Niacinamide is made from niacin, also known as vitamin B3. Niacin is found in all cells where it plays an important role in cellular energy production. It's present in greatest amounts in tissues that are more metabolically active like the brain, heart, liver and skeletal muscle. The body can only make small quantities of this vitamin, so it must come from food sources. A deficiency of niacin leads to a disease called pellagra characterized by diarrhea, dementia and skin problems. Some of the best sources of niacin are fish, poultry, red meat, nuts and whole grains.
Niacin is sometimes prescribed as a supplement as a treatment for elevated cholesterol and to reduce the risk of heart disease in people with a high cholesterol level. It's as effective as some anti-cholesterol medications, although at doses high enough to lower cholesterol it can cause side effects such as itching.
Niacinamide, a derivative of niacin, has the ability to treat some skin conditions including aging skin. It has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it effective for treating acne. It may also be beneficial for treating other inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea. Acne is a skin condition characterized by excess sebum production and irregular shedding of dead skin cells. The dead skin cells and sebum clog hair follicles causing inflammation, which niacinamide helps to reduce. Studies show that 4% niacinamide gel can improve the symptoms of acne.
Niacinamide isn't just beneficial for younger skin burdened by acne, it also has benefits for more mature skin. There's some evidence that it stimulates cells in the dermis to produce more collagen, a protein that supports skin and gives it its youthful firmness. That's a good thing since collagen levels decline with age, and loss of collagen is a major cause of wrinkles and saggy skin. It's also helpful for treating another problem that's common with mature skin - excessive dryness. According to one study, niacinamide was more effective for preventing moisture loss and dryness than petrolatum, a moisturizing ingredient that creates a tight, occlusive barrier against loss of water. Although effective, petrolatum is a by-product of petroleum, and many people want to avoid petroleum products. It also has a heavy, greasy feel, while niacinamide doesn't.
There's another way niacinamide improves dry skin. It increases the production of ceramides, lipids in the outer layer of the epidermis that shield skin against moisture loss and protect it from bacteria and the environment. Ceramides, along with other lipids like cholesterol and fatty acids, form a protective barrier against water loss, so replacing ceramides lost through aging and the use of harsh cleansing products helps to keep skin moist and supple.
Another skin problem that goes along with aging is increased skin pigmentation. It's common for people with more mature skin to complain of age spots and patchy areas of increased pigmentation from years of sun exposure. Niacinamide in concentrations of 4% helps to lighten areas of pigmentation and age spots. It also reduces blotchiness and evens out skin tone while improving skin texture. From treating dry skin to wrinkles, pigmentation and acne breakouts, niacinamide offers a variety of skin benefits.
With so many benefits, it's not surprising that makers of anti-aging products, acne treatments and cosmetic products are adding niacinamide to their formulations. Some products include facial moisturizers, eye creams and anti-aging products for the face and body. It's also an ingredient in some hair shampoos, conditioners and coloring treatments because of its hair conditioning benefits.
Is it safe? According to a study published in the International Journal of Toxicology, niacinamide is not toxic or carcinogenic at levels higher than those found in cosmetic products. It also doesn't sensitize the skin or cause irritation in most people. The Environmental Working Group classifies it as a low hazard cosmetic ingredient.
All in all, niacinamide is a safe skin care ingredient with a variety of benefits. It's not only beneficial for more mature skin - it's an effective treatment for acne and rosacea and one that's well tolerated.