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Niacinamide, beneficial effects for dry skin?

Dry skin is typically harmless and only causes temporary discomfort until it can be rehydrated with a moisturizing product (cream, balm), which contains emollient-type ingredients that soothe, hydrate, and repair the skin, such as niacinamide. Indeed, moisturizers containing this ingredient are known for their effectiveness in alleviating dry skin conditions. Let's examine here the potential benefits that make this active ingredient a solution for improving dry skin.

Is niacinamide beneficial for dry skin?

It is said that a person suffers from dry skin when the sebum production is less than 0.5 mg/10 cm2 every three hours, whereas the average rate in an adult is 1 mg/10 cm2.

Dry skin is skin that does not contain enough moisture to remain supple and soft to the touch. In addition to a decrease in sebum production by the sebaceous glands, dry skin is also linked to changes in the lipid components of the stratum corneum, particularly marked reductions in ceramide levels, giving the skin this characteristic rough texture that can itch, peel, or appear scaly. However, reports have suggested that the topical use of nicotinamide could have beneficial effects on skin dryness.

  • An in vivo study assessed the effects of twice-daily topical application of 2% niacinamide in a 0.1% solution of polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate on the dry skin of 12 healthy human volunteers. After 4 weeks of application, a decrease in transepidermal water loss was observed on the skin treated with niacinamide, 27% lower than that of the skin treated with the excipient (without niacinamide), which resulted in an improvement of the impaired epidermal barrier .

  • In a comparative study, the effect of topical nicotinamide on atopic dry skin was compared to that of petroleum jelly, which served as a control, by specifically measuring the normal passive water loss through the skin (TEWL) and the hydration of the stratum corneum.

    28 patients suffering from atopic dermatitis, who exhibited dry skin lesions on both forearms, were recruited and instructed to apply a cream containing 2% niacinamide on the left forearm and vaseline on the right forearm twice daily for 4 or 8 weeks.

    The results show that niacinamide has significant hydrating effects on atopic dry skin. It has been able to reduce transepidermal water loss, which consequently led to an increase in water in the stratum corneum and accelerated the recovery of the skin barrier. In addition, the niacinamide cream has proven to be more effective than petroleum jelly.

  • In another left-right comparative study from 2013, the forearms of 20 healthy volunteers (25 cm2) received the application of a moisturizing cream containing 5% nicotinamide along with commonly used excipients in topical formulations (propylene glycol, miglyol, and propylene glycol monolaurate) or a moisturizing solution without niacinamide as a reference (2mg/cm2), applied twice daily for 28 days. After this period, the sites treated with niacinamide showed a reduction in water loss through the skin compared to the baseline before treatment and the untreated control.

Even though the results are clinically significant and the data suggests a real advantage of niacinamide for dry skin, the obtained results must be interpreted with caution. Indeed, the studies present some limitations that require further investigation (small sample size, non-exclusive formulation, etc.).

Through what molecular mechanisms?

Based on the results obtained, the topical application of niacinamide improved the state of the skin's natural hydration barrier through a number of biophysical and molecular mechanisms. It would increase the rate of biosynthesis of ceramides, cholesterol, free fatty acids, as well as other fractions of epidermal sphingolipids (glucosylceramide and sphingomyelin) in the stratum corneum in a dose-dependent manner. Indeed, these lipid compounds play a central role in the structural and functional integrity of the barrier function of the stratum corneum

Nicotinamide would actually act and regulate the activity of a key enzyme in the synthesis of sphingolipids, called serine palmitoyltransferase, to induce these actions. By strengthening the intercellular lipid bilayer, niacinamide would thus help prevent water loss and maintain optimal hydration levels in the skin, making it particularly beneficial for dry skin.

Furthermore, in a 2001 study, SCHNICKER M. S. and his colleagues cultivated normal human epidermal keratinocytes, which are cells that make up about 90% of the skin's surface layer, until they were nearly confluent, and then supplemented the medium with niacinamide. After 24 hours of incubation, the results initially showed a increase in the number of keratinocytes treated with niacinamide compared to the control vehicle.

Secondly, epidermal cells incubated with niacinamide demonstrated a heightened increase in the biosynthesis of epidermal intermediates essential for the formation of a functional stratum corneum, involucrin and filaggrin, compared to that induced by a control vehicle. It has been suggested that this could be due to an elevation in intracellular levels of the reduced forms of nicotinamide (NADH) initiated by topical niacinamide. This positive natural barrier effect was thus accompanied by a boost in the renewal rate of the stratum corneum.

To enhance the moisturizing capacity of the treatment and lead to improved effectiveness in maintaining hydrated, supple, and soft skin, the niacinamide can be combined with other hydrating agents (hyaluronic acid, glycerin, sodium PCA, etc.), while providing relief to dry and tight skin.


  • INOUE S. & al. Nicotinamide increases biosynthesis of ceramides as well as other stratum corneum lipids to improve the epidermal permeability barrier. British Journal of Dermatology (2000).

  • SCHNICKER M. S. & alNiacinamide stimulates collagen synthesis from human dermal fibroblasts and differentiation marker in normal human epidermal keratinocytes: Potential of niacinamide to normalize aged skin cells to correct homeostatic balance. 59th Annual Meeting American Academy of Dermatology (2001).

  • MIZOGUCHI M. & al. Moisturizing effects of topical nicotinamide on atopic dry skin. International Journal of Dermatology (2005).

  • RAWLINGS A. V. & al. Measuring the effects of topical moisturizers on changes in stratum corneum thickness, water gradients and hydration in vivo. British Journal of Dermatology (2008).

  • FLUHR J. W. & al. Increased stratum corneum serine protease activity in acute eczematous atopic skin. British Journal of Dermatology (2009).

  • LANE M. E. & al. Influence of niacinamide containing formulations on the molecular and biophysical properties of the stratum corneum. International Journal of Pharmaceutics (2013).


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