Ask a Dermatologist and a Chemist: Why is Niacinamide Beneficial for Skin Health?

Ask a Dermatologist and a Chemist: Why is Niacinamide Beneficial for Skin Health?

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Courtney Rubin, and our Head of Chemistry, Lizzy Trelstad, weigh in on your most pressing skincare questions.

First, what's the difference between niacin, niacinamide and nicotinamide?

Niacin is vitamin B3. Niacinamide and nicotinamide are synonymous, referring to the water soluble form of niacin, and are derived from niacin. Niacinamide is preferred over Niacin for oral B3 supplementation since it does not cause flushing the way niacin does.

Does niacinamide regulate oil production?

Dr. Courtney Rubin’s take:

Reduction in sebum (oil) is a well studied and verified effect that niacinamide has on the skin. 

Lizzy’s take:

In an over-generalized but not overly dramatic sense, niacinamide is indispensable to the life and healthy functioning of a cell, including sebum production, at least with respect to 2D biology and all its biochemical mechanisms.

One key point: sometimes "controlling" sebum doesn't mean making less—it means making more at a precise ratio. Human sebum  is a mix of a bunch of good stuff, including fatty acids, cholesterol, ceramides and triglycerides. The ratios of these and other ingredients aren’t exact, but they are specifically controlled to be within a certain range. For example, there's some indication that acneic people often have an imbalance of oleic and linoleic acids. Get those omegas back in order, and acne tends to clear up. Niacinamide may be one contributing factor in helping your specific body to achieve the right balance, thus helping to regulate sebum production.

I think in skin it's equally about dose as well as balance with any one ingredient in a full system. Regarding niacinamide, it may be that by decreasing oleic acid production (specifically), and thus sebum production (in general), you may just get re-balanced sebum production, meaning your body is making the right levels of the same thing.

What else does niacinamide do for the skin? 

According to Fig.1 Advisory Board member, Patricia K. Farris MD, in Master Techniques in Facial Rejuvenation (2018):

There are many clinical benefits of niacinamide including reducing skin redness, improving sallowness, and lightening hyperpigmentation. NADPH is a cofactor for synthesis of fatty acids and lipids such as ceramides, which explains why topical application of niacinamide enhances skin barrier lipids and improves barrier function. It also reduces sebum production and [the appearance of] pore size, making it an excellent choice for patients with oily skin who desire rejuvenation. Niacinamide increases collagen and glycosaminoglycan production, boosting dermal matrix components that can smooth wrinkles."