As someone with acne-prone skin, I’m very cautious around new products and new ingredients. So when I tried a niacinamide serum for the first time and noticed a breakout forming, I immediately decided that it was not for me. But the more I learned about niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory benefits, the more I began to wonder — was I just using it wrong? Did I write it off too soon? After talking with a few other people who had the same reaction, I’m now convinced that we may all have been making a mistake. So what’s the truth about niacinamide? I chatted with Dr. Nancy Samolitis of Facile Dermatology + Boutique about the benefits of and best ways for using niacinamide. She’s a fan of the ingredient — in fact, it’s a key ingredient in Facile’s Super Skin serums.
To start, I wanted to know — what is it? “Niacinamide is vitamin B3,” says Dr. Samolitis, “It is found naturally in our bodies and we ingest it in certain foods like meat, fish, nuts, and mushrooms, as well as many vitamins and supplements.” As you probably know, vitamin B3 is an essential nutrient that plays a part in our energy levels, metabolism, and overall cell health — including skin cells. “Taken orally at a dose of 500mg twice daily, it was shown in a large Australian study to reduce the number of precancerous skin lesions and a decreased risk of non-melanoma skin cancers,” says Dr. Samolitis.
But it has benefits to our outsides as well as our insides (scientifically proven benefits, might I add). “Niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory properties make it an incredible ingredient for those with inflammatory skin conditions like acne and rosacea,” says Dr. Samolitis. And if you have uneven skin tone or dark spots, it’s good for you too. “Niacinamide is also helpful in treating skin pigmentation and has some collagen boosting properties,” she says, “I recommend it as part of everyone’s skin care routine.”
If it’s such a skin superhero, why did I have breakouts? The answer is simple: it wasn’t the niacinamide that did it (gasp!). According to Dr. Samolitis, it’s not common for niacinamide to be the culprit behind my pimples. “Niacinamide is incredibly friendly in skin care products, and doesn’t tend to cause irritation, acne purging or any other adverse reactions,” she says. However, it’s often paired with harsher ingredients to mitigate their side effects. “Niacinamide helps reduce inflammation that can be caused by active skin care ingredients like retinol and exfoliators,” she explains. The increased cell turnover stimulated by those ingredients can result in a “purging” effect, aka when an active ingredient breaks you out as it clears out the gunk that’s been hiding in your skin. But ultimately, niacinamide doesn’t increase cell turnover, making it impossible to cause a purging effect. If this breakout phenomenon is happening to you, check your products for other potential ingredients that might be the real culprit.
Skin also does best when you slowly incorporate one new product at a time, so take your time with a new niacinamide product and don’t introduce your skin to too many new products at once (that was my mistake). Lastly, check the concentration of niacinamide in your product — according to Healthline: “Some people do report irritation, dryness, and redness when using a high concentration of niacinamide (around 10 percent). Switching to a lower potency (around 4 or 5 percent) may be easier on your skin.”
If you’re ready to get back on the niacinamide horse, or are ready to try it for the first time, Dr. Samolitis recommends applying topical niacinamide twice a day, both morning and night. “It can be applied immediately after other active ingredients or blended with them,” she says. “In particular, I like using it with retinol to reduce potential irritation.” Consider me convinced — I’m ready to try again.