If you’ve watched even 10 minutes of TV, read an article (hi) or talked to a beauty-obsessed friend recently, there’s a very good chance you’ve already been bombarded with skin care’s new best friend: niacinamide. Niacinamide (also called nicotinamide) is a form of vitamin B3 that can, supposedly, give you the calm, smooth, happy face of a baby, but…what does that really mean? If you’re only vaguely aware of why, exactly, you should be loading up your skin care with niacinamide, allow me to enlighten you on the magic of B3:
- It’s a skin-soothing powerhouse.
Niacinamide is probably best known (and talked about) as an anti-inflammatory. “Not only does niacinamide help improve your skin’s barrier function, which is important in preventing inflammation, but it also acts as an antioxidant, meaning it helps protect your skin against environmental stressors that can cause irritation,” says Cheri Frey, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Maryland. And because topical niacinamide is rarely sensitizing when used correctly (more on that below), it’s excellent at calming rosacea, eczema, acne or keratosis pilaris.
- It’s a secret acne-fighter.
Wait, an ingredient that’s gentle enough for sensitive skin, yet strong enough to treat acne? Yup. Studies have shown niacinamide to be as effective at treating breakouts as clindamycin (a topical antibiotic often prescribed for acne) when applied twice a day for eight weeks. Plus, it’s also thought to help regulate your skin’s sebum (aka oil) production, which, in turn, can help reduce and prevent blackheads. No, it’s not nearly as effective as tried-and-true acne fighters like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or adapalene, but it’s also not as irritating, which makes it a pretty low-stakes, high-reward player.
- It’s a skin-plumping machine.
Quick biology lesson: Ceramides are fatty molecules that work to strengthen your skin barrier, keeping it plump, smooth and hydrated. Basically, they’re the moisture building blocks of your skin. Niacinamide (*cue superhero music*) can actually help your body produce even more of those building blocks, and more ceramides = happier skin with fewer fine lines and wrinkles.
- It’s a surprisingly good brightener.
“Niacinamide can help with hyperpigmentation—both brown and red spots—caused by acne, sun damage or melasma,” says Dr. Frey. And unlike the usual spot-lighteners, which can hardcore irritate skin, niacinamide works its miracles gently—and quickly: One study found that 5% niacinamide significantly lightened hyperpigmentation in just four weeks.
- It’s only effective in certain products.
If, at this point, you’re ready to overhaul your entire routine and replace it with niacinamide-spiked everything, hold off: “Niacinamide isn’t naturally super strong, so it really needs to sit on the skin to be effective,” says Dr. Frey. Which means that face wash with vitamin B3 on the label? Not going to do much, unfortunately. “Instead, look for a serum or moisturizer that has niacinamide high up on the ingredients list, not at the very bottom,” she says. Two favorites: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum and SkinCeuticals Metacell Renewal B3.
- It doesn’t play nice with every product.
There’s a belief that high-pH products (like niacinamide) and low-pH products (like vitamin-C serums) can cancel each other out when used together, but, says Dr. Frey, research is mixed. Niacinamide isn’t everyone’s BFF: Retinol, acids and even vitamin C can cause irritation and/or facial flushing when layered on top. “Wait 10 minutes between applying niacinamide and other products, or just separate them into morning and night,” says Dr. Frey.
- It’s not going to work overnight.
Hey, good things take time. Research suggests that niacinamide can start to improve acne and hyperpigmentation within two to three months, while your oil production and skin barrier can start to see changes within a month. But if you’re at month four and still see zero improvements? Switch to a stronger product.