What Does Niacinamide Do For Your Skin: The Ultimate Guide
Drops of Niacinamide on a pink background. Learn what niacinamide does for your skin.

If you aren’t familiar with what niacinamide does for your skin, I’ll just presume you’ve been living under a rock — which is understandable when you consider the fact that the 2020 lockdown felt like a weird fever dream. Amid the banana bread, Tiger King, and Zoom-quiz pandemic hysteria, in the beauty community, niacinamide became quite the hot topic. Google data revealed niacinamide to be one of the most searched beauty terms of 2020 (and to this day, it sits high and mighty in skincare search trends).

But what was peculiar about the sudden frenzy around niacinamide is that it wasn’t “the new kid on the block” that many brands continue to portray it to be. In fact, it’s existed for several decades, but one question remains amongst skincare devotees: does it truly measure up to its online buzz? I’ll leave that up to you (and your skin) to decide but in the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into what we do know about the much-hyped-about beauty ingredient…

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin and a form of vitamin B3. It’s not produced naturally in our bodies but rather found in our diets, in food sources like legumes, nuts, meats, poultry, green vegetables, and fish, and is an essential nutrient that our bodies require for all-round good health. But when a vitamin B3 deficiency kicks in, it can result in a condition called pellagra.

This can instigate deficiency symptoms like sun sensitivity, diarrhea, anemia, headaches, and more. To treat this, niacin supplements are taken however, one major drawback is that these cause an intense degree of skin flushing (and by intense, I literally mean tomato-level redness!). This is where niacinamide comes into play, AKA niacin’s topical twin, which allows us to reap all its skin rewards sans the troublesome skin-flush side effect.

So what does niacinamide do for skin?

There are several benefits that come along with this vitamin, these include:

  • Increased keratin production to keep your skin’s barrier function in tip-top shape. A boost in keratin subsequently aids in improving your skin’s immunity, therefore protecting it from infections and other pesky and harmful invaders.
  • It improves your skin’s lipid barrier as it revs up ceramide production. As a result, this helps elevate your skin’s moisture retention, which is why niacinamide is often touted as a useful ingredient for skin conditions like eczema.
  • It stabilizes excess oil secretion — Is niacinamide good for acne? Yes, it makes a great solution for oily and acne-prone skin types.
  • It helps reduce redness and soothes inflamed acne.
  • And last but not least, it helps even out discolorations and functions as a great companion for other pigmentation-fighting ingredients like vitamin C

Overall, niacinamide is sort of like your ride or die and sociable friend who always seems to gel well with others (in this case, other ingredients) and always has your back, no matter the circumstance. However, when mingling with niacinamide, less is most certainly more. And once you start to overindulge in your concentration, it can end up catalyzing a counterproductive effect that’ll result in even more skin woes.

So take note: The dosage makes the poison

When it comes to concentrations, generally, anything above 5% is overkill, and this applies to niacinamide as well. 3-5% is the sweet spot. Use a high level of it, and your skin will definitely freak the eff out, resulting in inflammation, irritation, and breakouts — all the things that niacinamide is supposed to help ease and treat. So please (I beg!) be careful with your choice of formulations. A few faves that currently have my stamp of approval?

Glossier Super Pure, $28

This gem consists of 5% niacinamide and it’s a super-lightweight water-gel texture that your skin will literally slurp up in an instant.

Alpha-H Vitamin B Serum with 5% Niacinamide

This radiance-boosting serum has niacinamide and 1% panthenol (vitamin B5) in the mix to help decrease transepidermal water loss — a great add-on to the ceramides that niacinamide produces.

Skinceuticals Metacell Renewal B3, $115

I really love this product as it brings together 5% niacinamide with a tripeptide concentrate, formulated in a 15% glycerin base. So essentially, it provides ample hydration but still manages to feel featherlight and airy on the skin. 

Shop my full list of niacinamide products here.