Niacinamide for Acne: What to Know, According to Dermatologists

The powerful ingredient helps with oil control, inflammation, and hyperpigmentation.

woman applying niacinamide serum
(Image credit: Delmain Donson/Getty)

Niacinamide has pretty much been the It-girl of skincare ingredients for the better part of the last two years. It’s the star of skincare marketing campaigns and tossed in just about every pore shrinking, acne fighting product and spot treatment under the sun. “Niacinamide is popular for a few reasons. It can decrease inflammation in many skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and post-inflammatory discoloration; it has mechanisms to reduce unwanted pigmentation; and has shown benefit in reducing oiliness for those that have more oily skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dustin Portela, aka @208skindoc

While the benefits are hard to ignore, is niacinamide *really* the one-and-done solve to treating acne? The answer is a little complicated. The ingredient is so extremely versatile and 100 percent worthwhile, but it’s not a magic pimple healer when functioning solo—it needs a good team (read: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids) to provide maximum benefit. To learn exactly how niacinamide can *actually* help acne-prone skin and shop the best niacinamide skincare products, keep reading. 

What Are the Benefits of Niacinamide?

We love a multi-purpose ingredient—and niacinamide is the epitome of a hustler. It addresses a range of concerns, from a weakened skin barrier to excess inflammation, which makes it useful in addressing multiple types of pimples and preventing future ones from popping up. 

Calms Inflammation

Whether you find that your pimples are inflammatory in nature (think: juicy red pimples and cysts) or you have an inflammatory condition like rosacea, niacinamide can swoop in and provide a little relief. “It can help to reduce a number of inflammatory cytokines (i.e. chemicals) in the skin that can lead to increased redness and inflammation,” explains Dr. Portela. “Much of the acne that we see and feel is actually our body’s inflammatory response to the acne. When we decrease that inflammation, we can see less acne.” 

Strengthens the Skin Barrier

“When our skin barrier is compromised, we may notice that our sebum production (think: oil) is unregulated,” says Dr. Portela. When you have more oil, you’re *typically* more prone to get clogged pores, blackheads, and other types of acne. Enter: Niacinamide. “It can help strengthen our skin moisture barrier, which can send a feedback signal to regulate sebum production to more normal levels."

Regulates Oil

Niacinamide decreases oil on the skin’s surface, which makes it ideal for anyone with a little extra shine or congestion. “Oil provides fuel to the acne-causing bacteria,” says Dr. Portela. “Less of the oil can mean less acne.”

Helps With Hyperpigmentation

Niacinamide doesn't just help regulate acne and then say peace out—it’s an ingredient that guides you through the healing process too and can reduce the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a.k.a. the mark left behind from a pimple. “It seems to decrease the amount of pigment that is deposited into skin cells by inhibiting a process called melanosome transfer, which is when a pigment-producing cell (the melanocyte) produces pigment and literally transfers that pigment into the neighboring skin cells” explains Dr. Portela.

Will Niacinamide Help My Acne?

As seen above, the benefits are numerous and undeniable. But let it be known that when used solo, niacinamide is not the most potent ingredient to treat acne. “It helps to modulate inflammation and slightly reduce oil production, but doesn’t directly kill acne causing bacteria or have the ability to exfoliate in the way that retinol does,” explains Dr. Portela. “Niacinamide is helpful in mild cases of acne, however in moderate and severe cases, additional therapies are needed.” 

Should I Use Niacinamide?

“Anyone can benefit from niacinamide due to its wide range of benefits,” says Dr. Portela. That said, it’s best suited for people with normal or oily skin. Anyone with dry or sensitive skin might experience a bit of irritation from the ingredient. “It can be felt as mild burning, stinging, or irritation.” 

What to Look For

Concentration 

Over the counter products can use niacinamide in a range of concentrations, from barely there (think: 0.01 percent) to very high (think: 20 percent). But in order to see an actual benefit from the ingredient, Dr. Portela tells patients to seek out a product with a two to 10 percent concentration. “You’ll see the added benefits without risking much irritation,” he adds.

Additional Ingredients 

Because niacinamide shouldn’t be the only treatment ingredient used to fight acne, you’re best off looking for a product(s) that combines niacinamide with other actives. “I like combination products that include niacinamide for its added benefits,” explains Dr. Portela. “It can be a compliment to traditional acne fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinol.”  

The Best Niacinamide Products for Acne

Meet the Dermatologist

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Dr. Dustin Portela

Dustin Portela, DO, is a Board Certified Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon. He is certified through the American Board of Dermatology, the largest national group of board certified dermatologists. Dr. Portela is an Idaho native having grown up in Southeast Idaho. His professional interests include skin cancer surgery and facial reconstruction, skin cancer prevention, complex medical dermatology and wound healing. Dr. Portela has lectured at national dermatology meetings and has published articles in several medical journals. Dr. Portela graduated with an Honors-Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Idaho State University. He received his medical degree at Des Moines University in Des Moines, IA graduating among the top of his class and being recognized with the Award for Excellence in Physiology. Following medical school Dr. Portela completed his internship through Michigan State University at the Oakwood Southshore Hospital. His residency training in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery was completed at Michigan State University through the Beaumont Trenton Hospital in Trenton, Michigan, where he also received his training in Mohs micrographic surgery and was recognized with the Excellence in Dermatologic Surgery Award. Dr. Portela’s professional memberships include the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for Mohs Surgery, and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Dr. Portela enjoys all aspects of dermatology, from skin cancer treatment and post-surgical reconstruction to cosmetic enhancement, as well as the care of both adult and pediatric patients. 

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.