Few skin-care ingredients are as versatile as niacinamide. In fact, according to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Michele Green, this buzzy skin-care staple is chock-full of benefits (but more on those later). Before diving in any deeper, it’s important to understand how niacinamide works–including the science behind it. According to Dr. Green, this “gentle yet powerful” ingredient works by “increasing the natural lipids found on the skin’s surface and reducing water loss.” The result? A healthy, hydrated, and strong skin barrier. It’s also worth noting that niacinamide is considered an essential nutrient, which, per New York City-based board-certified Brendan Camp, means that the body cannot produce or store it. As such, explains Dr. Camp, “Niacinamide must be consumed through food or applied to the skin via skin-care products to acquire it.”
Niacinamide can do it all, whether your goal is to reduce the appearance of fine lines, brighten dark spots, or have some extra protection against free radicals. When applied topically, Dr. Green tells ELLE that niacinamide helps support your skin’s barrier, minimize redness, and protect against sun damage. She also credits niacinamide with having a calming and brightening effect on the skin, which helps “improve overall tone and texture while calming breakouts and controlling excess sebum and oil production.” Meanwhile, board-certified dermatologist Jeriel Weitz of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City adds that niacinamide helps soften fine lines and wrinkles by “reducing the immunosuppressive effects of UV radiation.”
People with hyperpigmentation will also want to incorporate some niacinamide-infused skincare products into their routines. According to Corey L. Hartman, Medical Director and Founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, niacinamide can also help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation (AKA dark spots) on the skin’s surface.
Since niacinamide is such a versatile ingredient, you’ll find it across various skin-, body-, and hair-care products. For example, explains Dr. Camp, “It may show up as a calming agent in a cleanser, a hydrating ingredient in a moisturizer, a brightener in a serum, or a strengthening agent in a shampoo or hair mask.” However, Dr. Green notes that niacinamide is most commonly found in serums, which typically range in concentration from two to ten percent (or sometimes even higher!)
According to Dr. Hartman, niacinamide is one of the most gentle yet effective skin-care ingredients on the market, making it suitable for all skin types. The dermatologist also describes niacinamide as “a great ingredient” for folks with oily, acne-prone skin since it can help decrease pore size and reduce acne-caused inflammation. Similarly, Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, a board-certified dermatologist based in La Jolla, California, credits niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory properties with reducing redness and irritation. With this in mind, niacinamide is also suitable for those with rosacea-prone skin, explains Dr. Weitz.
But also, a word of warning: Dr. Shirazi says that higher concentrations of niacinamide—“particularly those at 10% or higher—“can potentially cause irritation such as redness and rebound oil production.” On that note, Dr. Green recommends that sensitive-skinned folks start with a lower concentration to avoid potential irritation and redness. “A 2% niacinamide is a good starting point, and you can gradually increase this concentration over time, depending on how well your skin tolerates it,” she says.
Great news ahead: “Niacinamide pairs well with other skincare ingredients,” says Dr. Weitz. She adds it’s “often combined with other active ingredients based on the specific concern that a particular product is targeting.” Take niacinamide and retinol, for example. According to Dr. Green, “When used in combination with retinol, it can help ease the dryness and flakiness that often accompanies it.” You can also mix niacinamide with a slew of other skin-care ingredients – including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, peptides, vitamin C, and AHAs and BHAs – to pack an extra powerful punch. Below are our favorite niacinamide-infused products, including a handful of derm-approved recs.