We’re willing to take a bet that most of you reading this article has had a bad reaction to niacinamide—the supposed “miracle worker” that your friends and de facto skincare professor Hyram loves and swears-by. As you see the way their eyes light up and twinkle when niacinamide enters the chat, you’re wholly convinced that it too, will work wonders on you. But your experience proves quite the contrary: bouts of angry breakouts and inflammatory spots takes the place of the clear, poreless canvas you were expecting. A sense of betrayal laced with angry confusion washes over as you wonder, “why isn’t this working for me?”
Several skincare subreddits have revealed that you’re not alone—in a thread posted to AusSkincare, a user experienced a faint burning sensation and breakouts in new areas of the face—and based off personal encounters with the niacinamide-based products, we can attest to the stark disconnect between this alleged anti-inflammatory skin-care ingredient with the less-than-pretty reaction that is too common to be a fluke.
Thus, this begs the following questions: is a bad reaction from niacinamide normal and is it truly the skin saviour it’s made out to be? Ahead, Dr Rachel Ho puts all your questions to rest—shedding light on the all-important what and why and what to get.
Meet the expert: Dr Rachel Ho, Medical Director of La Clinic
What is niacinamide and why is it a skincare favourite?
When it comes to skincare ingredients that do-it-all, niacinamide tops almost every list. Also known as vitamin B3, it is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory and anti-acne benefits—a hard-to-come-by versatility that treats almost everything from, “acne, anti-ageing, rosacea, to autoimmune diseases and atopic dermatitis”, as outlined by Dr Ho. A skincare ingredient she typically recommends to her patients, this essential mineral relies on topical application and dietary intake since it is not stored in our bodies.
Can niacinamide cause a bad reaction?
A proven anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing ingredient, Dr Ho explain that it is uncommon to experience a bad reaction from using niacinamide. If a bad reaction does occur, she observes that it is, “most likely an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity—which can occur if the concentration of niacinamide is too high”. And to be fair to Niacinamide, “a skincare product is more than the sum of all its ingredients—sometimes a bad reaction to a skincare product may be due to another ingredient in the product”.
Could it be skin purging?
You might wonder if your bad reaction to niacinamide is simply your skin cleaning out its drains. A process known as ‘skin purging’, a temporal acne flare-like reaction happens when you start using active ingredients like retinoids and acids which accelerate cell turnover in the skin,
Niacinamide, however, does not increase cell turnover and thus any sign of purging—which appears as inflammatory acne-like pustules or whiteheads—is not due to niacinamide itself, but other active ingredients like retinoids (e.g. retinol, retinyl esters, retinaldehyde).
Once bitten, twice shy
For the gamut of benefits that niacinamide offers, it’s really worth giving her a second chance. Perhaps we started off with too strong a concentration percentage, or as established, it may have been another ingredient to blame. When selecting niacinamide products, Dr Ho advises that “a concentration of 4-5% niacinamide is ideal—enough to improve acne and fine wrinkles”. Higher concentrations, like The Ordinary 10% Niacinamide + 1% Zinc, have not yet been proven to exhibit a higher rate of efficacy.
And lastly, if it’s not working for your skin, don’t be discouraged. Niacinamide, despite the heavyweight status it has been receiving of late (thanks to the reigning ‘skinfluencers’ on TikTok), is not the miracle ingredient it’s made out to be. In fact, clear skin is often achieved with the help of dermatologists. As Dr Ho advises, depending on the severity of our existing skin condition, “you may need a doctor’s help to start you on active ingredients and use niacinamide as a complementary treatment”.
The best niacinamide products to try
A personal favourite of Dr Ho, The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% works well on her skin without causing irritation. Currently, onto her second bottle, continual usage of this product has boosted both her skin’s immunity and tolerance of retinoids. With the high-low combination (high quality, low price) and the hard-to-ignore hype surrounding this product, take this as a sign from the universe to finally get your hands on them—though, we caution that with a high concentration of 10% vitamin B3, it may be slightly harsh for patients with sensitive skin. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to do a patch test before you fully commit.
Often mentioned alongside The Ordinary, The Inkey List is another ingredient-driven beauty brand that formulates perennial skincare favourites. Uniting 10% niacinamide and 1% of the powerful humectant that is hyaluronic acid, this simple serum ticks all the boxes when it comes to minimising pores, regulating sebum production, and packing in a punch of hydration.
With The Ordinary and The Inkey List, SkinCeuticals—with its steep three-digit pricing—may seem a little out of place in this list. But, it’s quite honestly a cut above the rest. Backed by decades of skin cancer research, SkinCeutical’s clinical skincare line has earned a loyal fan base that includes celebrities like Hailey Baldwin to dermatologists and plastic surgeons.
With 5% concentration of niacinamide, this serum is designed to target, repair and prevent visible signs of photo-ageing (premature ageing from exposure to UV rays). Married together with a blend of powerful peptides and pure glycerin, intense skin-quenching hydration is delivered without weighing down your skin.
With over 50 million jars sold, it’s safe to say this drugstore find has achieved cult-status. Alongside main ingredient niacinamide, Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream packs in amino-peptide complexes and hyaluronic acid to instantly hydrate and improve skin elasticity, while boosting surface skin cell regeneration. Coming in as a medium-weight moisturiser, we prefer to reserve this as the last step of our nighttime skincare routine, allowing the previous treatments to soak into the skin well before application.
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