The Benefits of Topical Niacinamide for Reversing Skin Aging

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Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 also known as nicotinamide, is a precursor to two potent antioxidants that can help reverse signs of skin aging.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

I’ve talked about sunscreen and topical retinoids. What other skin cream components have been shown to help with skin aging?

While placebo-controlled trials are the standard in most medical research, they are still all too rare for cosmetic products. This raises efficacy questions—many are left with simply buying “hope in a jar”—as well as safety concerns. Cosmetics to this day contain an array of toxic chemicals. Of the more than 12,000 synthetic chemicals used in cosmetics, fewer than 20 percent have been recognized as safe. Of course, this doesn’t mean natural ingredients are necessarily harmless. Poison ivy is as natural as you can get, but you wouldn’t want to rub in on your face. However, there are some relatively safe natural options with varying degrees of efficacy.

In contrast to retinoic acid—a form of vitamin A that can be irritating—topical niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide) is a form of vitamin B3 that is non-irritating and found to be effective. It’s been described as one of the best studied cosmeceutical ingredients for anti-aging, but it looks like there are only two placebo-controlled human studies, which gives you an idea of the state of cosmeceutical science.

Skin photoaging is largely mediated by UV-induced free radical formation. One of the consequences of excess sun exposure is the oxidation of sugars and proteins in the skin into yellow-brown pigment that gives aging skin a yellowing, sallow appearance. Since niacinamide is a precursor to two potent antioxidants, the hope is that this process could be interrupted, and indeed, the first published study was entitled “Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin.”

It was a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical split-face study of middle-aged women. In a split-face study, each woman is her own control, rubbing the active formulation (in this case 5 percent niacinamide in moisturizer) on one side of her face, and the placebo (straight moisturizer) on the other half––though neither she nor the researchers know which side is which until the code is broken at the end. This controls for skin type and administration technique (different people apply facial products differently), but participants often use the same hand for applying the creams to both sides. So, unless specified that different gloves be worn, or hands washed in between, there can be cross-contamination.

Anyway, at the end of 12 weeks there was a small, 5 percent reduction in wrinkles and fine lines, and a slowing in the development in blotchiness, spots, and sallowness. A subsequent publication noted an improvement in skin elasticity as well. The magnitude of these effects may only be one-third to one-fifth as good as retinoic acid, but there were no reports of excess skin irritation. But use a four percent concentration, and application was limited to crow’s feet wrinkles around the eyes. Significant reductions in wrinkles by both subjective and objective measures were noted by the end of the eight-week study. Sixty-four percent of the niacinamide-side eye wrinkles underwent moderate or marked improvement, compared to zero percent on the placebo-side eyes.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

I’ve talked about sunscreen and topical retinoids. What other skin cream components have been shown to help with skin aging?

While placebo-controlled trials are the standard in most medical research, they are still all too rare for cosmetic products. This raises efficacy questions—many are left with simply buying “hope in a jar”—as well as safety concerns. Cosmetics to this day contain an array of toxic chemicals. Of the more than 12,000 synthetic chemicals used in cosmetics, fewer than 20 percent have been recognized as safe. Of course, this doesn’t mean natural ingredients are necessarily harmless. Poison ivy is as natural as you can get, but you wouldn’t want to rub in on your face. However, there are some relatively safe natural options with varying degrees of efficacy.

In contrast to retinoic acid—a form of vitamin A that can be irritating—topical niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide) is a form of vitamin B3 that is non-irritating and found to be effective. It’s been described as one of the best studied cosmeceutical ingredients for anti-aging, but it looks like there are only two placebo-controlled human studies, which gives you an idea of the state of cosmeceutical science.

Skin photoaging is largely mediated by UV-induced free radical formation. One of the consequences of excess sun exposure is the oxidation of sugars and proteins in the skin into yellow-brown pigment that gives aging skin a yellowing, sallow appearance. Since niacinamide is a precursor to two potent antioxidants, the hope is that this process could be interrupted, and indeed, the first published study was entitled “Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin.”

It was a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical split-face study of middle-aged women. In a split-face study, each woman is her own control, rubbing the active formulation (in this case 5 percent niacinamide in moisturizer) on one side of her face, and the placebo (straight moisturizer) on the other half––though neither she nor the researchers know which side is which until the code is broken at the end. This controls for skin type and administration technique (different people apply facial products differently), but participants often use the same hand for applying the creams to both sides. So, unless specified that different gloves be worn, or hands washed in between, there can be cross-contamination.

Anyway, at the end of 12 weeks there was a small, 5 percent reduction in wrinkles and fine lines, and a slowing in the development in blotchiness, spots, and sallowness. A subsequent publication noted an improvement in skin elasticity as well. The magnitude of these effects may only be one-third to one-fifth as good as retinoic acid, but there were no reports of excess skin irritation. But use a four percent concentration, and application was limited to crow’s feet wrinkles around the eyes. Significant reductions in wrinkles by both subjective and objective measures were noted by the end of the eight-week study. Sixty-four percent of the niacinamide-side eye wrinkles underwent moderate or marked improvement, compared to zero percent on the placebo-side eyes.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

This is the third in a four-part series on skin products. If you missed the first two, check out What Is the Most Important Anti-Aging Cream Ingredient? and Topical Retinoids to Reverse Skin Aging

You can make your own DIY niacinamide cream or serum on the cheap by buying niacinamide in bulk and mixing it into your favorite lotion or water to make a 5% solution.

The Benefits of Topical Vitamin C for Reversing Skin Aging is next.

For more on how to live your longest, healthiest life, preorder my new book How Not to Age. (As always, all proceeds I receive from all of my books are donated to charity.)

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