Recently an Acne.org member wrote to me asking if I could look into niacinamide, an ingredient which may be beneficial for acne prone skin and which is included in some over-the-counter products, especially moisturizers due to its water loss prevention properties. Knowing that over-treatment of the skin can lead to irritation and the perpetuation of acne, he asked if I could explain whether niacinamide could potentially interfere with the effectiveness of the Regimen.
What is it: Niacinamide (a.k.a. Nicotinamide or Nicotinic Acid Amide) is a close chemical compound to Vitamin B3 (niacin) which can be taken orally or applied topically. Based on the published research I have uncovered, this ingredient may be a welcome addition to a skin care product ingredient deck and will most likely not prove to be an unwelcome variable.
Evidence: For the purposes of this post, I am speaking of topically applied niacinamide. Topical niacinamide may have measurable anti-inflammatory, anti-irritation, and skin turnover properties. In one study testing topically applied 4% niacinamide (brand name Nicomide), it was shown to reduce acne symptoms as much as 1% clindamycin, a widely prescribed topical antibiotic. Keep in mind that clindamycin produces unimpressive results, even if significant over placebo. In another study, in order to test for niacinamide’s effect on skin oil production, researchers applied 2% niacinamide to Japanese and Caucasian subjects. At least some of the Japanese subjects experienced somewhat reduced skin oil production.
Mixing it with other meds: Normally, it is wise to keep the amount of active ingredients one uses to a minimum to prevent over-treatment of the skin, and resulting irritation. However, since the skin reacts very minimally to niacinamide and it tends to cause so few side effects, it may prove a welcome passenger alongside other ingredients.
Beware of “label claim”: It is a general practice in the cosmetics industry to include ingredients in products at tiny amounts for what is referred to as “label claim.” Manufacturers will very often add one or two drops of an ingredient into huge hundred gallon batches so they can write on their label that the desired ingredient is in the product. If you see niacinamide in a product, check its placement within the product’s ingredient list. As an example, it is the fourth ingredient in Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer – Normal. The higher an ingredient is listed, the more of that ingredient is included, so its fourth place showing is promising. If you see it listed toward the end of an ingredient list, chances are it may be in the product only for label claim.
A final note: In my years of researching promising acne fighting ingredients, I have come across hundreds of ingredients which show promise in fighting acne. Studies of these ingredients are often small, and results, while scientifically significant, are often unimpressive. In other words, it is not time to lobby skin care manufacturers to be certain to include niacinamide in their products. Rather, be sure you have the basics in place–a non-overdrying cleanser, a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, and a moisturizer which does the trick of bringing the skin back into balance. When used within the Regimen, these products alone should get you 100% clear. However, if you do see niacinamide on the label, I don’t see any reason at this point to worry that you will be over-treating your skin.
As we move forward here at Acne.org, I will keep niacinamide in mind when formulating, along with all of the other promising ingredients available to us. I’ll also keep checking research as it emerges regarding this ingredient.