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Niacinamide: everything you need to know about sensitive skin

Posted by Lara Schimweg on
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 2%

An active ingredient is currently very hyped, especially on social networks. That's why we kept getting questions about it. It's about niacinamide.

Niacinamide is a derivative of vitamin B3 .

Niacinamide strengthens your skin barrier and counteracts inflammation, blackheads, “blemishes” and deposits (at concentrations between 3% and 5%). It is therefore also suitable for sensitive skin.

Only use niacinamide at a maximum concentration of 5% , otherwise the effect can be reversed. Avoid products with 10% niacinamide or more, even if the concentration is not specified.

What is Niacinamide?

What does niacinamide do in skin care? How tolerated is it, especially for sensitive skin? In this article you will find out everything about the cosmetic active ingredient.

Niacinamide is a derivative of vitamin B3 (niacin). Niacin is found in some foods and is also used for medicinal purposes. As a cosmetic active ingredient, niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier and thereby counteracts inflammation, blackheads, "blemishes" and deposits.

You can find the active ingredient in a niacinamide serum or as an ingredient in creams, sunscreens or other cosmetic products. In recent years in particular, the ingredient has been used almost inflated. Sometimes in the form of 10% boosters. Or in lower concentrations in everyday products, like sunscreens . The problem is that above 5% the effect can be reversed. Since the active ingredient is currently omnipresent, it can quickly happen that large amounts of niacinamide accumulate even though you only use low-dose products.

INCI: Niacinamide

Effect: strengthens the skin barrier, works against acne, redness, hyperpigmentation, healthy aging

Tolerability: good

Niacinamide effect

What does niacinamide do? Niacinamide works on the skin in many ways. For example, they help to strengthen the skin barrier, work against pimples and keep the skin healthy and firm. Niacinamide is therefore a true all-rounder if you use the active ingredient correctly.

Niacinamide from 2%

From a concentration of 2%, niacinamide has a moisturizing effect . However, that alone doesn't make the active ingredient so special, because there are many other well-tolerated moisturizers, such as Hayluron, glycerin, ectoine, etc.

Niacinamide from 3%

At a concentration between 3% and 5%, niacinamide has a whole range of positive effects:

  • Niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier by promoting the formation of ceramides and cholesterol. Together with the moisturizing effect, the strengthened skin barrier ensures that your skin loses less moisture. Niacinamide can therefore be very helpful for dehydrated oily skin (dry fatty skin).
  • Niacinamide can reduce redness and is therefore (at a concentration below 5%) also a useful active ingredient for rosacea , atopic dermatitis and other sensitive skin conditions such as neurodermatitis, psoriasis (psoriasis) and the like.
  • Niacinamide has a sebum-regulating effect and is often used as an active ingredient in acne treatment .
  • Niacinamide can also lighten pimple marks, hyperpigmentation and pigmentation spots. If your skin tends to have more pigmentation under the eyes, niacinamide is also suitable. Hyperpigmentation is not problematic for the skin. Decide for yourself whether they bother you.
  • Niacinamide can also be used to reduce freckles . However, the freckles will quickly come back in strong sun. Freckles are a protective mechanism for fair skin against UV radiation. They are completely okay and even with sufficient sun protection, one or two freckles will come through, as no sunscreen in the world can protect your skin 100% from the sun. It's a good thing that your body has a little emergency plan ready for your light skin. And it's like with hyperpigmentation, some have it, others don't. Some people want freckles, others hate having them. And only you decide about your skin.
  • Niacinamides are able to stimulate the formation of collagen fibers . The tighter and more developed the network of collagen fibers in your skin, the tighter and smoother the skin is. This reduces wrinkles. As I said, they build up the skin. Niacinamide is therefore also seen as an anti-aging ingredient. We prefer the term healthy aging .

Tip for you: The small semicircles of pigment spots on your eye bones under your eyes are caused by sunlight. This part is more exposed to the sun because it stands out more. A niacinamide serum will help you reduce hyperpigmentation. However, it is best if they do not occur in the first place: Wear sunscreen every day to prevent hyperpigmentation of this type and to protect yourself from skin cancer and skin aging.


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So if you want to do something good for yourself, want a restorative effect on the skin and at the same time address one of the problems mentioned above, a niacinamide serum with 3-5% niacinamide is a useful skin care product.

Niacinamide from 5%

If the amount used is over 5%, the positive effect can be reversed.

💡 The cosmetic studies with niacinamide are usually only carried out with concentrations of up to 5%, as this amount is completely sufficient. From a scientific perspective, nothing concrete can be said about higher concentrations. There are many reports of people getting pimples from niacinamide after using more than 5%, for example. We therefore recommend using the scientifically tested concentrations.

Who is Niacinamide suitable for?

Maybe you're wondering whether niacinamide is the right ingredient for you and your skin? We'll look at a few situations so you can better assess whether niacinamide care is right for you.

Niacinamide for acne and “impure” skin

Does niacinamide help against pimples? Due to its sebum-regulating effect, niacinamide is a very interesting ingredient for people with acne. Due to the stronger skin barrier, pimples and underlays hardly stand a chance. Niacinamide serums are therefore often used in acne treatment. If your skin becomes oily irregularly throughout the day, niacinamide will bring your skin back into balance, you will get fewer pimples or spots and will also prevent acne scars in the long term.

Brownish pimple marks, hyperpigmentation and pigment spots often occur in acne and pimple-prone skin. They are lightened by niacinamide. Since niacinamide protects the skin from new inflammations, inhibits moisture loss and makes the skin more robust overall, acne scars can heal significantly better.

Do you have acne and have you had any experience with niacinamide? Please leave a comment below so that others can benefit from your experiences.

Are niacinamides suitable for sensitive skin?

Many people can tolerate niacinamide and allergies are rare. They are considered well tolerated up to a concentration of 5%. If you follow our application tips at the end of this article, you can also use niacinamide on sensitive skin. And sensitive skin in particular benefits greatly from a strengthened skin barrier.

However, if you have sensitive skin, niacinamide - like all potent active ingredients - can also cause the skin to overreact. At use concentrations above 5%, the effect can be reversed. This is not an initial aggravation. More pimples after niacinamide, sudden red skin and an increase in stubborn inflammation are a sign that your skin cannot cope with the amount or frequency of niacinamide, for example. Even if the skin burns, it is a side effect. This can easily happen if you combine several niacinamide products. Niacinamide is contained “incidentally” in many cosmetic products. The effect increases quickly and the otherwise so good niacinamides become an irritant.

Caution is particularly advised when combining niacinamide with acid peels or other acidic products. If you have sensitive skin, acid peels should be enjoyed with caution anyway.

If you currently have perioral dermatitis (over-cared skin) , niacinamides are not suitable. In the acute phase, only zero therapy helps. Only black tea compresses are advisable to calm you down.

Is niacinamide suitable for rosacea?

Since rosacea reacts very sensitively to many stimuli, including skin care, all potent active ingredients can potentially be too much. Some people with rosacea / couperose can tolerate niacinamide, others are sensitive to it and experience increased pustules, redness and severe inflammation. But this can also be due to the concentration used (over 5%).

In any case, take it slowly: first try a lower dosage and ideally on a small area. Be sure to also pay attention to the application tips at the end of this article and in the section above about niacinamide for sensitive skin. And listen to your skin’s feedback.

Here you will find our niacinamide serum , which can also be suitable for caring for rosacea / couperose.

Rosacea is a skin condition that presents with redness

Rosacea care: avoid triggers and reduce redness

Woman with rosacea: Extensive redness on the cheeks and eyelids What is rosacea or couperose: treatment and experiences
Rosacea in everyday life: Lara's approach to nutrition, cosmetics, etc Rosacea in everyday life: Lara's approach to nutrition, cosmetics, etc

Niacinamide for dry skin

Is niacinamide useful for neurodermatitis or dry skin? Yes, you can also use niacinamide if you have dry skin or neurodermatitis. Because it moisturizes and strengthens your skin barrier, a niacinamide serum can be useful in addition to a rich cream .

Are niacinamides suitable during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Niacinamide is definitely suitable during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. (Unlike retinol, which you shouldn't use during pregnancy.)

Pregnancy melasma can also be alleviated somewhat with niacinamides. However, no one can promise you that it will go away completely during pregnancy. Some women experience hyperpigmentation during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Others have no skin change.

Niacinamide is also good if you are prone to more inflammation and breakouts during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

💡Did you know? All Xeno products are suitable for pregnant women because we only use well-tolerated ingredients, all of which can also be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Niacinamide use

Many people tolerate niacinamide very well. Niacinamides are (unlike many other active ingredients) insensitive to light. So they can also be stored in transparent packaging. However, there are a few things to consider:

What percentage of niacinamide is good for skin?

Do not use products that contain more than 5% niacinamide. The same applies if the quantity is not specified. Unfortunately, most products on the market fail this criterion.

Do not use products that contain more than 5% niacinamide. The same applies if the quantity is not specified.

Niacinamides are considered well tolerated up to a concentration of 5%. High concentrations of 4-5% are used, for example, for more severe forms of acne. From 3%, niacinamide works on pimples and inflammation. So you don't necessarily always need the full 5%. Particularly sensitive skin particularly benefits from lower dosages (approx. 3-4%), which still have an effective effect.

However, you can usually save the Niacinamide product below 2%, as most of the effects of Niacinamide are not to be expected. It then only has a moisturizing effect. If you use multiple products with niacinamide, you no longer have control over the effects. Either you have too little or it could be too much niacinamide.

Niacinamide: how often to use?

You can use niacinamide up to once a day. If you use it more often, the amount on your skin can add up. Then it is not known exactly what effect it has. If you are not sure whether you can tolerate it, start every other day.

Tip: encapsulated niacinamide is more effective and better tolerated

To increase tolerability and effectiveness, you can use products with encapsulated niacinamide. Why? Our skin protects you from germs and bacteria. If the skin were simply permeable to all the substances it comes into contact with, all of these harmful things would have direct access to our bloodstream.

But active ingredients also have a hard time getting into the skin and working where the source of inflammation is.

Penetrating substances are used so that active ingredients reach deeper into the skin. These can be vegetable oils rich in oleic acid, acids or solvents such as alcohols. People with sensitive skin often do not tolerate these penetrating substances well. And even with such substances it is not guaranteed that the active ingredient gets deep enough into the skin.

However, since niacinamide works best when it comes into contact with inflammation, the active ingredient can be encapsulated. You can imagine the capsule as being like a small car that drives the niacinamide through the skin to the site of inflammation and lets it out there. The skin is the gatekeeper and decides whether the capsule is allowed to pass or not. The more skin-like the encapsulation is, the easier it is to overcome the skin layer. Liposomal capsules - small bubbles made of fats (vesicles) - are structured like our cell membranes. You can imagine it as a small fat bubble with niacinamide sitting inside.

This mechanism has three advantages (not just for sensitive skin):

The niacinamide does not unnecessarily irritate surrounding tissue and only works where the inflammation occurs.

At the same time, the effect is much more efficient, so you can expect more noticeable effects - in contrast to niacinamide serums, where the active ingredient has been dissolved in liquid.

Due to the encapsulation, a lower concentration in the lower range between 3 and 5% is also sufficient.

Mix niacinamide with other active ingredients

Can I combine niacinamide and retinol together? And what about BHA and niacinamide?

Niacinamide is actually quite uncomplicated when it comes to combining it with other active ingredients. So you don't need to worry about whether your niacinamide serum is compatible with retinol, hyaluronic acid, enzyme peeling or azelaic acid . All of these ingredients can be combined with each other.

What should I not combine niacinamide with?

You should only be careful when mixing with acid peels . There is also potentially something to consider when it comes to vitamin C and niacinamide.

Combine niacinamide with BHA (salicylic acid) or AHA (fruit acid).

You should be careful with acid peels, especially if you have sensitive skin. Niacinamide has a stronger effect after an acid peel. The acid allows the niacinamide to penetrate deeper into the skin and can therefore have a stronger effect. If you want a more targeted effect, products with encapsulated niacinamide are more suitable.

If you still want to combine BHA (salicylic acid), PHA or AHA and niacinamide, you should wait a bit after the acids before using niacinamide.

Tip at this point: A gentle enzyme peeling without fruit acids is better suited for sensitive skin and has no problems with niacinamide. ( Xeno is coming soon with a gentle enzyme peeling, you can look forward to it)

Niacinamide and vitamin C: Can a niacin flush occur?

You don't need to be afraid of a so-called "niacin flush" when it comes to skin care.

The effect can be a side effect of medication, but is not dangerous and will disappear again.

With cosmetic products, a niacin flush is only theoretically possible if you use an extremely acidic product (pH below 4) with ascorbic acid ( vitamin C ) and use it with another product with niacinamide. In such a case, the niacinamide could convert into niacin (vitamin B3), which could lead to a so-called niacin flush. The entire face reacts with severe redness - always a sign of dilated blood vessels. However, this is very unlikely unless you intentionally mix something like this yourself. This cannot happen with modern purchased products.

Severely reddened skin due to a niacin flush
Flush one hour after taking 100 mg niacin. Image:​​ PD Dr. Joerg Carl's CC BY-SA 4.0
Vitamin C serum Vitamin C for sensitive skin: ascorbic acid or derivatives?
Is less really more? Part 2: What you should pay attention to when it comes to active ingredients Is less really more? Part 2: What you should pay attention to when it comes to active ingredients
Is less really more? Part 3: What potent active ingredients and peelings do to your skin

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How to use Niacinamide soon

  • Only use products that contain less than 5% niacinamide. There are also products where the concentration is well over 5%.
  • Do not use any products for which the concentration of niacinamide is not specified.
  • A low concentration (3-4%) is completely sufficient. If the effect is not enough for you, you can always increase your concentration.
  • If you only want the moisturizing or sebum-regulating effect, there are other milder products , for example with glycerin or hyaluronic acid as a moisturizer or with green tea to regulate sebum.
  • After acid peels, always take a longer break before using niacinamide.
  • Look for a liposomal encapsulated niacinamide serum . This makes it more tolerable and effective.
  • If you want to use niacinamide: It's best to find a single product with niacinamide and make sure that the rest of your skincare routine (and your makeup) doesn't contain niacinamide. This gives you better control over the amount of active ingredient. That's why at Xeno we only have one product with niacinamide.
  • Facial cleansing : Also look for niacinamide in your cleanser or sunscreen. Niacinamide is also often contained here.
  • You can easily use niacinamide daily if the concentration is not too high and your skin can handle it
  • Do not use combination products containing acid peeling and niacinamide, especially if the concentration is higher or the pH value is too low.

Niacinamide serum (also for sensitive skin)

The Xeno+ Lean Back Serum Gel is also suitable for very sensitive skin:

  • 3.14% Niacinamide
  • liposomally encapsulated
  • pH value: 5.5
  • Paracress (has a strong antioxidant effect, relaxes the facial muscles so that lines and wrinkles become significantly smoother)
  • Zinc PCA (occurs in your skin, inhibits the growth of acne bacteria and moisturizes)
  • 100% natural cosmetics
  • Without fragrances and other irritating ingredients

Niacinamide alternatives

If you cannot tolerate niacinamide or do not want to use it for other reasons, here are a few alternative ingredients, each of which only covers part of the effect of niacinamide.

There are a few alternatives for the moisturizing effect : glycerin, hyaluronic acid, beta-glucan or ectoine, to name just a few.

You can use products with green tea to regulate sebum .

Is anti-aging or healthy aging important to you? Then paracress could be something for you. Possibly also Retionol (but be careful if you have sensitive skin or are pregnant).


Niacinamide is generally a well-tolerated active ingredient. If you have very sensitive skin, you should pay closer attention to how much and how the niacinamide is processed in the serum. Use niacinamide products in low doses actively and carefully separately from your skin care basics.

Unfortunately, many brands are getting caught up in the niacinamide trend and releasing products with ever higher concentrations. However, when it comes to skin care, less is often more.

This article was first published in December 2021 and last edited on July 17, 2022

Lara Schimweg

about the author

Lara Schimweg is the founder of Xeno and develops the skin care products. She studied sports science and health research and is a trained health and nursing nurse. Lara mixed her first cream 20 years ago and is involved in skin care and ingredients . Lara has rosacea and very sensitive skin.

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