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Nov 01, 2021
5 min read

Niacinamide for acne: benefits, how to use, side effects

Niacinamide, also called nicotinamide, is a form of vitamin B3. Niacinamide may help prevent acne breakouts and improve the appearance of sun damage, fine lines, and wrinkles. Concentrations of topical niacinamide products go up to 10%, but studies have shown effects with strengths as low as 2%.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Vitamin C and vitamin E tend to get a lot of attention in the skincare department. But there is another player in the mix: niacinamide. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B that may help your acne and your overall skin appearance. Read on to learn more about this potentially skin-friendly vitamin. 

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What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide (also called nicotinamide) is essential for maintaining healthy cells and for fats and sugars to function properly in your body. It is a component of the vitamin B complex, also known as vitamin B3, and is related to niacin. Niacinamide’s use in skincare products is due to its long list of potential benefits for your skin

You can get niacinamide from foods like eggs, milk, beans, fish, and green vegetables. In addition to seeking out food sources of this vitamin, you can also reach for topical applications, as niacinamide is in some over-the-counter skincare products⁠.

Skin health benefits of niacinamide

As we mentioned, niacinamide shows up in many skincare products—but what does niacinamide do? It’s essentially a potential Swiss Army knife for skin conditions, from wrinkles and fine lines to acne and redness, and it improves the overall appearance of your skin. 

May help prevent and treat acne

The sebaceous glands produce sebum, or oil, on your face, neck, upper chest, and back. Topical 2% niacinamide may lower sebum (oil) production in your skin. Excess oil can cause acne, so niacinamide’s ability to regulate oil production may help prevent and treat breakouts, especially in people with oily skin. It may also be a good addition to other acne treatments (Walocko, 2017).

May keep skin moisturized

Our epidermis, or skin barrier, serves multiple functions, from keeping out sources of infection (such as viruses and bacteria) to preventing water loss to help you stay hydrated. Applying niacinamide topically may help maintain this function and keep your skin moisturized (Zhen, 2019).

May protect from sun damage and pollution

Sources of environmental damage such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation and pollution damages your skin by causing the production of compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS). Your skin has some antioxidant functions that protect against sun damage, but topical niacinamide can offer additional protection and help counter ROS formation (Pullar, 2017; Zhen, 2019). In addition, niacinamide can also help your skin counter DNA damage that the sun’s UV rays cause (Damian, 2017).

May help prevent skin cancer

Sun damage can lead to problems with skin cell DNA, but even if you already have sun-damaged skin, niacinamide may be able to help. This form of vitamin B3 may help promote DNA repair mechanisms and prevent UV-induced immunosuppression (Damian, 2017). 

Researchers believe this vitamin may also help prevent skin cancer through its protective action on skin cells. Studies show that topical niacinamide may improve actinic keratosis (also called solar keratosis), a common precancerous skin lesion. But note that this is not a replacement for regular sunscreen use (Damian, 2017).

May minimize skin redness

Topical niacinamide has anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. This may help lessen the redness caused by inflammatory acne, eczema, and skin irritants (Damian, 2017).

May treat hyperpigmentation

Aging, photodamage, and other skin conditions can lead to dark, brown, or gray spots on your skin—this is called hyperpigmentation. Small studies suggest that niacinamide may help lighten these dark spots. But there is a need for more research (Sawant, 2020).

May minimize fine lines and wrinkles

Fine lines and wrinkles are signs of aging and sun damage. They typically result from oxidative stress and inflammation. This form of vitamin B3 may have anti-aging activities when you apply it topically because its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (Draelos, 2019). 

This compound may also improve collagen production and skin elasticity, further decreasing the signs of aging. For this reason, you may see niacinamide serums or cosmetics with niacinamide combined with retinol or vitamin C, as all of these components have purported anti-aging effects (Draelos, 2019).

How to use niacinamide for acne

You can, of course, seek out dietary sources of this form of vitamin B3, but topical niacinamide products may also be effective additions to your skincare routine. Studies show benefits for the appearance of skin from topical products with concentrations between 2% and 5%, so look for products in this range. The right concentration for you may depend on your skin type.

There is a wide range of niacinamide products to choose from, including cleansers, moisturizers, eye creams, toners, and even niacinamide serums. Some products go as high as 10% concentration in this B vitamin. 

Since niacinamide may initially cause some irritation (more on this below), it’s important that you use products with this ingredient as directed. If you have especially sensitive skin, it may be worth talking about how to work these products into your routine with a dermatologist.

Side effects of niacinamide

Most clinical studies show that niacinamide is safe. Side effects are possible, even with the topical forms. The most common side effects with topical niacinamide are mild and include mild burning, itching, redness, and irritation (Rolfe, 2014).

Oral niacinamide may have more side effects since it circulates throughout the body, including nausea, diarrhea, and heartburn (Walocko, 2017). 

You may experience some redness and irritation when you start using niacinamide products. Some of this may be normal and lessen over time, but lasting irritation may be a sign you’re using too much or a product with too high of a concentration of niacinamide for your skin type. 

Talk to your dermatologist or healthcare provider if you notice irritation, as they may be able to clarify what’s a normal transition period with your product and when you may need to consider a different product.

When will you see results?

Just because people in studies see results doesn’t mean you’ll see the same on your skin, and it’s important to remember that heading into any new skincare routine. 

In some cases, your skin type can affect results, and yours may differ from that of the participants in the study. But studies do give us clues as to how long it may take results to show up—if they’re going to. Many clinical studies on niacinamide note changes after six to 12 weeks. But consistent use, as directed by these products, is also a requirement.

If using niacinamide for acne is of interest to you, talk to a healthcare provider who can answer any additional questions you may have and who can instruct you on how to best introduce this vitamin to your skin.

References

  1. Damian, D. L. (2017). Nicotinamide for skin cancer chemoprevention. The Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 58(3), 174–180. doi: 10.1111/ajd.12631. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28321860/.
  2. Draelos, Z. D. (2019). Cosmeceuticals: what’s real, what’s not. Dermatologic Clinics, 37(1), 107–115. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2018.07.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30466682/
  3. Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. C. M. (2017). The roles of vitamin c in skin health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866. doi: 10.3390/nu9080866. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
  4. Rolfe, H. M. (2014). A review of nicotinamide: treatment of skin diseases and potential side effects. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 13(4), 324–328. doi:10.1111/jocd.12119. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25399625/
  5. Sawant, O., & Khan, T. (2020). Management of periorbital hyperpigmentation: An overview of nature-based agents and alternative approaches. Dermatologic Therapy, 33(4), e13717. doi: 10.1111/dth.13717. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32472659/
  6. Walocko, F. M., Eber, A. E., Keri, J. E., Al-Harbi, M. A., & Nouri, K. (2017). The role of nicotinamide in acne treatment. Dermatologic Therapy, 30(5), 10.1111/dth.12481. doi: 10.1111/dth.12481. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28220628/
  7. Zhen, A. X., Piao, M. J., Kang, K. A., Fernando, P. D. S. M., Kang, H. K., Koh, Y. S., et al. (2019). Niacinamide protects skin cells from oxidative stress induced by particulate matter. Biomolecules & Therapeutics, 27(6), 562–569. doi: 10.4062/biomolther.2019.061. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31272139/