I can’t think of a better skin-friendly ingredient than niacinamide — it literally does it all. Praised by dermatologists and loved by everyone, niacinamide can do everything for your skin, even more than retinol or vitamin C, the two other skincare heroes. While niacinamide is mostly known for its antioxidant properties, moisturizing effects, and ability to reduce sebum, it also helps fade hyperpigmentation as well as correct and brighten skin texture. So if you were asking if niacinamide can lighten the skin, the plain answer is yes, it definitely can. Niacinamide is actually considered an effective skin lightening compound, its benefits being well-researched and confirmed in multiple clinical trials. But you need more than a quick answer, don’t you? In this post, I will discuss the evidence that exists regarding whether or not niacinamide brightens the skin and how it does that.
What is niacinamide?
Niacinamide or nicotinamide is the active form of vitamin B3 mainly found in animal-based products but also in milk, eggs, and green vegetables. Because it has a neutral pH, niacinamide is one of the most stable ingredients in skincare, and it’s unlikely to cause irritations. Also, niacinamide is water-soluble, thus it gets easily absorbed when applied topically, and it never clogs pores.
The main role of niacinamide is to build proteins in the skin and strengthen protection against environmental damage, but there’s much more niacinamide can do, and everything is backed by science:
- Increases ceramide synthesis, consolidating the skin’s protective barrier
- Offers antioxidant protection
- Minimizes wrinkles and pores look
- Regulates oil
- Reduces acne and breakouts
- Fades hyperpigmentation and brightens the skin
- Evens skin tone
How does niacinamide lighten skin?
Usually, skin lightening agents target melanin production, the pigment that defines skin color. Outcomes of excess melanin include dark spots, uneven skin tone, and hyperpigmentation; hence when you have to deal with these skin concerns, you know where the problem comes from. So here’s how exactly niacinamide brightens the skin.
Although niacinamide doesn’t affect melanin production directly, it reduces melanin levels and therefore lightens the skin and treats hyperpigmentation by interfering in melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes. Melanocytes are those cells in the skin that produce melanin and store it in melanosome, a structure responsible for the synthesis, storage, and transport of melanin.
Once melanin is packaged into melanosomes, it’s then transferred to keratinocytes, the primary type of cell found in the outermost layer of the skin. This is how hyperpigmentation usually occurs: when an excess of melanin is transferred to keratinocytes. At this point, research confirmed many times that blocking the interaction between melanocytes and keratinocytes reduces melanin level in skin cells and, consequently, lighten the skin. So now, how good is actually niacinamide at fading hyperpigmentation and brightening the skin?
One clinical study showed that 5% niacinamide moisturizer inhibited the transfer of the melanosomes to the keratinocytes by up to 68%. In the same study, niacinamide significantly decreased hyperpigmentation and increased skin lightness after four weeks. Similarly, during another research, 4% niacinamide provided skin brightening effects and effectively treated discolorations and dark patches after the second month.
Besides blocking melanin transfer, there’s one more way niacinamide prevents hyperpigmentation and improves skin texture: by providing antioxidant protection against UV-induced damage. UV exposure is one of the leading causes of dark spots and hyperpigmented skin because it increases melanin production. Why does that happen? Well, one of the roles of melanin is to protect the epidermis cells by absorbing UV light. So when your skin is exposed to UV for extended periods, melanocytes start producing more melanin as a defense mechanism. Research also confirmed that UV damage induced the proliferation of melanocytes, promoted the transfer of melanosomes to the keratinocytes, and increased melanin synthesis. Additionally, UV exposure increases the number of free radicals. When free radicals surpass the antioxidant defense, it causes oxidative stress, which studies suggest accelerates skin pigmentation and is the main causative factor for excessive melasma.
Antioxidants are commonly used to fade hyperpigmentation and melasma, a condition that causes patches of discoloration because they prevent UV-induced melanin production and shield the skin against oxidative stress. Multiple studies have shown that niacinamide is a potent antioxidant against oxidative damage capable of repairing sun-damaged skin. They found that niacinamide can rebuild healthy skin cells while protecting them from damage caused by UV exposure, preventing melasma overproduction. Another study published by The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology states that 4% niacinamide reduces the appearance of UV-induced spot pigmentation after two to four weeks.
Finally, niacinamide can strengthen the protective skin barrier by decreasing transepidermal water loss and locking moisture in the skin. Although this doesn’t directly impact skin lightening, a consolidated barrier will reduce the chances of photosensitivity, dryness, irritations, and cells damage, leading to healthier skin.
Niacinamide is probably one of the most well-researched skincare ingredients, with dozens of evidence backing its benefits, including those in skin brightening. Niacinamide indeed lightens the skin and treats hyperpigmentation by reducing melanosomes transfer, offering photoprotection and anti-inflammatory properties.
However, you’ll have better chances to even your skin tone if you use niacinamide in conjunction with other skin lightening treatments such as vitamin C or retinol. Last but not least, always use sunscreen to prevent skin discoloration in the first place.