How to Take Niacin for Skin Health and Avoid the Flush

Dr. Janet Zand

March 20, 2020

If you hate hot flashes, the idea of taking niacin probably isn’t very exciting to you. As you may know, niacin creates a flushing sensation that’s very similar to a hot flash. The good news is there are easy ways to reduce this flush. And it’s something you may want to consider if you spend a lot of time in the sun or if you just want to improve your skin glow.

As you may know, spending time in the sun can damage your skin. The damage can be so severe, it can potentially cause deadly diseases. But a new study shows that niacin can protect your skin and reverse damaged spots before they turn deadly.

This study followed 386 Australians who had experienced at least two bouts with potentially deadly skin conditions within five years of each other. That means all of the participants were at risk of their condition recurring.

The researchers gave half of the group a placebo. The other group took 500 mg of niacin twice a day for a year.

Having red, flushed, sunburned skin may have gotten the participants into their situations in the first place. But having red, flushed skin from the niacin certainly was worth avoiding a recurrence. And the niacin certainly helped. In fact, the recurrence rate was 23% lower in the niacin group than in the placebo group.

They also had lower rates of less deadly skin issues, including scaly skin patches. The longer the participants took the niacin, the lower the number of patches. By month three, they were down 11%. At the six-month mark, they were down 20%.

This is good evidence that you should keep taking niacin regularly. But even better evidence is what happened to the participants once the study ended. When they didn’t have to take the niacin anymore, some of them stopped. And their skin started to develop problem spots again. As long as they took the niacin, the spots continued to recede. Once they stopped, the spots would appear again.

Why Does Niacin Work?

Niacin works because it’s particularly effective at expanding your blood vessels. When it expands your blood vessels, it allows more blood flow. This is great for your body, as all of the nutrients in your blood – including oxygen – are able to travel through your body much easier. It also allows your immune system better access to areas of the body that need healing.

Some of the effects niacin has on the body are pretty impressive. The expanded blood vessels allow cholesterol to flow easier, reducing build-ups in the arteries. And it allows your body to flush cholesterol out of your system much more effectively. This helps reduce cholesterol levels.

You know that clogged arteries can be deadly. Niacin helps your arteries stay open while your body works to clear out the plaque that’s blocking them up. This keeps your blood vessels healthy. And it’s great news for your heart and brain, as it reduces plaque build-up that makes it harder for them to function properly. It can even help you avoid eye problems by making sure those tiny blood vessels that serve the eyes stay healthy.

Niacin works so well that your doctor can write a prescription for it to lower your cholesterol. While a prescription isn’t necessary – you can just buy it over-the-counter – it might help if your insurance will pay for it.

Warning: Don’t take niacin with your statins. Combining the two seems to increase the risk of you experiencing the side effects of statins. If your doctor believes it’s ok to use both and you want to mitigate the symptoms increase your vitamin C and CoQ10.

How to Avoid the Flush

You can start by simply taking niacin at a time when flushing won’t bother you. Unless your doctor has recommended more, start with just 500 IU a day. You can take it about an hour before bed. Use this time to relax. Read a book or enjoy a television show. Brush your teeth and finish your skincare routine. By the time you’re ready to get in bed, the flushing should be gone, and you’ll actually appreciate your cozy bed.

That’s the most straightforward approach. But it won’t work for everyone. Your doctor might recommend a divided dose taken throughout the day. Or the flushing might really bother you. Some women who are also experiencing hot flashes might find this to be one flush too many. If that’s you, you have some other options to try to avoid the flush altogether.

One is to take aspirin or another prostaglandin inhibitors before you take niacin. Some people are comfortable with this. But other people are taking niacin to avoid drugs in the first place. And aspirin can also have some scary side effects, like bleeding in the gut. That’s not a place I want to increase blood flow! If you don’t either, you’ll be glad to know that I have a few other natural – and safe – solutions for you.

One is to try white willow bark. It’s similar to aspirin. But it shouldn’t make your gut bleed. If you’d rather just pop an extra pill, this is an easy solution. Or you can try something tastier.

Another option is to take your niacin with a buffered vitamin C.

Try This Fruit Fix

People often report that fruits containing pectin help their flushing. Pears, apples, plums, and citrus fruits are all good sources of pectin. And of course, they supply other health benefits too. So researchers decided to study whether there was any evidence to back up the claims that they could help with flushing. The researchers decided to use apple pectin for their study.

They recruited 100 people who hadn’t taken niacin before and divided them into four equal groups. One group received apple pectin capsules. Another group received aspirin. Yet another group got both, and the final group received a placebo. This was a double-blind study, meaning that neither the researchers nor the participants knew which group was which.

After treatment, the researchers gave the participants 1,000 mg of extended-release niacin. Over the next six hours, the participants assessed their flushing symptoms every hour.

Both apple pectin and aspirin worked well. They significantly reduced the length of the flushing. And they also led to minor improvements in other flushing symptoms. So you can try either solution. But only one has a reputation for keeping the doctor away.

If your flushing symptoms are minor, try eating an apple or an orange before you take niacin. You can even try having a few tablespoons of applesauce. The pectin in the fruit may be enough to help ward off the response. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy a healthy treat that supplies fiber and antioxidants. If you need a bit more of a boost, look for encapsulated apple pectin like the researchers used. This is a good natural alternative to aspirin.

One other strategy to try will work well if you’d like to take niacin right before bed. Wash niacin down with a small glass of cold water and Alka-Seltzer. This should also keep the flushing at bay.

These strategies can help keep your skin from looking and feeling worse if you take niacin. That’s good news for your arteries. And it’s also good news for your skin. You see, all this boosted circulation can mean good things for your skin. And the niacin itself has protective benefits.

A Few Final Notes

You may see “non-flushing” niacin (inositol hexaniacinate) at your local store. It’s true that this can keep you from flushing. But it also keeps you from experiencing most of the benefits of niacin. The same goes for “slow-release” niacin. Studies have found that this form of niacin won’t do much for your brain or your heart. Stick with the regular stuff and try other strategies to avoid the flush.

It’s also possible for niacin to irritate your liver. If you’re concerned about this, have your doctor keep an eye on your liver enzymes. If a problem arises, work together to find the right solution to your cholesterol – one that has side effects that you can live with.

If you’ve ever had a skin scare, niacin might be a good addition to your supplement routine. If you decide to start taking it, I recommend going ahead and having your cholesterol tested at the beginning, even if you aren’t particularly worried about it. It will be nice to see how much healthier your numbers are the next time you need to have it checked, even if you were in a pretty good place to begin with!

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