The answer: Niacinamide. Everything else is a foot note. Here's our Ingredient 101 on NIACINAMIDE.
Niacinamide (also called nicotinamide) is a water-soluble form of Vitamin B3 and is a bit of a super star in the world of cosmetic ingredients because of its ability to help repair the skins protective barrier.
Lets start with a quick fact fire round of Niacinamide's super powers:
Repairs the epidermal barrier function & reduces water loss
Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
Helps alleviate inflammation
Acts as an antioxidant in the skin
That's a pretty impressive list. The most important one is the first though.
We have all at some point probably been overly harsh with our skin care routine. Whether its over exfoliating, applying essential oils like tea-tree neat, forgetting to use moisturiser and SPF or (like me when I was younger) even trying home remedies like applying tooth paste to the skin in a bid to get rid of pimples. Being overly harsh doesn't sort skin problems, it creates them by causing damage to the skin barrier which ironically causes more breakouts and slower healing.
Luckily skin is very forgiving and will repair over time. Using Niacinamide can help speed up that time. It does this by increasing the synthesis of Keratin (a protein which helps the skin cells become tough little bricks) and Ceramide (a lipid or fat which surrounds the little skin cells bricks like a mortar and holds them all together in a skin wall) while speeding up the rate at which skin cells are made (called keratinocyte differentiation). Niacinamide is like a building site foreman with a tight deadline - its speeding up the whole process of making a skin wall. The result of this is seen as improvement in the moisture content of the uppermost layer in the skin (the stratum corneum) because the repaired skin barrier has less water loss across it (called transepidermal water loss or TEWL by the cool kids).
The water retaining properties of niacinamide are huge. A clinical study showed that niacinamide is more effective than vaseline (petrolatum) at reducing TEWL and increasing the hydration levels of skin.
The good news is you don't need huge concentrations of Niacinamide in a product to get good results - anything between 2% and 5% is going to give you noticeable results. In fact going higher than this can have the opposite effect for sensitive skin (aka skin with a compromised skin barrier) and cause irritation (stinging, burning sensation upon application followed by redness & small inflamed bumps on the skin). If that's happening, move to a lower strength or dilute whatever it is in.
Some ingredients like Hyaluronic acid, n-Acetyl glucosamine and non-essential amino acids (Arginine, Carnitine, Carnosine, Glycine & Proline) work very well alongside Niacinamide to help speed up the repair job by either helping retain water or by fueling the skin cell creation process.
This astonishingly good skin barrier repair makes Niacinamide a real go to for helping acne prone skin and for those of us with Rosacea/redness. Improving the skin barrier means less inflammation and inflammation is the reason behind those two skin beasts.
So what about those other super powers?
They're quite in depth (I don't want this post being the war & peace of Niacinamide) but the process by which Niacinamide repairs the skin barrier also causes a number of (wanted) side effects. Top among them is its ability to reduce the ability of the skin cells which determine our skin colour (melanocytes) to transfer the skin pigment causing part of a cell (melanosomes) to new skin cells (keratinocytes). "That's all very well and good you nerd" you cry, "but who cares?" Those who have age spots, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation we answer. By preventing the transfer of skin pigment the skin doesn't darken. In fact, in clinical trials a 4 to 5% niacinamide serum was as good as the traditional 4% hydroquinone used in treating melasma and had fewer side effects/irritation. Boom, nerd mic drop.
The world of beauty outside of skin problems also loves niacinamide. Repairing & building skin and retaining water means a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles, sallowness and a marginally improved skin elasticity. Water plump skin is happy skin and a skin free from flaking and all the appearances of dry and damaged skin.
So are there any Side effects? Yes. Use too high a concentration and you'll make your skin unhappy (see above) and either avoid products that contain sirtuins or avoid using niacinamide if you're using these products. Sirtuins are a group of enzymes that regulate the activity of genes responsible for metabolism, cell defence and other functions and are inhibited by niacinamide.
How do I get the most out of it
Keep the concentrations low. Niacinamide is used in a lot of products and its easy to overdose your skin, especially if your using some sort of Super Serum with 10% or higher. Start low and see how you go because YMMV.
Follow up any actives (like Salicylic Acid or Retinoids) with a low strength Niacinamide serum to help repair the skin damage these actives cause in doing their shizzle.
Our 28 Day Skin Repair Serum is an Aloe Based 5% Niacinamide Serum with 2% n-Acetyl glucosamine, 1% zinc, MSM and amino acid complex serum. That mouthful of ingredients are all formulated to work with the star Niacinamide to get your skin barrier back in shape. See it on our site here or buy it from Amazon here.
Some of those clinical trials mentioned: