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Niacinamide: why you should consider adding the super-hydrating ingredient into your winter beauty regime

Chloe Street
Shutterstock / ECOSY

It's nearing the end of January and most of us are feeling like our skin could do with some TLC.

If you're remotely interested in your skincare then there's a good chance you're already exfoliating with AHAs and dousing your face in Hyaluronic acid serum. But what if we told you there was something that could help with the dry skin winter brings?

Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-Founder of Mortar & Milk, talks us through the dos and don'ts of adding Niacinamide to our winter skincare regimes.

What is niacinamide?

"Niacin and Niacinamide are both Vitamin B3. It’s been around for a while, however becoming more frequently used due to its hydrating effects on the outer layer of our skin. By helping to maintain our barrier function, it works to reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL). It also aids in protein and ceramide synthesis. It works only topically on the outer layer of the skin (the stratum corneum). I wouldn't call it a wonder ingredient, but it works well within a serum for overall health of the skin!"

Is it something we should use in winter?

"It can be used year round, but is very beneficial in wintertime when we are spending more time in central heating and near radiators, which draws moisture from the skin."

Can anyone benefit from using it?

"Yes. People with especially dry skin will recognise the benefits the most, but it is beneficial to all skin when used in moderation."

How does it help the skin?

"Because it helps to prevent TEWL and helps maintain our barrier function with the synthesis of proteins and ceramides, on our outer layer, its visible effects will be skin that looks smoother and plumper."

Are there any side effects?

"Niacinamide can cause flushing when used too much, especially when used consistently with other actives like AHAs or retinols. It's not necessarily just "sensitised" skin that can be affected. It can come down to formulation, how long someone has been using Niacinamide, and if they're using it in multiple formulations. The rule of thumb is that if you're flushing or itching, then discontinue use for a while."

Is it safe to use in conjunction with my other serums, like vitamin C or hyaluronic acid ?

"It is compatible with most ingredients and is present in many combination serums and moisturisers, but we need to manage our expectations with any ingredient. Niacinamide only works on our outer layer. Think of it as something that is protecting your skin. Incredibly helpful, but unless it has a pathway to penetration beyond the dead layer, it will struggle to change the functionality of your skin. We also need to understand that not every ingredient is good for every skin."

How effective are products bought on the high street?

"Unless Niacinamide has a pathway to penetration beyond the dead layer (for example through microneedling creating micro-channels), it will struggle to change the functionality of your skin. All skincare ingredients work on our outer dead layer of cells (our stratum corneum). According to EU regulations, no cosmetic can penetrate beyond the Stratum Corneum - therefore, there is a limit to what cosmetics can do.

They can protect the skin, force cell turnover, they can even temporarily plump our dead cells, as well as reduce some inflammation, but beyond that, they cannot change the way the skin functions. If I'm trying to create functional change in the skin, I need to use ingredients at a low pH and low molecular weight to move beyond the Stratum Corneum. We need to manage our expectations on what a high street "cosmetic" has the ability to do.

The clinical brands I would recommend are Medik8, NeoStrata and Exuviance."

What should you look for when buying Niacinamide products?

"It’s hard to describe what is best to look for when buying a niacinamide formulation, because every brand on the market will tell you theirs is the best concentration or percentage based on their own formulations and development methods. I will always recommend looking for clinical formulations as they will understand the blend of ingredients, and at what pH they will need for their lower molecular weight ingredients. The general rule of thumb in the EU is that if it's sold on the high street, it is not a clinical formulation. Things may or may not change with Brexit. In the US, clinical and cosmetics can sit side by side, making it far more difficult for customers."

Is it best as a serum or in a cream?

"Serums are our target-driven ingredients, so I will always suggest it in a serum, however you can have it in both your serum and moisturiser in low levels."

Which are the best products on the market?

Medik8 use Niacinamide in their Clarity Peptide, £40.

Medik9 Clarity Peptides, £40. Shop it here

Paula's Choice Niacinamide Booster, £41.

Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster, £41, shop it here

Find more skincare advice here.

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