In recent years, skincare products have incorporated more and more wonderful and magical ingredients for our skin. But sometimes, there’s a price to pay for all of those great effects.
In the case of Niacinamide, some users report side effects such as stinging, tingling sensations, irritation, and redness.
If you’ve experienced these or other unpleasant outcomes, don’t worry, you’re not alone. I
I’m here to shed some light on why Niacinamide stings and get into more detail about what you can do about it.
What does niacinamide do for the skin?
Before we can go into a detailed explanation of why niacinamide may cause irritation and sting, I’d like to give your more insights into what this ingredient actually is.
Niacinamide is also known as nicotinamide and 3-pyridinecarboxamide (just try and pronounce this).
It’s a form of vitamin B3, a water-soluble vitamin with a ton of therapeutic properties for the skin when applied. Although very similar to niacin, it doesn’t cause the typical flushing side effects that niacin does, when applied topically or consumed orally.
Niacinamide is nothing new in the beauty industry, yet there has been so much talk about it in recent years.
It’s actively used in a range of different skincare products, like serums, tonics, creams, essences, sprays, masks, and moisturizers.
And this only makes sense, as niacinamide is uniquely compatible with most skincare ingredients and products, even the ones containing retinol, peptides, hyaluronic acid, exfoliating acids, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
Plus, as I already mentioned, niacinamide offers a multitude of benefits for the skin such as:
- Anti-aging properties
- Protects against UV radiation
- Antioxidant properties
- Fights off free radicals
- Helps treat acne
- Restores the skin barrier
- Supports skin hydration
- Reduces oiliness
- Tightens pores
- Eliminates redness
- Helps with hyperpigmentation
I don’t know about you but this seems like a pretty long list of benefits to me. With other ingredients, it’s normal to see 2-3, say 5 benefits. But niacinamide is a true skin care superhero.
So how can so many people experience negative side effects like redness and stinging?
It pretty much looks like a terrific ingredient that can’t do any harm.
Why does Niacinamide sting? Is Niacinamide supposed to sting or is it something about your skin type or other products that you’re using?
Let’s find out.
Niacinamide stinging and other reactions explained
That’s right – niacinamide stings. Sometimes.
A lot of people implement a niacinamide-based product only to discover that their skin is extremely sensitive to it.
The ingredient is known to cause reactions such as burning, stinging, irritation, and redness.
To be honest, I’ve personally had this niacinamide reaction but in the end, it turned out that it wasn’t really because of the niacinamide. It was, in fact, the way I was using it.
In short, I was overusing niacinamide without even realizing it, but I’ll get into that in more detail in a minute.
Basically, if you’re sensitive to niacinamide, you’re likely to feel a bit of stinging on your skin. This can feel as if someone is pinching you. It’s a tingly and itchy effect that fades away after a minute if the irritation is nothing too serious.
If you don’t pay attention to the reaction and continue using the product (or multiple products) with niacinamide, you can even see a more severe rash.
If you have sensitive skin, chances are that you’ll get these sensations and side effects, especially during your first few tries with niacinamide.
So the big question remains. Why does this happen?
Are you allergic to niacinamide?
One of the theories that I’ve seen being tossed around is that you could be allergic to niacinamide.
This is highly unlikely.
If there’s a chance of you being allergic to topical niacinamide, it’s close to zero.
Because, to develop a skin allergy to something, you must have been exposed to it in the past for your skin to become sensitized to it. Or, be innately allergic to the ingredient, which, statistically speaking, is very, very rare.
If you’ve just started using Niacinamide for the first time, it will be nearly impossible to develop an allergic reaction to it so fast.
Research also suggests that allergic contact dermatitis to niacinamide is very rare and highly unlikely to occur.
This leads us to the next possibility of what may be causing a niacinamide skin reaction.
Other ingredients in the product that can cause burning
It is a lot more likely that it’s not really the niacinamide that is causing the stinging sensation on your skin.
It could be another ingredient or a mix of ingredients that you’re using together with Niacinamide as part of your skincare routine.
What do I mean?
Well, a lot of skincare products contain a range of “supportive” ingredients such as preservatives, actives, and inactive ingredients.
A lot of these ingredients are used for the formulation of the product – to achieve a certain consistency, to help ingredients penetrate into the skin, to help ingredients “stay put” together.
However, such components can sometimes cause side effects when used together with other ingredients.
Preservatives are especially popular when it comes to ingredients causing skin irritation.
For instance, Phenoxyethanol is a preservative used in cosmetic products as a stabilizer, keeping products safe for longer. But, a lot of people experience serious reactions to it, like irritation, eczema, and even severe allergic reactions.
This is just a single example.
In a nutshell, before blaming it all on Niacinamide, it’s worth looking into the ingredient lists of all of the skincare products in our routines to see if there could be another explanation for any stinging, redness, or irritation.
The third and most probable reason, in my personal opinion, is that you could be overusing nIacinamide, just like I was.
It may be hard to imagine that you could have too much of a good thing, but that’s just the reality (just imagine stuffing yourself with your favorite chocolate every day, every hour!).
Niacinamide is most beneficial for the skin in products containing between 2% and 5% of the ingredient. But if you’ve looked at different products containing niacinamide, you’ve probably seen a lot of them containing 10%, 15%, and even 20% concentrations!
Now, let’s say you’ve started using a toner with a high percentage of niacinamide, for example, 10%. Not only that, but you’re also using a serum and a cream containing the ingredient.
When you do the math, your skin is receiving a lot of niacinamide, which is bound to cause some form of negative reaction. The higher the percentage of niacinamide, the more irritating it will be for the skin.
In addition, it’s one of those ingredients that the skin needs time to adapt to.
If you’re just getting started, don’t dive right in if you want to avoid stinging and redness.
It’s hard to pinpoint how much niacinamide is too much. This will depend on your skin type, your genetics, and a ton of other factors.
To be on the safe side, start slowly and gradually increase the amount of niacinamide your skin receives once you feel comfortable. Also, always perform a patch test before including a product in your skincare routine.
Niacin flush vs niacinamide reaction
Earlier, I mentioned that niacinamide is very similar to niacin. Niacin or nicotinic acid, just like niacinamide, is another form of vitamin B3.
In fact, niacin and niacinamide are pretty much the same, the only difference being that niacinamide doesn’t cause any flushing.
The interesting part is that niacin and niacinamide can convert back and forth. In other words, niacin can become niacinamide and niacinamide can become niacin.
People who are aware of this fact naturally wonder whether the irritation, stinging, and redness from products containing niacinamide could all result from the fact that the ingredient has converted into niacin.
Well, the short answer is that this is rather unlikely.
Niacinamide is known for its stability and rarely changes in a product.
The conversion process can be influenced by the viscosity of the product. For example, liquid products trigger the niacin and niacinamide conversions more easily than cream products.
Keep in mind that the majority of products you use have a thickener in them anyway, no matter what their texture is, even if it’s a watery consistency.
This makes this theory even more improbable.
Niacinamide and vitamin C
You may have come across suggestions to avoid using niacinamide with vitamin C products.
In fact, The Ordinary officially don’t recommend using their niacinamide serum and any vitamin C product in the same routine.
But why? What could happen?
Remember how I just told you about the conversion between niacin and niacinamide?
The more acidic the pH, the more you might expect conversions of niacinamide to nicotinic acid or niacin. This conversion is especially important for those of you using niacinamide with vitamin C.
For example, you may have a topical vitamin C serum in your skincare routine. Vitamin C products need to be in an acidic pH for the ingredient to actually be absorbed by the skin. Put otherwise, the acidic pH of the vitamin C serum may trigger the niacinamide-to-niacin conversion, and as a result, for you to experience flushing or redness.
This is not something that is guaranteed to happen but it’s certainly a possibility that you should know about. There is a myriad of products containing both niacinamide and vitamin C, and they work perfectly fine.
The Ordinary Niacinamide burning
The Ordinary is famous for its no-brainer affordable formulations. However, their formulations are also notorious when it comes to irritation, stinging, burning, and many other side effects.
It’s no wonder that their Niacinamide 10%, Zinc 1% serum is also occasionally reported as aggravating the skin.
All other ingredients aside, this can be due to the higher percentage of niacinamide in the formulation.
I don’t know if you know this, but most studies that support niacinamide’s effectiveness on the skin have been done using concentrations of no higher than 5% niacinamide.
Ergo, anything higher is associated with an increased chance of skin irritation, stinging, redness, and other side effects.
In my opinion, there’s simply no point in risking all that discomfort if you can get effective results with a safer formula.
Two alternatives to The Ordinary’s niacinamide serum I’d like to mention are the Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum – this one combines a weaker percentage of niacinamide with zinc and willow bark extract;
And Cos De BAHA Vitamin B5 4% + Niacinamide 2% – this features 4% of pantothenic acid along a weaker percentage of niacinamide which makes this formulation super soothing while still giving you some original niacinamide benefits.
The latter is from a Korean brand, and we know how obsessed are Koreans with gentle skincare that is still very effective.
What to do if niacinamide burns
So let’s say that you’ve included niacinamide in your skincare routine and you see a reaction from it – burning, stinging, redness – you name it.
What can you do about it?
Here’s a list of suggestions on how to handle the problem. As I said, I’ve gone through this personally and I’ve done a fair share of research. Most of these I’ve also personally tried and they’ve worked for me in the past:
Wait it out to pass
One option you have is to simply let your skin handle the irritation and deal with it.
If this is your first time using niacinamide, this reaction is completely normal and common. Upon applying a niacinamide-rich product, it may take about 30 minutes for the initial redness to go away and several days to weeks for your skin to get used to the ingredient and stop showing these signs of irritation.
This option is only applicable if your reaction is not that strong, to begin with.
Try a lower percentage of concentration
If you’re getting reactions from niacinamide in higher concentrations, you can opt for a product with a lower percentage of the ingredient.
Choose products with 2% of niacinamide or 5% at the maximum. If even this makes your skin flush, then maybe you and niacinamide are not meant to be.
From my experience, however, and from anecdotal evidence, a lower concentration is the go-to for many folks who experience burning from niacinamide. Either that, or there’s something else that has sensitized your skin, in which case you’ll need to investigate deeper.
Try using niacinamide less often
As I’ve said, niacinamide is everywhere these days.
And it’s not always disclosed on the front label of our skincare.
A lot of people use niacinamide every single day, sometimes twice a day without even noticing it.
Check the labels of your products and if your skin isn’t coping well with regular use, try reducing the use to two or three times a week until your skin shows signs that it can handle more frequent use of niacinamide-rich products.
Try a different formulation/product
Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with niacinamide and your skin.
Maybe there’s something else in the formula that doesn’t agree with you and you can’t quite pinpoint what that is.
If you don’t have the time, don’t want to put in the effort, or simply want to avoid irritation – swap your niacinamide-rich product with a different formulation.
Use skin barrier strengthening products along with it
Niacinamide in itself is a skin-healing ingredient, but if you notice that your skin tends to flush, maybe you need to introduce other skin-loving compounds.
One of the most effective ones are ceramides, fatty acids, and natural moisturizing factors.
Skincare products rich in these will help you get accustomed to niacinamide faster, eliminating the undesired side effects. They will support the healing of your skin barrier.
Some of my favorites in that regard are the Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Serum, the Naturium’s Root Barrier Balm which I use as my moisturizer on the days when my skin acts out and is more reactive, or the Purito Dermide Relief cream – whichever of these two I have at hand at that moment.
You can apply a light moisturizer before the niacinamide product to buffer its strength. Just remember the rule of layering – thinnest to thickest formulations.
I like the Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel as it’s super lightweight and soaks in instantly. It nourishes the skin, yet it doesn’t create an occlusive barrier, such as to prevent my niacinamide from penetrating once I apply it on top.
Also, if your skin is sensitized and reactive at the moment, make sure to apply your skincare, and layer it, only on dry skin – this will minimize the chance of additional irritation.
Don’t use niacinamide along with other harsh ingredients in the same routine
Those include strong acids, exfoliants, and retinoids.
If your skin is already too sensitive, products like exfoliants rich in strong acids or retinoids can make it even more touchy when exposed to niacinamide.
Try to alternate the use of your actives, to allow your skin to handle each individual one better – this is called skin cycling.
Use alternative ingredients with a similar effect
Let’s face it – niacinamide is not a mandatory ingredient in any skin routine.
If you are reactive to it, don’t use it.
There are a ton of other ingredients and products that can solve the challenges that niacinamide does, so it’s completely possible to avoid any irritation, redness, or stinging.
You can try things like soy extract, licorice root extract, or green tea. These can all help with oiliness, the restoration of the function of the skin barrier, hyperpigmentation, redness, and many more of the functions that niacinamide has on our skin.
I can recommend you the Blemish Clear Spot Treatment by Now Solutions as an amazing niacinamide serum alternative.
It combines the power of licorice root extract and green tea, with a plethora of soothing and calming ingredients that will ensure that you won’t get reactions to it. And it’s dirt cheap.
I would recommend that before you say goodbye to niacinamide, you test the theories I shared with you above.
Maybe it’s not the ingredient, but the way you’re using it, the specific product you’ve chosen, your skincare routine, or the concentration of niacinamide that your skin gets exposed to.
If you have any experience with discomfort from niacinamide, I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you handled the problem.
Share your stories, experiences, and feedback in the comment section below!
Until next time!
Next to raging pimples, we see post-acne marks, sun spots, dark patches, and uneven skin tone as some of the main skin concerns for many. They can be as dramatic and even more stubborn to get rid of. Enter tyrosinase inhibitors — compounds that can take on the task of...
If you’re tired of dealing with clogged pores, blackheads, breakouts, and uneven skin texture - you’ve probably come across this famous acid exfoliant. But the good news is that some of your favorite skincare brands can help you tackle this problem. Paula's Choice...
If you’re like me and breakouts are part of your day-to-day, you’ve probably come across information about these two compounds. The benzoyl peroxide and adapalene combo is extremely powerful as far as mild to moderate breakouts are concerned. The two can be used...