If the star ingredient isn’t part of your routine yet, it should be.

By Melanie Rud
November 19, 2020
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Credit: Getty Images

Niacinamide might not get quite as much buzz as ingredients like retinol and vitamin C, but the skincare superstar is an unsung hero that deserves equal praise. It’s the very definition of a multitasker, offering a litany of different benefits that make it a great pick for a wide variety of skin types and complexion concerns. But incorporating it into your already existing skincare routine isn't straightforward. Can you use niacinamide with vitamin C and/or retinol? What about hyaluronic acid? We asked experts to weigh in on everything you need to know about how to use niacinamide, and to share their favorite product picks.

What is niacinamide?

Simply put, it’s a B vitamin, one of two forms of vitamin B3 that’s involved in many important cellular functions of the skin, explains Gretchen Frieling, MD, a triple board-certified dermatopathologist in the Boston area. 

What benefits does it have for skin?

Buckle up, because this is a lengthy list. Niacinamide is a great choice for those with acne-prone skin. “Niacinamide reduces sebum production, which can both help prevent acne and also diminish shine,” says Kenneth Howe, MD, board-certified dermatologist of Wexler Dermatology in New York City. The vitamin is also known for its anti-inflammatory effects, which are beneficial both when it comes to treating acne and conditions such as eczema, adds Dr. Frieling.

Niacinamide helps strengthen the skin barrier, another major boon for those with eczematic and sensitive skin, according to both experts. It’s a choice brightening ingredient, too, combating hyperpigmentation by blocking the transfer of pigment from the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) to the skin cells on the surface where discoloration is visible, says Dr. Howe.

As if all that weren’t enough, there’s also some data showing that niacinamide can help reduce wrinkling and photoaging, by ensuring cells function properly and helping repair DNA damage, says Dr. Howe. In short, there’s really not much that niacinamide can’t do.

Can you use niacinamde with retinol?

Yes! In fact, dermatologists say that retinol and niacinamide is a recommended combination for achieving quicker results. Niacinamide's calming benefits can also combat the negative side effects and irritation that often come alongside retinol's wrinkle-fighting magic.

Does it work well with other ingredients?

As a general rule of thumb, yes, which is why it’s found in many skincare products and why it’s pretty easy to incorporate into your existing routine. Per those acne-fighting benefits, niacinamide is often paired with salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that’s a mainstay in acne products, says Dr. Frieling. Combining niacinimadie’s oil-reducing prowess with salicylic acid’s ability to dissolve excess oil is a great way to help keep pores clear and breakouts at bay.

Niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory and skin barrier-strengthening effects also make it a good option to pair with alpha-hydroxy acids, chemical exfoliants that have the potential to cause some skin irritation. Combining these also increases the efficacy of the niacinamide, since the AHAs exfoliate the dead skin cells that could otherwise make it harder for the niacinamide to effectively penetrate, says Dr. Frieling. And finally, niacinamide is often paired with hyaluronic acid, given that both can help alleviate dryness, she adds.

The one ingredient where the jury is still out? Vitamin C. Our experts were split on this one. Dr. Howe says that Vitamin C can inactivate niacinamide and suggests separating the application by 15 minutes. While Dr. Frieling notes that there is debate on the topic, she says that in order for the two to negatively interact they’d have to be heated, and that more and more products are actually combining the two in skin-brightening formulations. The bottom line: If you’re using a product that contains both vitamin C and niacinamide, it’s likely been specially formulated so that they can work together. But if you’re using two distinct products with these ingredients, wait 15 minutes between applications, or save one for morning use and the other for evening use. 

Should I be using niacinamide?

In a word, yes. One of the great things about niacinamide is not only the litany of benefits it delivers, but also the fact that it’s relatively well tolerated, even for those with sensitive skin, says Dr. Howe. This makes it a nice alternative for those whose skin may not be able to handle more traditional acne or brightening ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.

Not sure where to start? Ahead, six dermatologist-approved niacinamide products worth trying.

$52, sephora.com

Swap your standard night cream for this overnight mask any time your skin needs a little extra TLC. “This ultra-soothing, moisturizing mask incorporates niacinamide into the mix for deep-level, anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Howe.

$154, dermstore.com

Yes, it’s expensive, but for fading discoloration, Dr. Howe says this potent option is well worth the price tag. Niacinamide not only works synergistically with tranexamic acid, a state-of-the-art lightening ingredient, but also helps to soothe and calm the skin simultaneously, he says. 

 $20, ulta.com

Dr. Frieling says this is an all-around great moisturizer, relying on niacinamide to help hydrate, strengthen, and repair the skin. It’s especially choice for those with sensitive skin, given that it’s free of potentially irritating ingredients such as synthetic fragrances and preservatives, she adds.  

$6; ulta.com

Battling breakouts? Reach for this powerful treatment. “This high-strength formula helps target sebum production to control oiliness and minimize pores,” says Dr. Frieling (credit both namesake ingredients). She adds that it also has the added benefit of helping to fade discoloration, a good option if you’re dealing with dark marks from old pimples. 

$35, dermstore.com

If your skin is dull and/or dry and/or moisturizer alone just doesn’t seem to do much, Dr. Frieling suggests adding this serum to your routine. She lauds it for combining reparative niacinamide with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both humectants that attract water to and hold it in the skin. It imparts plenty of hydration nearly instantly, and you also get to reap niacinamide’s other benefits, namely those spot-fading and anti-inflammatory effects. 

$36, dermstore.com

As Dr. Howe mentioned, niacinamide can help repair DNA damage to skin cells, so it makes perfect sense that it’s often added to sunscreen formulations (after all, UV exposure is one of the main causes of said DNA damage). This is one of his top picks, a sensitive skin-safe option that relies on zinc oxide for sun protection and incorporates both niacinamide and antioxidants for a second layer of defense.