Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide or Vitamin B3 has received a lot of attention in the world of skin care in the past couple of months. This ingredient was recently featured as a very promising anti-aging solution on the Dr. Oz Show and this has immediately sparked discussions throughout the web.By now, we've all heard about the great benefits of Vitamin B3 in all sorts of products ranging from anti-aging creams to skin whitening treatments. But, in the midst of all these claims, how can one be sure of what is real and what's, well … just hearsay?
In the next couple of paragraphs, we'll review together the scientific evidence that backs some of these claims but first let's start with a quick introduction to niacinamide.
What is niacinamide and what does it do?
Niacinamide is part of the group B of vitamins and is also sometimes called vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 also exists in another wide spread form called niacin which is converted to niacinamide inside the body. Both forms of vitamin B3 essentially have the same benefits but niacin is well known for inducing unpleasant but harmless side effects such as flushing and warmth of the skin. To avoid these, most skin care products are formulated with niacinamide which provides the same skin benefits but none of the side effects. The main function of niacinamide inside the body is to be a precursor of the coenzymes NAD and NADP. A precursor simply means a building block that the body utilizes to make other, typically larger and more useful compounds. NAD stands for Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide and is an extremely important coenzyme in all living cells and, like its close relative NADP, is involved in essential cellular functions.
But how exactly does it help your skin and is it really the cure-all type of ingredient that it made to look like? Well the answer is yes … to some extent. One sure thing is that Niacinamide is one of the most searched ingredients in the skin care industry, certainly more so than others that are commonly used. But let's see what science says about the most common niacinamide claims we've all heard about.
Claim 1: Niacinamide can lighten and correct skin tone. Scientific Evidence: Very Strong.
The evidence we have so far that niacinamide can lighten and unify skin tone is very strong and supported by dozens of independent researchers. The latest publication on the subject, which appeared last month in the Skin Research Technology Journal, found that niacinamide reduced the appearance of hyperpigmentation in a study on 42 Korean Women after 8 weeks of use (Lee et al., 2014). For those who may not be familiar with the term, hyperpigmentation is a medical name for spots or areas on your skin that are darker than the rest, such as for instance age spots. In 2013, another article showed that a 4% niacinamide product reduced axillar hyperpigmentation in a similar study performed on 24 women for a period of 9 weeks (Castanedo-Cazares et al. 2013). And in the last two decades, there are at least a dozen other articles with very similar finds which would be tedious to list. However, one article describes case. In 2011, a very important study showed that niacinamide does not only reduce hyperpigmentation, but that its effects are comparable to those of hydroquinone (Castanedo-Cázares JP et al. 2011). Now, hydroquinone is classically very effective at removing dark spots, but its side effects can be horrendous in some people, so much so that the FDA recently proposed an in depth investigation of hydroquinone leading to a possible removal from over the counter products in the future .
Claim 2: Niacinamide can help with acne. Scientific evidence: Very Strong.
There are over 2 dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals that have examined the effectiveness of niacinamide in the treatment of acne. The most improvement to date seems to occur in individuals with light to moderate acne and the reason seems to be two fold. On one hand, niacinamide can reduce facial sebum production (Draelos et al., 2006). At the same time, it also inhibits skin inflammation around zits leading to fewer and less intenet red spots (Fivenson DP 2006). However the case may be, what is important is that niacinamide fares surprisingly well when compared to a standard acne treatment. Indeed, a recent study showed that topical niacinamide versus clindamycin, a prescription antibiotic, lead to the same improvement level in 40 patients with moderate acne (Khodaeiani et al. 2013). That is the strongest evidence so far that suggests that niacinamide may potentially be as good as some other common prescription therapies for acne.
Claim 3: Niacinamide can tighten and lift sagging skin. Scientific evidence : Weak to Moderate.
Although a certain number of studies have examined the effect of niacinamide on wrinkles (see claim below) and on other global anti-aging signs, very few have looked at the effects on sagging skin. One way to measure improvements in drooping skin is to look at changes in skin elasticity. One such study published a decade ago that found near improving skin sallowness, wrinkles and fine lines, niacinamide also increased skin elasticity in a sample of 50 women (Bissett DL et al., 2005). Now, we know that niacinamide improves the barrier function of skin and losses loss of water, so this observed increase in elasticity may just be a side effect of its potent moisturizing abilities. Although the data is encouraging so far, more research is still needed to understand the effects of niacinamide on skin elasticity.
Claim 4: Niacinamide can minimize wrinkles. Scientific evidence: Strong.
The fact that niacinamide improves the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines is supported by numerous studies over the years. The most recent and also arguably one of the most important was published by JJ FU and collections in 2010. The authors compared a cosmetic product containing niacinamide in conjunction with peptides and retinol against the drug Tretinoin. For those who may not be familiar with this drug, Tretinoin is an acid derivative of retinol, in other words a compound that can be obtained from retinol after a chemical modification. Tretinoin is FDA approved for the treatment of wrinkles and can only be obtained through medical prescription. Therefore it represented the perfect benchmark for this study. So how well did the regimen containing niacinamide fare against Tretinoin? Incredibly well. As it turns out, the treatment containing niacinamide, peptides and retinol surpassed Tretinoin after 8 weeks, however this difference diminished later and both regimens lead to similar improvements at the end of the study after 24 weeks (Fu JJ et al., 2010). To top it all off, subjects tolerated (ie had less side effects) the non prescription formulation much better than the prescription drug.
Claim 5: Niacinamide can tighten pores. Scientific Evidence: Weak.
Although niacinamide may help reduce the appearance of acne (see claim 2), there is nothing to indicate that the appearance of normal pores, ie non-inflamed by a zit, can be shrunk by the use of niacinamide. The use of traditional astringents is still the best remedy in this case. This claim seems to have arisen from mostly anecdotal accounts, which does not mean it is not true; it only means that it is not supported by science … yet.
These are some of the most common hypes about niacinamide. Some say it is a miracle ingredient, some think it is a marketing fad. Ultimately, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that niacinamide may be, in most cases, one of the most important ingredients to look for in a skin care regimen.
- Reduction in facial hyperpigmentation after treatment with a combination of topical niacinamide and tranexamic acid: a randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled trial. Lee do H, Oh IY, Koo KT, Suk JM, Jung SW, Park JO, Kim BJ, Choi YM . Skin Res Technol. 2014 May; 20 (2): 208-12. doi: 10.1111 / srt.12107.
- Topical niacinamide 4% and desonide 0.05% for treatment of axillary hyperpigmentation: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Castanedo-Cazares JP, Lárraga-Piñones G, Ehnis-Pérez A, Fuentes-Ahumada C, Oros-Ovalle C, Smoller BR, Torres-llvarez B. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol . 2013; 6: 29-36. doi: 10.2147 / CCID.S39246.
- A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial of Niacinamide 4% versus Hydroquinone 4% in the Treatment of Melasma. Navarrete-Solís J, Castanedo-Cázares JP, Torres-llvarez B, Oros-Ovalle C, Fuentes-Ahumada C, González FJ, Martínez-Ramírez JD, Moncada B. Dermatol Res Pract . 2011; 2011: 379173. doi: 10.1155 / 2011/379173.
- The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Draelos ZD, Matsubara A, Smiles K. J Cosmet Laser Ther . 2006 Jun; 8 ( 2 ): 96-101.
- The mechanisms of action of nicotinamide and zinc in inflammatory skin disease. Fivenson DP. Cutis . 2006 Jan; 77 (1 Suppl): 5-10. Review.
- Topical 4% nicotinamide vs. 1% clindamycin in moderate inflammatory acne vulgaris. Khodaeiani E, Fouladi RF, Amirnia M, Saeidi M, Karimi ER. Int J Dermatol . 2013 Aug; 52 (8): 999-1004. doi: 10.1111 / ijd.12002.
- Niacinamide : A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance . Bissett DL, Oblong JE, Berge CA. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul.
- A randomized, controlled comparative study of the wrinkle reduction benefits of a cosmetic niacinamide / peptide / retinyl propionate product regimen vs. a prescription 0.02% tretinoin product regimen. Fu JJ, Hillebrand GG, Raleigh P, Li J, Marmor MJ, Bertucci V, Grimes PE, Mandy SH, Perez MI, Weinkle SH, Kaczvinsky JR . Br J Dermatol. 2010 Mar; 162 (3): 647-54.