You're Probably Using Way Too Much Niacinamide — Allow Us To Explain
Niacinamide is truly the Swiss Army knife of skin care ingredients. Got dry, sensitive skin with a compromised barrier? Niacinamide can help lock in moisture. Dealing with a stubborn breakout? Niacinamide can tackle moderate acne and fade lingering hyperpigmentation. Concerned about fine lines? Niacinamide has been shown to produce new skin cells1 and improve elasticity2 in the skin. The buzzy B vitamin can do it all, but, big sigh, you can get too much of a good thing.
Why it's easy to go overboard on niacinamide.
Let me just say: Niacinamide itself isn't known to be irritating; in fact, most people find it very tolerable, as opposed to potent acids or retinol. Rather, it's niacinamide overload that can pose problems, as you don't need a super-high concentration to reap its advantages. "Most niacinamide studies use 2% to 5% of the ingredient," cosmetic chemists Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu previously wrote for mbg. "There's no reason to think 30% niacinamide is six times as effective as 5% niacinamide. You're more likely to irritate your skin with ultrahigh concentrations than anything else." While the B vitamin is beloved for strengthening the skin barrier, too much of it can actually lead to sensitivity, skin irritation, and redness—but if you stick to a 2% to 5% concentration, you should be set.
Here's where things get tricky: Niacinamide has quickly become the crown jewel of skin care, given its bundle of benefits (moisture! Oil control! Brightness!), and brands are formulating with it at breakneck speed. "You could be getting higher percentages of niacinamide than you think you are because it's included in a lot of products," Landriscina explains.
It's also one of the most easygoing actives out there—it even pairs well with notoriously finicky vitamin C. "So brands often throw it into products as an extra," adds Landriscina. But that "extra" hit of niacinamide can easily tip the scales from nourishing to irritating, especially if you're piling on forms of vitamin B3 without even knowing it.
What to do about it.
I'm certainly not going to tell you to steer clear of the ingredient—personally, it's the only remedy that has actually managed to diminish my dark spots. Just make sure you're not going overboard. For example, if you'd like to introduce a niacinamide serum to your routine, make sure you aren't already using a handful of niacinamide-infused formulas. "Because it's such a prolific ingredient, you'd be surprised by how easily you can overdo it without even realizing you've been layering eight niacinamide-boosted products," Fu and Lu explain. Check your ingredient lists for the B vitamin, even if it's not necessarily highlighted as a key player.
You may also want to check how much niacinamide you're slathering on. For example, a potent vitamin B3 serum might contain close to 5%, while a moisturizer might contain a 1% to 2% concentration—which means you may be able to get away with doubling up elsewhere. "If the product doesn't list a percentage, look for niacinamide in the top seven or so ingredients for an effective level," Fu and Lu add.
Niacinamide receives a ton of hype for very valid reasons. Although, its superstar status means many brands want to join the party, which may pose issues for some. Consider this a lesson in restraint: Like accessorizing or trimming your brows, less is more.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.