Topical Niacinamide is known for reducing fine lines and wrinkles, Reducing hyperpigmentation and trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), Strengthening the stratum corneum, Soothing irritated skin with its anti-inflammatory effects, Skin and hair moisturizing, reducing pore size and for preventing photoimmunosuppression and photocarcinogenesis.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a definition for cosmeceutical, and therefore it is neither recognized nor regulated by FDA legislation.
I’d hate to assume everyone knows what cosmeceuticals mean by convention. A little bit of background won’t hurt nobody so here we go:
A dermatologist called Albert Kligman introduced the term ‘‘cosmeceutical’’ in 1984 to describe products that do ‘‘more than coloring the skin and less than a therapeutic drug’’.
Today, the conventional definition of cosmeceuticals is ‘‘an intermediate between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals’’.
A cosmetic is ‘‘an article intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, sprayed on, introduced to the skin, or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing,
beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance (excluding soap)’’.
In contrast, a drug is ‘‘an article recognized by a designated pharmaceutical organization (like the US Pharmacopeia) that is intended to be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease and intended to affect the structure or any function of the body’’ .
So the vitamins I’m discussing here fall within this category of ingredients. Your AHAs, BHAs, Peptides and vitamins are all cosmeceuticals.
Now that’s crystal clear, I will be talking about the most commonly used vitamin B ingredients in skincare today:
Although there are various types of B vitamins or provitamins, Niacinamide and Pentanol are the ones you find most often in skincare. We will see why and when you might want to reach for them.
Let’s start with Niacinamide/3-pyridinecarboxamide:
Topical Niacinamide is water soluble and quickly absorbed. It is known for reducing fine lines and wrinkles, Reducing hyperpigmentation and trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), Strengthening the stratum corneum, Soothing irritated skin with its anti-inflammatory effects, Skin and hair moisturizing, reducing pore size and last but certainly not least, for preventing photoimmunosuppression and photocarcinogenesis. If you’re wondering what that means, watch this video I’ve made that will give you some background on the damages of UV to the skin and eventually overall health (left hand up).
But How does it exactly do all of these?
Well, the body is too complicated and oftentimes involves a cascade of events before reaching to the result we often simplify. But I will try and give you succinct mechanism of actions to satisfy your curiosity.
So, first: as far as anti-hyperpigmentation roles are concerned, it turns out Niacinamide reversibly blocks the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes into keratinocytes by inhibiting keratinocyte factors. This mechanism is distinct for niacinamide because other hyperpigmentation ingredients such as kojic acid work by inhibiting tyrosinase directly.
I was particularly happy to find studies with Asian subjects. As you know people of color covers the majority of the people on this planet but most study subjects are focused on Caucasians. So, I’m always interested to see studies that involve Blacks, Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Pacific Islanders and just about anyone who’s not Caucasian.
So according to this randomized and double-blind study that had Asian participants, 5% niacinamide was used twice daily for 8 weeks to show significant reduction in hyperpigmented spots.
Secondly: Niacinamide improves skin barrier through involvement in the biosynthesis of lipids, free fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides. As you can imagine this reduces water loss from the skin. As good cascade of events would have it, the skin therefore becomes more resistant to irritation or blotchiness .
Third: Vitamin B3 is a precursor to a family of endogenous enzyme cofactors, such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), its powerful, phosphorylated derivative NAD(P), and their reduced forms NAD(H) and NAD(PH), which have antioxidant properties.
These cofactors participate in many enzymatic reactions in the skin and influence many skin processes to give the other benefits I mentioned.
Niacinamide also increases collagen production in fibroblast culture, and this effect may be responsible for the improvement of skin elasticity and reduction of fine wrinkles.
In a typical product containing niacinamide, you find 2-5 percent of niacinamide. I know manufacturers don’t exactly list the percentage of ingredients or else there would be nothing proprietary. But, you’re sure to see this B3 vitamin down the ingredient list.
There are three primary forms of vitamin B3 that can be used in topical skin care products: niacinamide (aka nicotinamide), nicotinic acid, and nicotinate esters (e.g. benzyl nicotinate, myristyl nicotinate).
Nicotinic acid, even at low doses of less than 1% can induce an intense skin reddening and irritation or even itchiness.
But listen to this, niacinamide can undergo hydrolysis to nicotinic acid if you mix it with acidic ingredients. So, be mindful about adding AHAs or BHAs say Salicylic acid to your routine while using niacinamide. To be fair, I wasn’t able to find a literature that could definitively conclude this argument. BUT I am a safe skincare advocate and would be damned if I didn’t warn you the possible risks.
So, you want to buy products that contain niacinamide and not the ester or acid version to minimize irritation. Everyone could develop irritation with any ingredient but this helps you minimize it.
Got questions about its effectiveness against acne?
One study compared Niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory effect at 4% in the management of acne vulgaris. They found that the effect of 4% niacinamide was as good as 1% clindamycin. In case you didn’t know, Clindamycin is a first-line topical antibiotic that is prescribed to treat mild to moderate acne.
And a comparison against tretinoin shows Niacinamide is roughly one-third to one-fifth as effective as topical 0.025% tretinoin.
There was also one study that compared the combination of Niacinamide, Peptides and Retinyl propionate versus 0.02% tretinoin. This clinical study was done for 24 weeks and the goal was to see improvements in fine lines and wrinkles. Both groups improved the fine lines and wrinkles by the end of the trial. But the niacinamide group was better tolerated and showed more effectiveness as early as 8 weeks.
I just want to point out: Because niacinamide REVERSIBLY blocks the transfer of melanosomes it means the hyperpigmentation you’re prone to will come back if you stop using niacinamide. Most people have this idea they will permanently change their concerns when in fact it does take time to see change and diligence to keep it.
Ok. That’s enough about topical niacinamide.
If you’d like to eat foods that contain vitamin B3: Turkey, chicken, dairy products, liver, nuts, mushrooms, fish, peas, and Injera are good examples. Eat away.
The second most commonly found vitamin B in skincare is vitamin B5/Panthenol.
Panthenol is the provitamin—a precursor. That means, when panthenol is applied topically, the body will convert it into vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid
Panthenol is a humectant that binds to and holds water in the skin to preserve moisture in the skin which in turn improves skin elasticity and suppleness.
Panthenol also has anti-inflammatory properties and is involved in activating the proliferation of cells that are important for wound healing and restoring the function of the skin barrier.
Panthenol is a great product particularly if you have dry skin. It works well with other humectants such as hyaluronic acid. There are products in the market I’ll share with you in the future. For now, let’s continue building some foundation so when I share products you have the knowledge to hold me accountable.
And really, that’s my goal: to help you pick products that work and not follow the trend. You know your skin better than anyone and what you need is a bit of information about the science of ingredients so YOU can make informed purchases.
Now, moving on. . .
Vitamin B6: pyridoxine hcl or Panadoxine P
Help to Balance sebum and reduce excessive oiliness but it’s more often used in hair products so NM.
Same with vitamin B7 aka Biotin or BH
There’s some data vitamin B9 or Folic Acid use in skincare topically helps with
Anti-aging, photo aging and Prevents DNA damage.
The rest of the B-complex, you gotta take systemically.
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Berson, D. et al. “CHAPTER 10 Niacinamide : A Topical Vitamin with Wide-Ranging Skin Appearance Benefits.” (2013).
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Bissett DL. Common cosmeceuticals. Clin Dermatol. 2009 Sep-Oct;27(5):435-45. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2009.05.006. PMID: 19695474.
Manela-Azulay M, Bagatin E. Cosmeceuticals vitamins. Clin Dermatol. 2009 Sep-Oct;27(5):469-74. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2009.05.010. PMID: 19695478.
Martin, K. I., & Glaser, D. A. (2011). Cosmeceuticals: the new medicine of beauty. Missouri medicine, 108(1), 60–63.
Wohlrab, J. & Kreft, D. 2014, "Niacinamide - Mechanisms of Action and Its Topical Use in Dermatology", Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, vol. 27, no. 6, pp. 311-5.