The Forgotten Superstar Nutrient for Skincare

Dr. Janet Zand

August 2, 2019

When you think about the superstar nutrients in skincare, vitamins A and C probably come to mind immediately. But why do we skip right over B? This unsung hero has a lot to offer.

Vitamin B represents an entire class of vitamins that can do wonders for our health. You might be familiar with vitamin B12 or folate. But when it comes to skin health, there’s another vitamin in the B family that can be the game-changer you never thought to include in your line-up.

As we get older, we often find that we have to adjust our skincare routines to keep up with our skin. But no matter what age you are, you can likely benefit from this nutrient. That’s because its benefits extend to some of the biggest skin issues out there.

If you’re younger, you may still be struggling with acne. Because this nutrient is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and helps control oil production, it can really help keep your skin clear.

Just what is this nutrient? It’s niacinamide – or vitamin B3. You may see niacinamide under a few different names, including niacin and nicotinamide. They’re all forms of this vitamin. The good news is all of these forms spell good news for skin woes thanks to its wonderful skin-health properties.

Boosting Your Skin’s Immune System

For starters, niacinamide helps boost antimicrobial peptides. These play an important role in the skin’s immune system. And having more can help keep acne-causing bacteria at bay. Research in mice suggests that niacinamide can even help clear up skin infections by increasing these peptides. Bacteria and oil are typically the two major contributors to acne, and this B vitamin helps with both.

In fact, in one study, researchers compared topical 4% nicotinamide and 1% clindamycin gel. Clindamycin gel is a type of antibiotic that doctors commonly use for acne. But if you have oily skin, I think nicotinamide is a better choice. At the end of this trial, the researchers agreed.

They conducted a double-blind trial on patients with moderate inflammatory acne. The participants applied either the nicotinamide or the clindamycin gel twice a day. The researchers subdivided each group into those who had oily skin and those who did not, creating four groups. The researchers evaluated their acne at week four and week eight.

For those taking nicotinamide overall, the acne grade started at an average of 5.93, decreased to 4.03 at week four, and dropped to 2.08 in week eight. The clindamycin gel group went from 5.70 to 3.85 to 2.03. But for those with oily skin, nicotinamide was more effective. Those without oily skin fared better with clindamycin gel. Neither group experienced any major side effects.

Another study that used a topical 2% niacinamide product measured sebum (oil) production. After six weeks, the participants noticed significant improvements.

So if you're prone to acne, make sure you take your skin type into consideration when choosing a product to clear your acne. If you have oily skin, I definitely believe nicotinamide or niacinamide is worth a try and see if it clears your skin.

While you’re getting acne under control, you can even look for a foundation that contains niacinamide. You’ll be able to get coverage to even your skin out while actually improving the problem rather than making it worse.

Great for Controlling Oil

One of the reasons niacinamide might be so great at controlling oil is the amount of moisture it offers the skin. As you probably know, when your skin starts to feel dry, it can actually kick oil production into overdrive. Niacinamide can help the skin stay hydrated and help you avoid that vicious cycle. Here’s how it works.

You may have heard of hyaluronic acid. Despite its harsh-sounding name, hyaluronic acid is a powerful skin hydrator. Many dermatologists recommend looking for moisturizer that includes it. But the skin can make some hyaluronic acid on its own. And niacinamide can help boost those production levels.

Plus, it can help your skin make more lipids. These help your skin maintain its moisture barrier. A strong moisture barrier means that all that water the hyaluronic acid is drawing into the skin actually stays put.

Takes Middle-Age Skin Back a Decade or Two

Even if oily, acne-prone skin is behind you, niacinamide can also help with many of the skin issues that begin to concern us in middle age. If you were a bit lax with your sun protection in your younger years, this is especially important. Studies have found that taking niacinamide orally may help reduce rates of skin cancer.

In one study, 386 participants received either 500 mg of oral niacinamide or a placebo twice a day for an entire year. All of the participants were at high risk of skin cancer, having experienced at least two non-melanoma skin cancer incidents in the past five years.

The participants did go on to develop more skin cancers in the year they participated in the study – a whopping 799 skin cancers in only 386 participants. But only 336 occurred in the niacinamide group, compared to 463 in the placebo group.

That’s still a lot of skin cancer. But it represents a 23% reduction in incidence. So if you’ve already had a brush with skin cancer, I recommend talking to your dermatologist about this study. Taking an oral supplement might be a good idea.

Increases Collagen Production and Reduces Sagging Skin

Another issue that many of us start to become concerned about as we move toward middle age is a drop in collagen production. This can lead to general sagginess and the beginnings of wrinkle formation. But niacinamide can also help boost your collagen levels.

In one study of 50 women between the ages of 40 and 60, researchers conducted what’s called a split-face trial. They asked the women to apply a moisturizer with 5% niacinamide to half of their face. The other half of their face got a placebo. The women study with this regimen lasted for 12 weeks.

I hope they were able to swap the applications when the study was over! Otherwise, these women might look a little lopsided. That’s because the niacinamide moisturizer significantly improved their fine lines and winkles. It also helped reduce areas of hyperpigmentation, red blotchiness, sallowness, and elasticity. That’s a lot of benefits for one product!

That ability to fade hyperpigmentation is a key benefit of niacinamide as we move into our senior years. Older adults often complain of age spots and discoloration. Niacinamide can help fade any blotchiness and even out your skin tone.

It can also help treat melasma, a darkening or discolored tanning of the skin. One study found it works nearly as well as hydroquinone, the most common treatment, but with fewer side effects. In an eight-week study of 27 participants, 55% saw good-to-excellent results with hydroquinone, while 44% got the same with niacinamide. However, only 18% of the niacinamide patients experienced side effects, compared to 29% of those getting hydroquinone.

Melasma often crops up during pregnancy thanks to all the hormonal changes. Niacinamide is safe to use during pregnancy if this is happening to you. Sun damage is a major contributor to melasma as well. So you may not see it until you’re older, once the damage has accumulated. Fortunately, niacinamide can help you turn back the clock.

How to Choose a Niacinamide Product

Niacinamide is a great ingredient to look for in your skincare products. Many moisturizers contain it, or you can seek out a serum highlighting this ingredient. Most of the studies of topical niacinamide use 2% to 10% in their formulas. So look for that amount if the product includes specific details.

If you have oily skin, look for a light serum to help you avoid clogged pores. For dry skin, a good moisturizer or a hydrating toner is your best bet. Niacinamide is a particularly good option for people with sensitive skin who can’t handle more powerful ingredients like vitamin C or retinoids. Or you can use it if you’re just taking a break from some of these heavy lifters.

You can also boost your dietary intake of B vitamins to improve your glow from the inside out. Whole grains, fish, meat, and beans all contain niacin. Your body will then convert the niacin into niacinamide. Of course, make sure you’re choosing high-quality foods, especially when it comes to meat. Ideally, grass fed.

If you’ve previously put a product back on the shelf because niacinamide sounded like a scary chemical, now you know that you don’t need to worry. This ingredient is one of the good guys. It’s worth seeking out thanks to its ability to gently but effectively improve a variety of skin issues. It might not get the star treatment that it deserves, but it can sure help your skin glow.

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