As far as skincare regimens go, the favorites are probably the big superstars like AHA and retinol. However, there is a little guy called 'niacinamide' (also known as vitamin B3) who plays a small but essential role behind the scenes.
If you browse the ingredient lists of various skincare items, you can come across Niacinamide as a vital ingredient found in almost any product meant for treating a wide range of conditions, from simple acne to hyperpigmentation. The reason for the off-screen performance of this little ingredient is that Niacinamide is all-pervasive, meaning it is a multi-functional item that can be used for various skin issues and is suitable for almost any skin type. Hence, marketing this multi-tasking ingredient for a specific purpose is a challenge.
Let's take a look at what Niacinamide is and what it can do for your skin?
What is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is also known as nicotinamide and belongs to one of the two categories of Vitamin B3 nutrient (niacin). The other being nicotinic acid. Foods like red meat, chicken, green leafy vegetables, and certain fishes like salmon and tuna are fortified with niacin. In addition to food sources, topical applications of Niacinamide have been proven beneficial for the skin.
How Does Niacinamide Work?
Niacinamide is a type of water-soluble vitamin that works by aligning itself with the natural skin elements and helping to enhance complexion and skin texture by minimizing enlarged pores, tightening the skin, reducing wrinkles and fine lines and brightening the skin. As a water-soluble vitamin, Niacinamide does not dissolve in oil, and hence it is popularly used in many water-based serums. Therefore, people who love feather-light serums and who hate messing up their skin with oily solvents may find Niacinamide to be the perfect alternative. Niacinamide also helps in the biosynthesis of ceramides.[a] Ceramides are lipids that enable the skin to retain its moisture content. Niacinamide augments the production of ceramides, thereby making the skin firm and preventing dehydration of the skin. Hence, people with dry skin or acne may find niacinamide-based products to be helpful.[b] Some other therapeutic benefits of Niacinamide include anti-inflammatory, sebostatic (reduces sebum), antimicrobial, and antipruritic.
Benefits of Niacinamide
#1. Protects against Free-Radical Damage: Niacinamide helps to protect against oxidative stress and free radicals. When topically applied, Niacinamide enhances the skin's antioxidant capability. Hence, it can be substituted for vitamin-C based serums that are oily and acidic. Niacinamide tends to be lighter on the skin and also lasts long, which is why many people prefer switching to niacinamide-based serums in place of vitamin - C based serums.
#2. Helps with Inflammatory Skin Conditions: Niacinamide has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects and hence can help with inflammatory skin conditions like acne. Research has shown that two percent topical application of Niacinamide may inhibit oil production, thereby helping people suffering from acne. Studies have shown that topical application of 4% niacinamide twice daily for eight weeks offered similar results (for treating moderate acne) as one percent clindamycin (a topical antibiotic prescribed to treat acne) sans bacterial resistance. Thus, topical niacinamide preparations can be an excellent alternative to oral antibiotics.
#3. Effective against Skin Cancer: A 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 500 gms of oral Niacinamide, when administered to participants (who had a minimum of two non-melanoma skin cancers in the past five years), resulted in 23% fewer new cases of skin cancer as against placebo. Hence, if a person has had multiple non-melanoma skin cancers in his/her life, it would be worth asking a dermatologist about considering oral Niacinamide.
#4. Fades Pigmentation and Wrinkles: Niacinamide has proven to be an excellent remedy for pigmentation, age spots and wrinkles, and fine lines. Studies have proven that as little as two percent supplementation with Niacinamide for four weeks can significantly reduce hyperpigmentation.  One study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science in 2004 showed involved 50 women (between 40 to 60 age group) who applied a topical moisturizer containing 5% niacinamide in one section of their face and a placebo moisturizer on the other half of the face. Post twelve weeks of application, the results showed that the part of the face where they applied Niacinamide had a significant reduction in the pigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles compared to the placebo side. Another double-blind study showed that using a four percent concentration of Niacinamide for eight weeks reduced wrinkles in the eye area to a great extent. Niacinamide also has powerful hyperpigmentation – blitzing effect, that it can treat melasma - a condition characterized by severe hyperpigmentation that becomes hard to manage.
#5 Regulates Oil Produced by the Skin: If you do not have harsh skin conditions like acne or hyperpigmentation but are just suffering from oily skin, well, Niacinamide can help you with that also. One study  found out that a mere 2% of Niacinamide can help to reduce the sebum excretion rate and also lower the sebum levels. While most topical treatments for oily skin just tend to absorb the excess sebum, Niacinamide works differently by slowing down the amount of sebum released, and the difference can be noted in two to four weeks.
#6 Reduces Pore Size: Can you believe that Niacinamide can shrink your pore size? Well, yes, that is true. A 12-week study reported in the Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Practice showed that a combination of Niacinamide and salicylic acid significantly reduced the pores and bumpy surfaces on the skin. This is because of the ability of Niacinamide to reduce sebum secretion. Pores are generally enlarged when they are clogged with dead skin, dust, and sebum. By controlling and lowering sebum, Niacinamide prevents pores from getting caught with excess oil and dirt, thereby preventing them from stretching, and invariably leading to smaller pores. This makes the skin look smoother.
#7 Minimizes Dryness: Another way Niacinamide can be used in skincare is to treat dry skin. A study found out that the application of Niacinamide twice daily lowered inflammation and water-loss, enhancing the thickness of stratum corneum (skin's outermost layer). Thus, Niacinamide is effective in augmenting the hydration of the outermost layer of the skin.
#8 Minimizes Sallowness: As a person begins to age, the skin tends to become sallow. By sallow skin tone, we mean that the skin loses it's natural complexion and may have a yellow or brown tone appearance, especially on the face. This occurs on account of oxidative stress, dehydration, and a couple of other environmental factors as well. Niacinamide, as an antioxidant, helps to impede this oxidative stress that increases with aging and thereby minimizes sallowness.
#9 Safeguards against UV Damage: Niacinamide has photoprotective characteristics and hence can be used as an add-on to your regular sunscreen if one spends too much time out in the sun.. One study  has proven that Niacinamide helps in repairing the DNA post UV damage. Yet another study has confirmed that Niacinamide can aid in preventing photocarcinogenesis.
#10 Reduces Redness and Blotchiness of the Skin: Niacinamide enables the epidermal lipid barrier of the skin to function at its fullest. A sound lipid barrier enhances the natural ability of the skin to protect itself from environmental damage and also helps the skin to retain moisture. Regular use of niacinamide formulations will enable improvements in the skin structure over a while and minimize redness and blotchiness caused by various environmental factors. One study found that a 5% application significantly improved red blotchy skin, while another study established that Niacinamide is a useful treatment for rosacea.
So next time you venture out to buy any skincare item for enhancing the complexion and appearance of the skin, be sure to check if it contains Niacinamide.