What is niacinamide? How to use the skin-brightening saviour that works on all skin types

The form of vitamin B3 can help blitz excess oil and minimise the appearance of pores

Niacinamide can treat a variety of skin issues, from excess oil to large pores and dehydration. Unsplash
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Hyaluronic acid. Vitamin C. Retinol. Glycolic acid.

The list of ingredients we're advised to use – by dermatologists, influencers and skincare websites alike – feels never-ending.

If we were to incorporate every supposed cult product recommended into our routine, our bathroom cabinets would be positively overflowing.

And now, there's niacinamide.

Touted by brands such as The Ordinary, Paula's Choice and The Inkey List as an unsung hero of skincare, the anti-ageing, hydrating ingredient is finally getting its moment in the spotlight.

But is it a superfluous substance or the real MVP of a skincare regime? We asked some of the UAE's experts for their input.

What exactly is niacinamide?

"Niacinamide is a type of vitamin B3 and is considered an essential nutrient in the body," says Dr Shadan Naji, a dermatologist at Dubai's Dr Kayle Aesthetic Clinic.

"It works by helping the skin form keratin, which increases the immunity of the skin as well as increasing the strength of the skin barrier."

Dr Naji adds that by strengthening skin, niacinamide helps maintain moisture levels, as well as having proven effects on treating blemish-prone skin.

What does it do?

This powerhouse ingredient is something of a jack of all trades.

Not only does it promote nourished skin, it helps regulate excess oil and can minimise the appearance of large pores, making it a multi-tasking option for both dry and oily skins.

"This skin-brightening ingredient is easily absorbed by the outer layer of skin without causing irritation or flushing, which is commonly seen with other forms of vitamin B3," says Rebecca Treston, skincare expert at Dubai London Clinic.

Treston says niacinamide can be used to treat a variety of conditions and complaints, from breakouts and scarring to pigmentation, redness, fine lines, dullness and itchy or flaky skin.

"Niacinamide is an exceptional skincare ingredient because it can treat nearly any skin concern," she adds.

Who should use it?

There aren't any skin types that wouldn't benefit from using a niacinamide-rich formula.

"It is perfect for skin that suffers from adverse pigmentation, but it can also improve acne by reducing sebum production," says Treston, who also says the ingredient has powerful anti-ageing properties.

Niacinamide is beneficial for all skin types, especially if you have eczema or mature skin

"The way niacinamide works for preventing premature ageing is quite simple – this ingredient is an antioxidant that blocks the free radical damage caused by sun exposure and pollution."

The anti-inflammatory ingredient can even be used by those suffering with eczema.

"Niacinamide helps build keratin, a type of protein that keeps your skin firm and healthy, as well as stimulating a ceramide (lipid) barrier," says Edwige Gandin, a beautician at Pastels Salon.

"This is beneficial for all skin types, especially if you have eczema or mature skin."

That sounds like lots of pros, but are there any cons?

While it can be used on all skin types, those with extremely sensitive skin may experience some side effects, such as redness or irritation.

"If that happens, you can reduce how often you apply niacinamide or switch to a product with a lower percentage," advises Treston.

A good way to check sensitivity to a product is by conducting a patch test on your body, such as the back of your hand, at least 24 hours before applying the formula to your face.

Niacinamide can also cause your body to release histamine, so those with pre-existing allergies might also experience a reaction, adds Gandin.

"If you have sensitive skin, you may want to start with a lower concentration. Formulas with 2 per cent niacinamide may help ease symptoms of eczema and similar conditions," she says.

How do you use it?

The Ordinary sells a niacinamide serum formulated with zinc. Unsplash

Niacinamide typically comes either as a single-ingredient serum – such as The Inkey List's 10 per cent niacinamide solution – or in a cocktail formula, such as The Ordinary's serum, which features 10 per cent niacinamide and 1 per cent zinc.

"For best effects, niacinamide cannot be used as a solo product," says Naji. "Usually it is one ingredient of many which help optimise the skin’s appearance by working from the inside out."

That means, despite its many benefits, niacinamide should not replace the use of moisturiser or other serums. It should be used to supplement a well-researched skincare routine, rather than replace other key ingredients, such as vitamin C and retinol.

"Some reports suggest that supplemental niacinamide may work well alongside copper, folic acid and zinc to treat acne," says Gandin. "You may be able to get more out of your niacinamide serum by using it alongside hyaluronic acid, which is said to increase product absorption."

Is there anything you can't use it with?

There is a myth that niacinamide and vitamin C can’t be combined, but this is not strictly true, says Treston.

"What’s important for niacinamide is that the product be formulated at a pH that’s close to neutral. Vitamin C (pure ascorbic acid), on the other hand, does best in a low-pH (acidic) environment," she says.

It does not make the skin extra sensitive to sun exposure and can be safely used both during the day and in the evening

"However, nicotinic acid – the by-product of niacinamide and vitamin C – becomes an issue only when the niacinamide and vitamin C are combined in a high-temperature environment for a long time. That temperature is higher than you’d find in most at-home scenarios."

So, you can slap on your niacinamide serum with pretty much any other product.

When in your skincare routine should you apply it?

If you're using the ingredient in a serum, then this should be applied after cleansing and toning, but before you apply moisturiser or an oil.

However, you can also find toners and moisturisers laced with niacinamide; use these in the order you would normally apply them.

"Unlike many other actives, it does not make the skin extra sensitive to sun exposure and can be safely used both during the day and in the evening," adds Treston. "It is a good idea to try a niacinamide serum as part of your morning routine, before sunscreen."