Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of vitamin B3 that is used both topically and orally for skin care. It is used in many cosmetic products and has been studied for several skin diseases too.
It is similar to the vitamin niacin, but it is not the same thing. Niacinamide is generally used for the skin while niacin is used more often as an oral supplement to lower cholesterol.
Credit: Jet Trusler
What Does Niacinamide Do?
Niacinamide generally has anti-inflammatory properties and several studies have looked at what it does in both topical and oral form.
Topical use of niacinamide has been found to have the following effects in previous studies:
Reduce skin sebum (oil) excretion rate in some people. A study in 50 Japanese patients showed a decrease in oil production, but a study in 30 Caucasians did not.
Lighten pigmentation on the face[4-6] and thought to act by reducing melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) from transferring pigment to the surrounding keratinocyte skin cells.[5,6]
Improve the skin barrier function
Reduce oxidative stress damage to skin cells[9,10]
Clinical studies that have evaluated the effects of oral niacinamide have found the following:
Improve acne when given along with zinc, copper, and folic acid and in another study when combined with azelaic acid, zinc, pyridoxine, copper, and folic acid. No studies have been reported to look at oral niacinamide alone for acne.
Potential Side Effects of Niacinamide?
Table: Common Side Effects of Niacinamide and Niacin
Vitamin B3 form
Topical: Burning, stinging
Oral: No reported side effects in those receiving less than 3 g/day[13,14]
Flushing: increased blood flow to face and body
Skin Cancer Prevention with Niacinamide?
Oral niacinamide (500 mg twice daily for a total of 1000 mg daily) was shown to prevent the development of nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas) as well as the development of actinic keratosis (precancerous spots).
The results have been disputed as being non-reproducible by another author who separately conducted his statistical analysis, although no follow-up studies had been performed at the time of publication.
Practical Tips for Niacinamide
The oral supplement sounds similar to niacin, but niacinamide is very different from niacin in that niacinamide does not cause flushing as a side effect and is better tolerated orally with fewer side effects.
There are several foods that are good sources of niacin such as green vegetables, cereals, sesame seeds, peanuts, and turkey.
For further reading on vitamins and supplements, click on the article links below:
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Draelos ZD, Matsubara A, Smiles K. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. J Cosmet Laser Ther.2006;8(2):96-101; PMID: 16766489 Link to research.
Shalita AR, Smith JG, Parish LC, et al. Topical nicotinamide compared with clindamycin gel in the treatment of inflammatory acne vulgaris. Int J Dermatol.1995;34(6):434-437; PMID: 7657446 Link to research.
Kaymak Y, Önder M. An Investigation of Efficacy of Topical Niacinamide for the Treatment of Mild and Moderate Acne Vulgaris. Journal of the Turkish Academy of Dermatology.2008;2(4):jtad82402a; Link to research.
Navarrete-Solis J, Castanedo-Cazares JP, Torres-Alvarez B, et al. A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial of Niacinamide 4% versus Hydroquinone 4% in the Treatment of Melasma. Dermatol Res Pract.2011;2011:379173; PMID: 21822427 Link to research.
Hakozaki T, Minwalla L, Zhuang J, et al. The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer. Br J Dermatol.2002;147(1):20-31; PMID: 12100180 Link to research.
Greatens A, Hakozaki T, Koshoffer A, et al. Effective inhibition of melanosome transfer to keratinocytes by lectins and niacinamide is reversible. Exp Dermatol.2005;14(7):498-508; PMID: 15946237 Link to research.
Soma Y, Kashima M, Imaizumi A, et al. Moisturizing effects of topical nicotinamide on atopic dry skin. Int J Dermatol.2005;44(3):197-202; PMID: 15807725 Link to research.
Wozniacka A, Wieczorkowska M, Gebicki J, et al. Topical application of 1-methylnicotinamide in the treatment of rosacea: a pilot study. Clin Exp Dermatol.2005;30(6):632-635; PMID: 16197374 Link to research.
Oblong JE. The evolving role of the NAD+/nicotinamide metabolome in skin homeostasis, cellular bioenergetics, and aging. DNA Repair (Amst).2014;23:59-63; PMID: 24794404 Link to research.
Rovito HA, Oblong JE. Nicotinamide preferentially protects glycolysis in dermal fibroblasts under oxidative stress conditions. Br J Dermatol.2013;169 Suppl 2:15-24; PMID: 23786616 Link to research.
Niren NM, Torok HM. The Nicomide Improvement in Clinical Outcomes Study (NICOS): results of an 8-week trial. Cutis.2006;77(1 Suppl):17-28; PMID: 16871775 Link to research.
Shalita AR, Falcon R, Olansky A, et al. Inflammatory acne management with a novel prescription dietary supplement. J Drugs Dermatol.2012;11(12):1428-1433; PMID: 23377512 Link to research.
Chen AC, Martin AJ, Choy B, et al. A Phase 3 Randomized Trial of Nicotinamide for Skin-Cancer Chemoprevention. N Engl J Med.2015;373(17):1618-1626; PMID: 26488693 Link to research.
Knip M, Douek IF, Moore WP, et al. Safety of high-dose nicotinamide: a review. Diabetologia.2000;43(11):1337-1345; PMID: 11126400 Link to research.