Since we're in the business of perpetually seeking better and brighter skin, we've known about the glow-worthy benefits of vitamin C for a while now. And if you were to peruse any Byrdie editor's skincare routine you'd more than likely find at least a few elixirs with said superstar ingredient. After all, science doesn't lie: It works. However, when a recent email came through my inbox singing a different vitamin's skin praises, I was intrigued. Apparently, vitamin B3 (also known as niacinamide) is another dark horse when it comes to turbo-charged brightening benefits. Oh, and French girls swear by it.
Byrdie's former Editorial Director, Faith Xue, is another vitamin B3 devotee: "I'm actually obsessed with niacinamide—it's a powerhouse ingredient for brightening and hydration that I think gets overlooked a lot in relation to vitamin C." So what's there to know? According to the experts I tapped, a lot.
To find out what makes vitamin B3 tick in regard to its under-the-radar skin benefits, we consulted board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon Jennifer Herrmann, MD, who's based in Beverly Hills. We also reached out to Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC and Kevin Mun, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of skincare brand VENN, for their takes on the ingredient.
Meet the Expert
Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide)
Type of ingredient: Brightener
Main benefits: Brightening, prevents signs of aging, reduces acne
Who should use it: In general, anyone who wants their skin to be bright or prevent aging.
How often can you use it?: You can use it in both morning and evening
Works well with: "When using vitamin B3, it is good to combine it with other stable and powerful antioxidants, such as Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Catechins, Quercetin and Tocopherol," says Dr. Mun. It may also ease irritation related to retinol and skin redness generally.
Doesn't work with: N/A, it works well with everything.
What is Vitamin B3?
"When we think about skin benefits and vitamin B3, we're referring to a specific form of B3 (an amide) called nicotinamide [also known as niacinamide]. Nicotinamide is an essential water-soluble vitamin, which is not synthesized in the body, meaning we have to eat it to receive its benefits," says Herrmann. Additionally, the vitamin has been incorporated into skincare products since—as Herrmann stated—our bodies don't produce it on their own. Therefore, if we want to reap the brightening benefits of nicotinamide, it needs to be ingested via supplement or applied topically to the skin: "Nicotinamide is in some topical formulations and can be used in the morning or night as a cream, typically after gentle cleansing." Vitamin B3 can also be found in some of Byrdie HQ's favorite serums (see below), which can either be applied prior or into your go-to night cream.
The Benefits of Vitamin B3
In short, it's incredibly restorative. "Nicotinamide helps restore cellular energy, repair damaged DNA, and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of sun-induced UV rays." With a fountain of youth likeness, Herrmann compares vitamin B3 to that of a "well-oiled machine," fighting off internal and external stressors that can ultimately lead to the deterioration or breakdown of our skin and premature signs of aging like discoloration and wrinkles.
Concerning brightness specifically, she tells us: "Nicotinamide has been shown to prevent the transfer of pigment within the skin, which can help reduce brown spots." Less redness (thanks to vitamin B3's anti-inflammatory properties), preserved hydration, a strengthened skin barrier, and the improved synthesis of healthy fats (key for glowing skin) are other benefits cited by Herrmann.
"I recommend it for my sensitive skin patients, or those with other conditions such as rosacea or eczema," Nazarian tells us. "It can also be found in sunscreens, such as Elta MD UV Clear, and is a good option for people who are concerned about irritation from their skincare products or have difficulty using creams due to allergies. The oral version can also be used to treat acne—and is great when oral medications such as antibiotics aren’t well tolerated."
Vitamin B3's Skincare BFFs
Another lesser known fact is that most skincare products work better when paired with other ingredients. "Concerning pigmentation specifically, nicotinamide is best paired with other ingredients like hydroquinone, kojic acid, arbutin, and soy, which can work synergistically on the 'pigment pathway' to best help clear brown spots and discoloration," says Herrmann.
Nicotinamide/Niacinimide vs. Nicotinic Acid
However, here is one common misconception when it comes to B3 and its (multiple) monikers: "Nicotinamide is a specific amide (a particular chemical structure) form of B3. It's not niacin, the acid form of this vitamin. Niacin is much more easily found at the drugstore but [occasionally] has the unpleasant side effect of flushing that nicotinamide doesn't have." Not into a red face? Make sure to scan your ingredient lists, and don't assume that despite the lack of "-amide" it's still the same ingredient.
Side Effects of Vitamin B3
"Niacinamide is a powerful ingredient for both skin moisturization and skin brightening," Mun reiterates. "But when used in high concentrations in a skincare formulation, it may cause skin irritation. So, it is recommended to use low concentrations (1-2%) of vitamin B3 in a formulation." Basically, don't overuse, or you might experience some redness or (even worse) dermatitis.
How To Use It
The key to reaping vitamin B3s benefits comes down to choosing your product selection wisely. Herrmann explains that our skin is smart and since its job is to act as a barrier—protecting our bodies from potentially harmful invaders—not all topical formulations may boast the technology to effectively penetrate.
"Any topically applied active ingredient must be formulated in a way so that it can get into the skin to where it's needed," she says. "If nicotinamide successfully penetrates this barrier, it can be effective." Look for B3 products with scientific studies to back them up and not just appealing ingredient lists. You should use it in the morning, and it'll likely be contained in products that boast brightening properties.
The Best Products with Vitamin B3
This serum developed by dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross features an ultra-silky formula loaded with niacinamide (B3), adaptogens, and superfoods meant to fight the effects of stress on skin (including acne, dullness, and signs of aging).
Omorovicza released a skin mask featuring colloidal silver, and it became so popular that they expanded it into an entire line. This toner uses that same silver alongside niacinamide and anti-acne powerhouse salicylic acid to home in on pesky breakouts, discoloration, and redness.
An investment, yes. However, if pigmentation and discoloration seem to have a personal vendetta against you and your complexion, this heavy-hitting serum is expertly formulated with that very concern in mind. Niacinamide is combined with other key ingredients like tranexamic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, tetrapeptide-30, phytic acid, and a skin-strengthening blend of marine extracts. In English: pretty skin.
In addition to vitamin B3, Juara's must-have eye cream also contains revitalizing ingredients like fermented sweet black tea, marigold, illipe butter, five flavor berry, and a special radiance complex meant to increase cell regrowth for a brighter complexion.
Contributing writer Victoria Hoff is Byrdie's resident dewy skin goddess, so when she recommends a product, you know it's borderline majestic in benefit. With goods like niacinamide, bioflavonoids, and licorice root, this is her go-to for smoother, stronger skin.
When I peppered my fellow editors for their top B3-infused skin picks, Beauty Director Deven Hopp was quick to point out this serum from 100% Pure. Not only does it contain niacinamide, it also features vitamins C and E, retinol, and CoQ10.
If you're after a brighter complexion, beloved French skincare brand Talika has your back. This innovative sheet mask mimics the brightening effects of an entire month's use of B3 serum, and it's a favorite among the skin-blessed women in France.
This one is worth saving your money for. In the name of brightening, the B-intensive formula encourages your skin's own ability to repair and reverse damage and also features a luxe infusion of skin-loving neuropeptides promising to protect from future stressors.
Made specifically for people who have issues with dark spots, this concentrated serum utilizes tranexamic acid, phytic acid, and a more easily tolerated azelaic acid derivative to deal with hyperpigmentation issues. Also included? Niacinamide, which makes the whole thing significantly more tolerable for your skin.
Mun's line, VENN, aims to be your one-stop-shop for skincare—not by creating a ton of products, but by creating products that can replace your whole routine. According to the brand, this concentrate, which carries six forms of Vitamin B, has been rigorously tested for all skin types and proven to increase skin's firmness by an average of 26.4% after four weeks.
The Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Face Cream has sold over 50 million jars to date, and for good reason, too. The moisturizer is made with a potent blend of vitamin B3, amino-peptides, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants meant to instantly hydrate and improve the elasticity of your skin. As the star ingredient, B3 promotes surface skin cell turnover and exfoliation, leaving you with noticeably fresher and firmer skin after 28 days of use, according to the brand.
Levin J, Momin SB. How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical Ingredients? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(2):22-41.
Mazurek K, Pierzchała E. Comparison of Efficacy of Products Containing Azelaic Acid in Melasma Treatment. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2016;15(3):269-282. doi:10.1111/jocd.12217