What is Vitamin B3?
Niacin or nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are both forms of Vitamin B3.
Nicotinamide (also known as niacinamide) is the active, water soluble form of vitamin B3, whereas nicotinic acid (also known as niacin) is converted into nicotinamide in the body (1). As vitamins, niacin and nicotinamide are identical. Their pharmacological effects, however, are considerably different. Unlike nicotinamide, niacin lowers cholesterol, causes vasodilation, skin flushing, headache, and hypotension.
Vitamin B3 serves as a precursor of several co-enzymes (facilitators of enzymatic reactions) essential for numerous metabolic pathways. These co-enzymes play a key role in the metabolism of glucose, cellular energy production, and synthesis of lipids.
So why put Vitamin B3 on the skin?
Different tissues have different thresholds for vitamin B3 deficiency, with the skin being highly susceptible (1). Nicotinamide applied topically has been shown in scientific studies to improve many skin conditions, including acne vulgaris, rosacea and melasma (hyperpigmentation) and atopic dermatitis (2).
As a skin treatment Vitamin B3 is well tolerated, and may be found acceptable by those who cannot tolerate other treatments (such as topical retinoids or fruit acids). However, it is not recommended for use by pregnant and nursing women.
Vitamin B3 for acne
Topical vitamin B3 has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of acne. A 4% or 5% nicotinamide gel has been found to be as effective as the topical antibiotic clindamycin in either a 1% or 2% gel in the treatment of acne vulgaris in patients with mild-moderate acne (3,4). The study concluded that the anti-inflammatory properties of nicotinamide may have contributed towards its success in acne.
Vitamin B3 has also been shown to reduce facial sebum production. Sebum is responsible for facial shine and contributes to non-inflamed comedones (small, skin-coloured bumps frequently found on the forehead and chin of those with acne) and inflammatory acne lesions. Application of a 2% nicotinamide moisturiser to the face for 4-6 weeks has been shown to reduce sebum production with significant differences in facial shine and oiliness (5).
Vitamin B3 for rosacea
The clinical signs and symptoms of rosacea include increased facial skin dryness, redness and sensitivity. Moisturisers containing nicotinamide have been shown to improve skin barrier function in rosacea patients, leading to diminished reaction to irritants including cleansers and cosmetics (6, 7).
Vitamin B3 for hyperpigmentation and melasma
Skin hyperpigmentation occurs in multiple conditions, and it can be particularly difficult to treat on darker skin. Melasma is a chronic skin disorder that results in symmetrical, blotchy, brownish facial pigmentation that can lead to considerable embarrassment and distress. Nicotinamide has been shown to be effective at reducing uneven pigmentation in these conditions (8, 9, 10).
Vitamin B3 for anti-ageing skin care
The levels of Vitamin B3-dependent coenzymes in the skin can decrease with age, and in several studies topical nicotinamide has appeared to reverse some of these declines. Several studies have shown that topical nicotinamide improved fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented “age” spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (yellowing) as well as elasticity (11). One study showed nicotinamide to increase the skin’s production of ceramides (natural emollients and skin protectants) and therefore improving skin hydration (12). Another study reported improvement of eyelid wrinkles after 8 weeks of application of a cosmetic containing 4% nicotinamide (13).