Active skincare sounds appealing when you hear skin experts talk about ingredients that offer immediate results . . . but is this term just another marketing gimmick?
Typically prescribed for fading dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and brightening the skin, niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) is all over the market. Along with retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid, niacinamide has become known in the beauty world as a magical cure-all for spots, acne, and even rough texture in the skin. And while we used to include it in formulation, we found that it didn’t quite have positive effects for everyone. Keep on reading to learn more about our firsthand findings about niacinamide.
What is niacinamide?
Niacinamide is a topical version of a B3 vitamin that’s water-soluble. Many studies show that using niacinamide can help treat pigment disorders in the skin by blocking pigment transfer between melanocytes (the cells that bring color to our skin) and keratinocytes (the cells that produce keratin and form a barrier on our skin) and protecting the skin from oxidative stress (hence its antioxidant properties). In layman's terms, instead of your skin tanning and the darkening of color protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, niacinamide acts as a barrier (like an internal sunscreen) and prevents your skin from changing color, which is why people love using it for brightening skin. It also has humectant properties and prevents the evaporation of moisture from the skin also known as transdermal water loss. In this way, it has barrier-repairing properties, strengthening the skin.
Vitamin B is so powerful on these levels and can help the skin become more resilient, hydrated, less inflamed, and brighter. It makes sense that it’s used in skincare formulations and touted to be a cure-all for all types of skin conditions.
Niacinamide can also be found in your body and is created when your body has too much niacin. Vitamin B3 is required for fats and sugars to function in the body and maintain healthy cells. Because it’s water-soluble, vitamin B3 isn’t stored in the body and can be consumed in red meat, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts, avocados, mushrooms, yeast and even in cereal.
Difference between niacin and niacinamide - the need to know
So is niacin the same thing as niacinamide? Not really.
Niacin is a B vitamin that’s made and used in our bodies to help turn food into energy. It’s linked to the health of our nervous system, digestive system, and our skin. When prescribed orally, it’s used to help control cholesterol.
Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is one of eight B vitamins and is the topical, water-soluble version of a B3 vitamin used specifically for targeting the skin and its functions.
Niacin can cause capillaries under the skin to dilate because it increases blood flow, known as the “niacin flush.” This flush happens because niacin brings oxygen-rich blood to our skin, which enriches our skin cells. What you might not know is that niacinamide can also cause flushing.
Why Botnia no longer uses niacinamide
The truth about skincare and the way it reacts on the skin is different from marketing media hype about ingredients. We fell in love with the concept of the benefits and flexibility of niacinamide for skincare. When we formulated with it, we wanted to love it. And for some people, we loved it a lot! Though for others, we found it created redness and inflammation in the skin, which is the opposite of what the studies said it would do!
A major difference between Botnia and other skincare companies is that we’re hands-and-feet-on-the-ground and flexible. When we saw flushing on our clients in the treatment room and heard feedback from our spa partners, we decided to take niacinamide out of our skincare because it was causing a flushing reaction.
We’re not saying niacinamide is a bad ingredient, but we received more negative reactions than we were comfortable with, so we changed our formulations.
Case study using niacinamide
Findings from our master esthetician Amanda of Coastal Glow Skincare in Sacramento, CA:
“When working with niacinamide in the treatment room I found that with some skin types it works well! Some guests' skin would be extremely smooth and glowy, exactly the result I’m looking for. But more than half the time, I would notice immediate flushing of the skin and I would spend the rest of the facial bringing down that redness.
The goal is for my guests to have glowy skin that’s nourished without leaving flushed and hot, or with an inflammatory response. With that increase of blood flow, for people with sensitive or thinner skin, it can create a cycle of inflammation in the skin. And trying to bring down the redness at home after a treatment can potentially further irritate the skin and escalate the issue.
For an ingredient that’s advertised as anti-inflammatory, I was seeing the opposite results on my clients: bringing their skin more inflammation instead of taking it away. This can be a little bit confusing for professionals, especially when niacinamide is a popular marketed ingredient.”
What to be aware of when using niacinamide
If you do use niacinamide and begin to flush, remove the product immediately and place a cool towel or ice globes on your skin until the sensation wears off. Flushing usually comes down after some time.
Most companies use percentages of niacinamide in their formulations that are way too high to be using on the skin. If you’re using a niacinamide serum in your routine, check to make sure the percentage of the formulation is 5% or less.
You might also have heard that niacinamide plays well with other active ingredients, but if you’re using a retinol or vitamin C in your routine, you may want to skin cycle with these actives so you don’t overwhelm your skin. While there are many articles that mention layering with other active ingredients, we think it’s best to let your skin absorb one active ingredient at a time.
Check your sourcing. While niacinamide is often marketed as a natural ingredient because it’s categorized as a vitamin, we recommend asking companies what their niacinamide is derived from as it can also be synthetically created. (We used niacinamide derived from yeast.)
We removed niacinamide from our formulations because so many people flushed–that’s simply why we wanted to take it out. We may return to using this ingredient at some point in a different way, because for the people who didn’t have a reaction, it was really effective.
We still love niacinamide for its skin benefits in theory, and it's boots on the ground and case studies are also an essential part of the story with the formulation. It’s so exciting to think about skincare from this perspective; actives are not always what they are cracked up to be in function. And it's what real humans notice in their skin that is the proof in our pudding.