2020 has been an incredibly stressful year, to put it mildly. We’ve been dealing with the pandemic, police brutality, wildfires, utter loneliness, and of course, an historic election. And many of us are also experiencing stress-related skin issues as an icing on the 2020 cake. Scientifically, this is because our bodies are pumping out cortisol, a stress hormone, which triggers inflammation as well as other hormones like testosterone. Cortisol also directs nutrients and blood toward vital organs and away from skin, which leads to less glow and even breakdown of collagen. 2020—you’ve. Gone. Too. Far.
The good news is that there is one hero ingredient / nutrient that can safeguard against stress-related skin issues like acne, redness, dry patches, dullness, tired eyes, fine lines, and wrinkles. According to dermatologist and founder of eponymous skincare line Dr. Dennis Gross, MD, “Focusing on improving lifestyle habits combined with a skincare routine that has niacinamide, superfoods, and adaptogens will be your best bet to combat stressed skin.”
Niacinamide is one of two forms of niacin, or vitamin B3. B vitamins in general (including B5, pantothenic acid) have been exploding on the skincare scene in the past few years as a superstar hydrator and oil/water balancer. But why is niacinamide so important and how can we use it?
Repairs free radical damage
Free radicals are molecules that have gained or lost an electron, which makes them highly unstable and reactive. They’re caused by any number of things, from pollution, poor diet and lifestyle choices, to even shallow or mouth breathing. Niacinamide contributes an electron to these free radicals so they stabilize instead of harming healthy cells. This is at least in part why niacinamide is so great at cell repair. A 2015 study also found that oral niacinamide is effective in reducing the risk of skin cancer.
Reduces inflammatory conditions like acne and rosacea
According to a 2013 study, a 4% topical nacinamide was as effective in treating moderate acne as 1% clindamycin (a popular antibiotic prescribed for acne). Niacinamide is also a star controller of oil production and hydration. In my personal experience, I’ve suffered from horribly dehydrated skin (verging on medical condition pellagra, which shows as sores on the outer corners of your lips) that went away within hours of ingesting niacinamide. Oral niacinamide also relieves mild to moderate rosacea and acne, two of the most common ways stress shows up on our skin.
What about discoloration, fine lines, and wrinkles?
Half-face studies (in which women apply niacinamide moisturizers on one half of their face, and a placebo on the other) have found that niacinamide is effective in reducing visible signs of aging like discoloration, fine lines, and wrinkles. Personally, I’ve found that the most effective products against premature aging is (counterintuitively) hydration, rather than those labeled as “brightening” and “firming.” Niacinamide has been effective for me because it plumps fine lines as opposed to resurfacing them.
How to get more niacinamide in your life
If you have redness in your skin (especially on your chin, upper lip, around your nose, cheeks) that you suspect is caused by chronic inflammation, this gel-formula serum is a godsend. It contains 10% niacinamide to moisturize, calm, and rebalance your skin.
Most excellent sources of niacin are animal-derived, but some are vegan. One medium avocado contains roughly 30% of your recommended daily value of B3—bring on the guacamole!
One cup of cooked brown rice gives you about 1/5 of your recommended daily value.
One cup of green peas also boasts about 1/5 of your recommended daily value.
My favorite way to get B3 is by far nutritional yeast though, because it’s so easy to meet 100% of the RDV and forget about it. In fact, my pellagra problem went away the day I restocked on nutritional yeast. (And it rears its ugly head when I travel for a week or more without my bottle of noosh!) It’s easy to consume more than 100% of B3 with noosh, but as a water-soluble vitamin you won’t experience any overdose issues. And so with B3 I recommend going over rather than under, because your internal organs use the incoming nutrients first and whatever is left is then carried to your skin.
Have you used niacinamide for your skin?
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Photo: William Randies via Unsplash; Marie Veronique; Kristen Lawrence