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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 in 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 listed.

What is Niacinamide?

What does niacinamide do in skin care? How well tolerated is it, especially for sensitive skin? In this article you will learn 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, "impurities" and deposits.

You can find the active ingredient in a niacinamide serum or as an ingredient in creams, sunscreens or other cosmetic products. Especially in recent years, the ingredient has been used almost inflationary. Sometimes in the form of 10% boosters. Or in lower concentrations in everyday products, like sunscreen . The problem with this: Above 5%, the effect can be reversed. Since the active ingredient is currently omnipresent, it can quickly happen that larger amounts of niacinamide come together, even though you only use products with low dosages.

INCI: Niacinamides

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

Tolerance: good

Niacinamide Effect

What does niacinamide do? Niacinamides work on the skin in multiple 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 an application concentration of 2%, Niacinamide has a moisturizing effect . However, that alone does not make the active ingredient so special, because there are many other well-tolerated moisturizers, such as Hayluron, Glycerin, Ectoin, etc.

Niacinamide from 3%

At a concentration of 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 oily skin).
  • Niacinamide can reduce redness and are therefore (at concentrations below 5%) also a useful active ingredient in rosacea , atopic dermatitis and other sensitive skin conditions such as neurodermatitis, psoriasis (psoriasis) and Co.
  • Niacinamide has a sebum -regulating effect and is often used as an active ingredient in acne treatment .
  • In addition, niacinamide can lighten pimple marks, hyperpigmentation and pigment spots. If your skin tends to be more pigmented 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 come back quickly in strong sun. Freckles are a protective mechanism of rather light skin against UV radiation. They are totally okay and even with sufficient sun protection, one or the other freckle will come through, because no sun cream in the world can protect your skin from the sun 100%. How good that your body has a small emergency plan ready for your fair skin. And it's like hyperpigmentation, some have it and some don't. Some wish for 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 firmer and smoother the skin is. This reduces wrinkles. As I said, they build up the skin. Therefore, niacinamides are also seen as an anti-aging agent. 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 sun exposure. 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 appear 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 yourself some good, have a revitalizing effect on your skin and at the same time want to address one of the problems mentioned above, a niacinamide serum with 3-5% niacinamide is a sensible skin care product.

Niacinamide from 5%

From an application quantity of more than 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 point of view, nothing concrete can be said about higher concentrations. There have been many reports of people getting pimples from niacinamide, for example, after using more than 5%. That's why we recommend using the scientifically studied concentrations.

Who is Niacinamide suitable for?

You may be wondering if Niacinamide is the right ingredient specifically for you and your skin? Let's look at a few situations so you can better assess whether niacinamide care is right for you.

Niacinamide for acne and 'blemished' skin

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

Brownish pimple marks, hyperpigmentation and pigment spots are common in acne and skin prone to pimples. They are lightened by niacinamide. Since niacinamide protects the skin from new inflammation, inhibits moisture loss and makes the skin more robust overall, acne scars can heal much better.

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

Are niacinamides suitable for sensitive skin?

Many people are well tolerated by niacinamide, and allergies are rare. Up to a concentration of 5% they are considered to be well tolerated. 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.

In the case of sensitive skin, however, niacinamide - like all potent active ingredients - can also cause overreactions in the skin. When used in concentrations above 5%, the effect can be reversed. This is not an initial aggravation. More pimples after niacinamide, suddenly red skin and an increase in stubborn inflammation are a sign that your skin is not coping with the amount or frequency of niacinamide, for example. Even if the skin burns, it is a side effect. This can easily happen when you combine multiple niacinamide products. Niacinamide is "by the way" contained in many cosmetic products. In this way, the effect quickly increases and the otherwise good niacinamide becomes an irritant.

Caution is especially important when combining niacinamide with acid peels or other acidic products. Acid peels should be used with caution if you have sensitive skin.

If you currently have perioral dermatitis (over-groomed skin) , niacinamides are not suitable. In the acute phase, only zero therapy helps . Only black tea poultices are allowed for peace of mind.

Is Niacinamide Good for Rosacea?

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

In any case, take it slow: Try a lower dosage first and preferably on a small area. Be sure to also check out the usage tips at the end of this article and in the section above on niacinamide for sensitive skin. And listen to your skin's feedback.

Here you will find our niacinamide serum , which can also be used to care for rosacea / couperose.

Rosacea is a skin condition characterized by redness

Rosacea care: avoid triggers and reduce redness

Woman with rosacea: Flat areas of redness on the cheeks and eyelids

What is rosacea or couperose: treatment and experiences

Rosacea in everyday life: Lara's handling of nutrition, cosmetics & Co

Rosacea in everyday life: Lara's handling of nutrition, cosmetics & Co

Niacinamide for dry skin

Is niacinamide useful for neurodermatitis or dry skin? Yes, you can also use niacinamide for dry skin or neurodermatitis. Since 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 breastfeeding. (Unlike retinol, which you shouldn't use during pregnancy.)

Pregnancy melasma can also be somewhat alleviated with niacinamides. However, nobody can promise you that it will go away completely during pregnancy. Some women get such hyperpigmentation during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Others have no skin change.

Niacinamide is also well suited if you are prone to more inflammation and pimples 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 application

Many people tolerate niacinamide very well. Unlike many other active ingredients, niacinamides are insensitive to light. They can therefore also be stored in transparent packaging. Still, there are a few things to consider:

What percentage of Niacinamide is good for the 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 already fail this criterion.

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

Up to a concentration of 5% niacinamide is considered to be well tolerated. High concentrations of 4-5% are used for stronger forms of acne, for example. From 3%, niacinamide is already effective for pimples and inflammation. It does not necessarily always need the full 5%. Particularly sensitive skin benefits particularly from lower dosages (approx. 3-4%), which still have an effective effect.

However, you can usually save yourself the niacinamide product below 2%, since most of the effects of niacinamide are not to be expected. It only works as a moisturizer. If you use several products with niacinamide, you no longer have control over the effect. Either you have too little or it could also 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 tolerance and effectiveness, you can use products with encapsulated niacinamide. Why? Our skin protects you from germs and bacteria. If the skin were just permeable to everything it came in contact with, all those harmful things could have direct access to our bloodstream.

But active ingredients also have a hard time getting into the skin and having an effect where the focus of inflammation is.

Penetrating substances are used to enable active ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin. This can be vegetable oils rich in oleic acid, acids or solvents such as alcohols. People with sensitive skin often do not tolerate these penetration substances very well. And even with such substances, it is not certain that the active ingredient will get deep enough into the skin.

However, because niacinamide works best when it comes into contact with inflammation, the active ingredient can become encapsulated. You can imagine the capsule as something like a small car that drives the niacinamide through the skin to the site of inflammation and lets it get 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 built, the better the skin layer can be overcome. Liposomal capsules - small bubbles made of fat (vesicles) - are structured like our cell membranes. You can imagine it like a small fat cell and the niacinamide is inside.

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

The niacinamide does not unnecessarily irritate surrounding tissue and only acts where the inflammation is occurring.

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

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

Mixing niacinamide with other active ingredients

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

Niacinamides are actually quite uncomplicated when it comes to combining them with other active ingredients. So you don't have to worry if your niacinamide serum is compatible with retinol, hyaluronic acid, enzyme peeling or azelaic acid . All these ingredients can be combined with each other.

What should I not combine niacinamide with?

You should only be careful when mixing with acid peelings . There is also potential concern with 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. After an acid peel, niacinamide has a stronger effect. Due to the acid, the niacinamide gets deeper into the skin and can therefore have a stronger effect. If you want a more targeted effect, products with encapsulated niacinamide are better suited.

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

Tip on the spot: A gentle enzyme peeling without fruit acids is more suitable for sensitive skin and goes without any problems with niacinamide. (a gentle enzyme peeling is coming soon from Xeno , you can be curious)

Niacinamide and Vitamin C: Can a Niacin Flush Happen?

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 it is not dangerous and will disappear.

In 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 the so-called niacin flush. The whole 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 from 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 look out for when choosing active ingredients

Is less really more? Part 2: What you should look out for when choosing active ingredients

Is less really more? Part 3: What potent active ingredients and scrubs do to your skin

Is less really more? Part 3: What potent active ingredients and scrubs do to your skin

Application of Niacinamide in brief

  • Only use products that contain less than 5% niacinamide. There are also products in which the concentration is well over 5%.
  • Also, do not use any products where the use concentration of the niacinamide is not specified.
  • A low concentration (3-4%) is sufficient. If the effect is not enough for you, you can always increase the 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 for sebum regulation.
  • Always take a longer break from acid peels before using niacinamide.
  • Look for a liposomally encapsulated niacinamide serum . This makes it more tolerable and effective.
  • If you want to use niacinamide: It is best to find a single product with niacinamide and make sure that the rest of your skincare routine (including your makeup) does not 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 cleanser: Also look for niacinamides in your cleanser or sunscreen. Niacinamide is also often included here.
  • You can safely use niacinamide daily as long as the concentration is not too high and your skin can handle it
  • Avoid using acid peel and niacinamide combos, especially if the concentration is higher or the pH is too low.

Niacinamide serum (also for sensitive skin)

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

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

Niacinamide alternatives

If you do not tolerate niacinamide or do not want to use it for other reasons, you will find a few alternative ingredients here, but they only cover part of the effect of niacinamide.

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


Niacinamide is basically a well-tolerated active ingredient. If you have very sensitive skin, you should pay a little more attention to how much and how the niacinamide is processed in the serum. Use low-dose niacinamide products actively and judiciously separately from your skincare essentials.

Unfortunately, many brands are getting caught up in the niacinamide trend, releasing products at higher and higher concentrations. When it comes to skin care, however, less is often more.

This article was first published in December 2021 and last edited on 07/17/2022

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 worker. Lara already mixed her first cream 20 years ago and deals with skin care and ingredients . Lara has rosacea and very sensitive skin.

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