Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide or vitamin B3, is a water-soluble multi-functional ingredient that is easy to formulate and very cost effective. There is so much to love about niacinamide that I had added it to ALL the skincare products that I have designed.
Niacinamide is a precursor of two important cellular co-factors: NADH and NADPH. When apply topically, niacinamide rapidly increases skin levels of these co-factors regulating skin hydration and barrier function, inflammation, redness and hyper-pigmentation.
EPIDERMAL LEVEL: Niacinamide penetrates the stratum corneum improving barrier function, reducing water loss and restoring skin hydration. This is done due to the activation of different pathways including increased synthesis of ceramides, fatty acids and hyaluronic acid. In addition, this chemical increases the production of keratin, involucrin and filaggrin, all important proteins that form the cornified envelope (outermost layer of the skin). Topical niacinamide also reduces oil production and therefore pore visibility, making it perfect for acne-prone or oily skin.
Visible improvements in skin unevenness and hyper-pigmentation are linked to niacinamide (up to 5%) as this chemical inhibits tyrosinase activity (a key enzyme in the production of melanin), prevents melanin transfer to keratinocytes and acts as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant molecule. Niacinamide inhibits the activation of Nf-kappa B, a master regulator of inflammation and prevents degranulation of mast cells. These cells participate in allergic reactions, irritation and for promoting more severe inflammatory responses as well as hyper-pigmentation (more inflammation=more pigment). Interestingly, niacinamide reduces skin sensitivity to surfactants such as SLS and improves tolerability to retinoids.
DERMAL LEVEL: Niacinamide inhibits protein glycation, minimizing the deposit of cross-linked collagen and elastin. Cross-linked proteins are rigid and stiff and they do not provide the benefits of skin firmness or elasticity. How does this happen? well, try to imagine how much you can stretch a stiff rubber band ... Not much, isn't it? The same happens to cross-linked (non-functional) elastin, it has minimum stretch and recoil capacity resulting in skin sagginess. Niacinamide not only protects ECM components from glycation but also increases their synthesis boosting dermal levels of collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycans resulting in the reduction of lines and wrinkles and skin plumping.
THE DARK SIDE OF NIACINAMIDE: As any chemical in skincare, niacinamide has an optimal concentration range in which benefits surpass adverse reactions. Clinical evidence shows that most of niacinamide benefits can be observed at concentrations between 2 5%, while developing minimum cutaneous irritation and flushing (redness). Companies may formulate with larger amounts, because it is cheap and easy to formulate, but: Are we getting an actual benefit or just increasing the chances of irritation and skin damage?
Final thoughts: Although niacinamide is an impressively splendid multi-functional ingredient with great tolerability, by itself is not enough to address all the sings of skin aging … we all know it takes a village!
FUN FACT: (1) Niacinamide can be produced (with mild efficiency) by our skin using tryptophan (an amino acid). (2) Niacinamide is found in animal-based foods such as meat and poultry while nicotinic acid is found in plant-based foods (nuts, seeds and green veggies). Nicotinic acid when apply topically causes vasodilation, redness and skin irritation.