When you are looking for information on acne cures it’s often hard to separate facts from fiction. Vitamin B3 is one of the treatments that have been extensively studies and its effectiveness proven. It has been proven effective both in oral use as supplement and in topical use. It has anti-inflammatory properties, helps to keep the skin pores open and protects the skin from UV damage caused by the sun. This article reviews the clinical research and benefits of Vitamin B3 for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Note that Vitamin B3 generally comes in two forms niacin and nicotinamide, and the studies below use those terms. But we are still talking about Vitamin B3.
Benefits of vitamin B3 (niacin and nicotinamide)
Vitamin B3 has shown to have the following benefits:
- Anti-inflammatory: It has shown to inhibit the irritation and inflammation bacteria in the skin pores causes. Inflammation is one of the key components in acne formation, and it’s inflammation that turns blocked skin pores into angry, red and painful pimples. Reduction in inflammation leads to faster healing of the skin.
- Niacin and nicotinamide speed up the separation of skin cells after they die. One reason skin pores get blocked is because skin cells remain lumped together after they die. These vitamin B3 compounds help the skin cells to separate and thus aids in removal of dead skin cells from the pores, and helps to keep your skin pores open.
- Niacin and nicotinamide have been shown to improve skin barrier function, which is often a factor in skin diseases. Well-functioning skin barrier prevents moisture loss from the skin and protects it against acne causing bacteria and dirt.
- Topical application might reduce sebum production.
- Protects the skin from UV damage caused by sunlight.
- Evens out skin tone and reduces hyperpigmentation (i.e. acne scars)
Results from clinical studies
The use of niacin and nicotinamide in cosmetics and dermatology has been studied widely. Here are some interesting studies.
A large study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center looked into the effectiveness of nicotinamide and zinc supplementation on acne. The study was 8 weeks long and included 198 participants suffering from acne and/or rosacea. The supplement used in the study contained nicotinamide 750 mg, zinc 25 mg, copper 1.5 mg, and folic acid 500 mg. Note that the nicotinamide amount is much higher than RDA and what you’ll find from most Vitamin B supplements.
The results were impressive. After 4 weeks 79% of the patients reported that their appearance was moderately or much better. The results continued to improve during the 8 week study. 26% of the patients also received an oral antibiotic in addition to the nicotinamide and zinc supplementation. Interestingly, the addition of oral antibiotic didn’t bring any additional benefits.
The study concluded: “Nic/Zn tablets appear to be an effective oral therapy for the treatment of acne vulgaris and rosacea”
A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology in 1995 compared topical application of nicotinamide gel to clindamycin gel (clindamycin in a widely-used antibiotic). Both treatments produced significant improvements with 82% of the patients treated with nicotinamide gel and 68% treated with clindamycin gel were improved. The problem with antibiotics is that over time bacteria develop resistance to them. Nicotinamide doesn’t have this problem. The study used 4% nicotinamide gel.
And finally a study looked into whether niacin could influence sebum production. This study used 4% niacin moisturizer. The results were interesting but somewhat mixed. The study was conducted both in Japan and in the US. In the Japanese subjects researchers noted significantly lowered sebum excretion rate, whereas in the US subjects the sebum excretion rate didn’t change, but sebum levels on the skin had dropped.
No treatment is worth using if it causes more problems than it solves. Luckily Vitamin B3 is considered safe both in normal oral and topical use.
However side-effects are reported with exceptionally high doses. Nicotinamide can cause liver toxicity in doses exceeding 3 g per day. Niacin in doses higher than 1.5 g per day can cause skin flushing, itching, dry skin and rash. More significant side-effects have also been reported.
While these side-effects may be severe they are rare and happen only in dosages that are significantly higher than normal use. Used normally both are considered exceptionally safe.
Vitamin B3, both in niacin and nicotinamide forms, is an effective treatment for acne. It inhibits the inflammation caused by P. Acnes bacteria, reduces acne scars, helps to keep skin pores open, protects the skin from UV damage and might even reduce sebum production. These results are proven with clinical research.
However keep in mind that acne is a complicated condition with many possible causes. Vitamin B3 as a sole treatment is unlikely to get you completely clear. Your best option would be to combine Vitamin B3 therapy with healthy diet and lifestyle choices that lower insulin levels and reduce chronic inflammation.
- The Nicomide Improvement in Clinical Outcomes Study (NICOS): results of an 8-week trial
- The Nicomide Improvement in Clinical Outcomes Study (NICOS): results of an 8-week trial.
- Topical nicotinamide compared with clindamycin gel in the treatment of inflammatory acne vulgaris.
- The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production.
- Pharmacologic doses of nicotinamide in the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions: a review.
- Nicotinic acid/niacinamide and the skin.
- Nicotinamide – biologic actions of an emerging cosmetic ingredient.
- The mechanisms of action of nicotinamide and zinc in inflammatory skin disease.
- Wikipedia: Niacin
- Wikipedia: Nicotinamide