Niacinamide Is the Brightening, Clearing Ingredient Derms Want You to Use

a selection of serums on a pink background

Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

Niacinamide—aka vitamin B3—is one of those ingredients you can find in almost any type of skincare product—be it a serum, moisturizer, or cleanser. It happens to be a featured ingredient in some of our favorite eye creams. Perhaps you've seen the viral TikTok reviews of dermatologists singing its praises, or perhaps you've seen it on the ingredient labels of cult-favorite products (like the Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum or Glow Recipe's Watermelon Niacinamide Dew Drops).

So what exactly does niacinamide do? This superstar ingredient has dermatologists' seal of approval, with niacinamide benefits ranging from brightening to clearing the skin, and even reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Curious about the benefits and how to use niacinamide in your personal skincare routine? Ahead, two board-certified dermatologists and a skincare brand founder explain everything you need to know about niacinamide.

Meet the Expert

  • Jennifer Herrmann, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in Beverly Hills.
  • Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC.
  • Kevin Mun is the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of skincare brand VENN.

Keep reading to find out what makes vitamin B3 tick regarding its under-the-radar skin benefits.


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 the 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 Mun. It may also ease irritation related to retinol and skin redness generally.

Doesn't work with: Vitamin B3 works well with everything.

What Is Niacinamide?

"When we think about the skin benefits of niacinamide, 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 to or into your go-to night cream.

woman's niacinamide serum before and after photo

Holly Rhue / Design by Cristina Cianci

After three months of niacinamide use, Byrdie editor Holly Rhue's skin is calmer and brighter.

The Benefits of Niacinamide

In short, it's incredibly restorative. "Nicotinamide helps restore cellular energy, repair damaged DNA, and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of sun-induced UV rays." 

  • Anti-aging. 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.
  • Brightening. Concerning brightness specifically, Hermann tells us: "Nicotinamide has been shown to prevent the transfer of pigment within the skin, which can help reduce brown spots."
  • Improves redness. 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.
  • Safe for sensitive skin. "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."

Can You Use Niacinamide With Other Active Ingredients?

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.

Potential Side Effects

Like a ceramide, niacinamide helps to moisturize the skin. "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 percent) of vitamin B3 in a formulation." Basically, don't overuse, or you might experience some redness or (even worse) dermatitis.

dropper of oil

Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

How to Select a Niacinamide Product

The key to reaping vitamin B3's 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.

Topical vs. Supplement

Niacinamide topical products are typically sold as a liquid serum or a cream moisturizer. The serums are meant to be layered, helping to increase the absorption and potency of whatever is applied on top.

Oral niacinamide is meant for those with a deficiency, and should only be taken under a doctor's care. While food contains niacin, it's not possible to overdose on the supplement through diet alone. But if you are taking a niacinamide supplement and notice negative side effects (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.) it's time to speak to a doctor.

How To Use It

If using a topical niacinamide product, you should use it in the morning, and it'll likely be contained in products that boast brightening properties. If it comes in a serum form, as many do, then apply it after cleansing and prior to layering on other products, like moisturizers and eye creams.

  • Can I use niacinamide everyday?

    You can use niacinamide everyday, morning and night—but let your dermatologist know if you experience any irritation (which is not common).

  • How does niacinamide brighten skin?

    "Nicotinamide helps restore cellular energy, repair damaged DNA, and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of sun-induced UV rays," says Herrmann, of the ingredient, which also fights off internal and external stressors that can ultimately lead to discoloration and wrinkles.

  • Does niacinamide clear dark spots?

    Since niacinamide is a dermatologist-approved ingredient for brightening, it can be quite effective at clearing hyperpigmentation and evening out your skin tone.

  • Which is better: vitamin C or niacinamide?

    That all depends on what you're looking to do to your skin. If you're looking for a product that will exfoliate and brighten, turn to vitamin C. However, if you're looking for a product that will keep your skin moisturized, niacinamide is likely a better choice.

  • Is niacinamide or retinol better?

    Again, this depends on what you're looking to accomplish. Niacinamide will help moisturize and brighten, but few products can beat retinol in terms of increasing cell turnover. However, retinol comes with a pretty big adjustment time, so results could require months or even years before they are truly noticeable.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Levin J, Momin SB. How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical IngredientsJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(2):22-41.

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