Ingredient spotlight: Niacinamide

Here we will take a look at the wonders of niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3.

Niacinamide is a skincare ingredient now used in many beauty and personal care products as it offers a diverse array of benefits.

Its rise to fame can be attributed in part to its ability to hydrate and smooth skin texture, as well as its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. It is also one of the most well-known cosmetic ingredients for anti-aging and anti-redness, and can be used to help manage a range of skin disorders such as hyperpigmentation, acne, psoriasis, pruritus, dermatitis, fungal infections and even non-melanoma skin cancer [1].

All in all, niacinamide is an ideal ingredient for easy, pain-free and non-invasive topical skincare [1].

And the effects are not just skin deep – ingested vitamin B3 also helps our bodies to process food into usable energy by supporting our cells and enzymes, we well as DNA production and repair.  

But is there evidence to back up all these claims?


Let’s dive into the detail and explore niacinamide and its workings on a deeper level…

What is niacinamide and how does it work?

Niacinamide is the precursor form of a molecule known as ‘nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide’ (or NAD+), which is essential for DNA synthesis and the production of energy within our body’s cells [2,3,4,5].

NAD+ deficiency increases when our protective skin barrier is disrupted or when we are subject to external stressors such as UV radiation and as we age – all of which can lead to skin damage.

This is where niacinamide comes in handy. As it is used in the synthesis of NAD+ and contributes to energy production without our cells, niacinamide supplementation can restore and boost both of these processes. This can help attenuate oxidative stress (where unstable atoms damage our cells) and our inflammatory response, enhance our skin structure and skin barrier, and prevent skin damage and aging [6].

Although niacinamide has traditionally been used as a nutritional supplement under its alias vitamin B3, its pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical uses have now been extensively explored.

What are the benefits of niacinamide?

A range of benefits have been reported from topical treatment of niacinamide, alone or in combination with other active ingredients, including [1,6,7]:

  • Deaccelerated skin aging and hyperpigmentation
  • Prevention of UV-induced immune suppression and skin cancer development
  • Prevention of the loss of dermal collagen consistent with photoaging
  • Reduced sebum production, acne and rosacea severity
  • Improved skin barrier function e.g. through the upregulation of ceramide synthesis
  • Reduced appearance of signs of facial photoaging, including texture, hyperpigmented spots and red blotchiness
  • Reduced pruritus

What evidence is there for niacinamide?

Proving that it’s not just a clever marketing campaign, there are now many scientific studies backing-up the benefits of niacinamide. Here we will explore a few.

Skin health and resilience

Niacinamide has been shown to enhance the overall resilience, health and appearance of the skin by helping to maintain critical functions within our cells. For instance, when looking at the effects of niacinamide on the metabolic output of our cells, it was found niacinamide can help restore cellular components such as mitochondria (the power houses of our cells) and cell respiratory processes [8] – both of which are key to skin cell health and function.

Niacinamide can also increase the resilience of skin cells known as corneocytes, which are key for the skin’s protective outer layer. Developing a healthy and resilient outer layer is dependent on corneocyte formation, and the effects of niacinamide have been shown to be consistent with improved corneocyte structure and maturation [1,9].

Skin damage

Skin can be damaged when environmental stressors disrupt and break through our skin’s outer layer, leading to impaired skin and cellular function. While our naturally regenerating skin cells can eliminate some of this damage, a process known as ‘autophagy’ (the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, for the regeneration of newer healthier cells) is key to remove any defective skin components. Studies have shown that treatment with niacinamide can induce autophagy in skin cells, helping to approve skin repair [10].

Skin infection and antimicrobial effects

Antimicrobial peptides are widely found in the skin and are key components of the human innate immune system due to their role in deterring pathogenic microbes and protecting us from infections. Data show that niacinamide enhances the potency of naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides, therefore giving our skin and immune system a protective boost [11,12].

Senescence and skin aging

If the conversion of niacinamide to NAD+ is prevented, this can lead to a drop in cellular metabolism and energy production and premature senescence of skin cells [13]. However, these effects are reversed by the addition of niacinamide, supporting the theory that conversion to NAD+ underlies the benefits of niacinamide. Such data provide insights into the control of skin cell senescence and may lead to new treatments to combat premature skin aging.

UV and photoaging

Data also support that niacinamide can protect skin from the effects of UV rays – potentially inhibiting premature aging due to photoaging [14,15]. The addition of niacinamide has been shown to limit skin cell senescence associated with UVB radiation [5], with niacinamide displaying protective effects against photoaging and oxidative stress in the skin through improved DNA repair and energy metabolism. Niacinamide has also been shown to protect blue-light-induced hyperpirgmentation and photoaging [14], and to enhance the effects of retinyl propionate – a form of vitamin A found in fruit that is effective at reducing the effects of photoaging, such as the appearance of wrinkles [16].

As well as prevention of photoaging, these data indicate the potential value of niacinamide for prevention and treatment of other skin conditions linked to sun exposure, such as actinic keratosis (dry scaly patches of skin damaged by the sun) and skin cancer [1].

Urbanization and pollution

Niacinamide can inhibit inflammation that arises as a result of environmental stress – particularly the kind associated with urban living. Here it has been shown that topical application of niacinamide reduces inflammatory proteins in keratinocytes (a type of skin cell) that are induced and upregulated by environmental stressors such as urban dust, diesel exhausts and cigarette smoke [14].

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  1. Madaan P, Sikka P, Malik DS. Cosmeceutical Aptitudes of Niacinamide: A Review. Recent Adv Antiinfect Drug Discov. 2021; 16(3):196-208.
  2. Berardesca E, Ardigo M, Cameli N, Mariano M, Agozzino M, Matts PJ. Randomized, double-blinded, vehicle-controlled, split-face study to evaluate the effects of topical application of a Gold Silk Sericin/Niacinamide/Signaline complex on biophysical parameters related to skin ageing. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2015;37(6):606-12.
  3. Boo YC. Mechanistic Basis and Clinical Evidence for the Applications of Nicotinamide (Niacinamide) to Control Skin Aging and Pigmentation. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021;10(8).
  4. Ferreira MS, Sousa Lobo JM, Almeida IF. Sensitive skin: Active ingredients on the spotlight. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2022;44(1):56-73.
  5. Tan CYR, Tan CL, Chin T, Morenc M, Ho CY, Rovito HA, et al. Nicotinamide Prevents UVB- and Oxidative Stress Induced Photoaging in Human Primary Keratinocytes. J Invest Dermatol. 2021.
  6. Boo, Y. C. Mechanistic Basis and Clinical Evidence for the Applications of Nicotinamide (Niacinamide) to Control Skin Aging and Pigmentation. Antioxidants. 2021.
  7. Santos-Caetano, J.-P. et al. Cosmetic benefits of a novel biomimetic lamellar formulation containing niacinamide in healthy females with oily, blemish-prone skin in a randomized proof-of-concept study. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2020;42:29-25.
  8. Oblong JE, Bowman A, Rovito HA, Jarrold BB, Sherrill JD, Black MR, et al. Metabolic dysfunction in human skin: Restoration of mitochondrial integrity and metabolic output by nicotinamide (niacinamide) in primary dermal fibroblasts from older aged donors. Aging Cell. 2020:e13248.
  9. Voegeli R, Guneri D, Cherel M, Summers B, Lane ME, Rawlings AV. Topical niacinamide enhances hydrophobicity and resilience of corneocyte envelopes on different facial locations. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2020;42(6):632-6.
  10. Oblong JE, DeAngelis YM, Jarrold BB, Bierman JC, Rovito HA, Vires L, et al. Optimized low pH formulation of niacinamide enhances induction of autophagy marker ATG5 gene expression and protein levels in human epidermal keratinocytes. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2020;34 Suppl 3:3-11.
  11. Losasso V, Agarwal K, Waskar M, Majumdar A, Crain J, Winn M, et al. Small molecules enhance the potency of natural antimicrobial peptides. Biophys J. 2022;121(3):491-501.
  12. Mathapathi MS, Mallemalla P, Vora S, Iyer V, Tiwari JK, Chakrabortty A, et al. Niacinamide leave-on formulation provides long-lasting protection against bacteria in vivo. Exp Dermatol. 2017;26(9):827-9.
  13. Tan CL, Chin T, Tan C YR, Rovito HA, Quek LS, Oblong JE, Bellanger S. Nicotinamide Metabolism Modulates the Proliferation/Differentiation Balance and Senescence of Human Primary Keratinocytes. J Invest Dermatol. 2019; 39(8):1638-1647.
  14. Bierman JC, Laughlin T, Tamura M, Hulette BC, Mack CE, Sherrill JD, et al. Niacinamide mitigates SASP-related inflammation induced by environmental stressors in human epidermal keratinocytes and skin. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2020;42(5):501-11.
  15. Campiche R, Curpen SJ, Lutchmanen-Kolanthan V, Gougeon S, Cherel M, Laurent G, et al. Pigmentation effects of blue light irradiation on skin and how to protect against them. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2020;42(4):399-406.
  16. Lam ECS, Li R, Rodrigues MR, Vires L, Adams RL, Sherrill JD, et al. Enhanced retinoid response by a combination of the vitamin A ester retinyl propionate with niacinamide and a flavonoid containing Ceratonia siliqua extract in retinoid responsive in vitro models. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2021;43(1):102-6.

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