We Ask a Derm: What Does Niacinamide Do?

what does niacinamide do cat

If you're even the slightest bit interested in skincare, you've likely come across niacinamide (or vitamin B3, as it also goes by). The buzzy ingredient can be found in many serums and creams these days, so we asked Anar Mikailov, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of KP Away to give us the low down on what it does and how it works.

What is niacinamide?

You can think of it as the Meryl Streep of skincare—as in, it has range. It can be used to treat a number of things including acne, enlarged pores, excess oil and inflammation. As Mikailov explains, “Niacinamide, or nicotinamide, is an amide form of Vitamin B3. It is a water-soluble vitamin that’s involved in cellular energy metabolism and DNA repair. When applied to your skin, niacinamide has unique properties that complement the sebaceous functions of your skin, which is critical for maintaining healthy moisture levels and barrier defense."

Why is it used in skincare products?

Although niacinamide has been used in skincare formulations for many years, it’s gained even more popularity recently. According to Mikailov, this is because it’s “a fantastic multi-tasker that not only improves fine lines and wrinkles, but also works on the surface by stabilizing the skin barrier function and reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Niacinamide also has great anti-inflammatory properties, which helps improve acne, rosacea and atopic dermatitis.”

Does niacinamide really brighten your skin?

“Yes, niacinamide brightens your skin by inhibiting melanosome transfer. In some studies, it’s been shown to be only slightly less effective at skin brightening when compared to hydroquinone (the go-to lightening ingredient in many products). Niacinamide is much less irritating and more tolerable to most skin types as well,” says Mikailov. (Given its gentler nature, it’s important to note that the brightening effects of hydroquinone are usually noticeable after about a month of consistent use, but it can take up to two months when using niacinamide.)

In short, the main benefits of niacinamide can be summed up as follows:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Can brighten skin
  • Prevents acne
  • Protects against sun damage
  • Repairs skin barrier

Is there anything to be cautious of when using niacinamide?

“Some people experience mild irritation (i.e. mild swelling and itchiness) when using niacinamide at a concentration that’s greater than 4 percent, so you may want to start with a lower concentration if you have reactive skin,” advises Mikailov. “And if you typically use exfoliating ingredients, like AHAs, in your routine, scale back or avoid using the two together to reduce the chances of irritating your skin. Otherwise, there should be virtually no adverse effects.”

On the flip side, niacinamide works especially well when it’s paired with other brightening ingredients and antioxidants, like Vitamin C (which is why you often see products that include both in their formulations).

OK, ready to shop our favorite niacinamide products ahead?

1. Olay Tone Perfection Serum With Vitamin B3+ Vitamin C

If your skin is looking a bit dull these days, take things up a notch with this brightness-boosting serum that combines the powers of vitamin B3 and C. With a lightweight texture that absorbs quickly into your skin and a fragrance-free formula, it’s an easy add on to your routine that won’t compete with any of the other products you normally use.

2. Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops

It’s a serum and a highlighter in one aesthetically pleasing pink bottle. Packed with niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to brighten and hydrate skin, the TikTok-famous drops also impart an instant glow that’s dewy, not greasy. Use it before your moisturizer as a treatment or as the final step of your routine for that glass-skin finish that’s hard to come by over the age of 25.

3. The Inkey List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum

For those seeking help with oily skin, this lightweight serum is your best bet. Formulated with 10 percent niacinamide and one percent hyaluronic acid for balanced hydration (because oily skin needs hydrating, too), it reduces excess oils, thereby preventing future blemishes. Fans praise the serum for having a thinner consistency than most and for not leaving behind any sticky residue.

4. Sweet Chef Turmeric + Vitamin C Booster Eye Cream

What makes a good eye cream? Well, for starters, it’s got to be lightweight enough to wear well under makeup without pilling but hydrating enough to soften fine lines. This gel-cream pick does both, plus it has vitamin C and turmeric extract to brighten dark circles and niacinamide to support the all-important skin barrier in this delicate area.

5. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum

No skincare shopping list is complete with a shoutout to the mega-popular (and wallet-friendly) brand, The Ordinary. Their niacinamide serum is especially helpful for treating congested, acne-prone skin. Thanks to the star ingredient’s anti-inflammatory properties and the addition of zinc, the serum calms active breakouts, while keeping excess oils in check.

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Jenny Jin

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...
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