, niacinamide isn’t the only pore-shrinker in town; many people also tend to favor Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), most commonly in the form of lactic acid.
Lactic acid vs niacinamide to minimize pores
Lactic acid is a type of postbiotic with exfoliating properties. When exposed to skin, it eats away at dead skin particles, cleaning out the pores for a more polished surface. Although niacinamide doesn’t have these exfoliating properties, it can tone the pores indirectly through collagen synthesis and the stimulation of epidermal proteins, explains Dr. Levin.
Of all the most sought-after ingredients out there, niacinamide is most well-rounded in terms of performance and safety. Not only are the studies exciting, but so is its potential—cosmetic science has only started to unlock the incredible properties of this unique vitamin. This makes niacinamide a worthy inclusion in your skincare ritual!
About the author, Naomi Furgiuele
Naomi is the founder of Nuria and a self-professed nerd with a love for all things science and skin care. She’s had a hand in product development for some of the biggest global beauty brands in the business, gets some of her best ideas while out on a run, and loves her exfoliator almost as much as her awesome family.