I'm Shopping for Niacinamide! Halp!

First Posted on March 19, 2021 in:decoding activesniacinamideshop like a pro

So you wanna get some niacinamide into your routine eh? Welp unfortunately in the past couple of years, this category has become quite the circus of products. So let’s take a stroll through the niacinamide landscape and see if we can find your next niacinamide discovery.

But Wait! A Quick Recap Before We Explore

If you haven’t already, we highly recommend going back to our niacinamide intro to recap what niacinamide can do for your skin. To sum up in one line, niacinamide has shown that with just 2-4%, it can help strengthen your skin barrier, reduce oil production, and even help fight hyperpigmentation. With just 2-4%. 2-4%! That's it!

The Breakdown

The Fly on the Wall Active

One thing that brands don’t tell you is that a lot of new flashy actives in your formulas end up being buffered by niacinamide. It’s because niacinamide gets along with mostly everything so it’s a quick win to bolster the product’s efficacy. The downside is that niacinamide gets put into everything. From moisturizers, to treatments, to toners and serums, to sunscreens, to even cleansers. And even with good old vanilla niacinamide, there is too much of a good thing. Here’s a quick snapshot of all the products that contain niacinamide but might not necessarily feature it:

Since it shows up in everything, one thing you might have realized is that it's pretty easy to over layer this guy. So if you haven't done so already, take a quick scan of your current routine just to gauge how much niacinamide you're getting. While there isn’t an objective best format for niacinamide, the key here is to find the right percentage for your skin type and skin concerns without overdoing it. The easiest way for us to break down the landscape via concentration 

niacinamide skincare landscape

The Starter Pack (~5%)

If you’re new to niacinamide, or just want to use a lower dose when layering with other actives, you might want to start with products with lower levels of niacinamide in the 2% to 5% range. Luckily there are just a few products with lower concentrations that do share their %s (thank you!). This would be an easy entry to figuring out what concentration works for you.

The 10% Niacinamide Serum Category

This is by far the most populated category. Every brand under the sun has their own version of a ~10% niacinamide serum. If you’re deciding between a few, try to choose based on their secondary actives. You’ll find that some formulate more to tackle pigmentation such as First Aid Beauty’s product that pairs niacinamide with pigment fighting botanical licorice root extract. Others are geared towards acne, such as those paired with zinc PCA like the classic Ordinary niacinamide 10% serum.  And some are just your basic biddy niacinamide serums without other support active ingredients such as the Good Molecules. We did a couple comparison #thisvsthat posts on 10% niacinamide serums. Refer back to these on how we would compare and choose between them.

comparing niacinamide 10% serums

comparing 10% niacinamide serums ingredient list
Now is it absolutely necessary to have a niacinamide serum in your skincare routine? Actually not at all, but we’ll get to that later.

A Note About the 20-30% Niacinamide Serums

This definitely feels like overkill. These serums and treatments are often positioned as hyperpigmentation fighters. But if you’ve been reading Skincare Decoded or following along with our instagram, pigmentation is stubborn and really requires a cocktail approach to tackle multiple aspects of hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide only helps minimize melanin deposit, but you’re then forgetting about your tyrosinase inhibitors, exfoliators, and prevention aspects.
Product Examples: Paula’s Choice, Amazon product (20%)

Chemists’ Anecdotal Favorite Format - The Moisturizer

Because niacinamide plays well with everything, and one of its core benefits is strengthening your skin barrier, a moisturizer makes the most sense for niacinamide. Not to mention you also save yourself a layering step for the other good actives.

Chemists’ Anecdotal Least Favorite Format - Niacinamide Powders

This format doesn’t make a lot of sense. Niacinamide is stable in solution, unlike vitamin C, so there’s no reason to deal with the mess and hassle of measuring out niacinamide to add to your skincare routine. 


  • The niacinamide train is running full speed! You’ll find it in every skincare product type which means it’s pretty easy to overdo this guy even if it is a stellar ingredient.
  • To strengthen your skin barrier, you only need 2%
  • To help reduce excess sebum you only need 2%
  • To tackle pigmentation and improve skin tone you only need 4%
  • The chemists feel like a broken record!
  • An easy, minimalistic way to incorporate niacinamide into your routine is via a moisturizer.


So You Want to Restore Your Skin Barrier?

Restoring your “skin barrier” seems like a pretty hot skincare buzzword right now – and it’s actually for good reason! As much as we love our high-efficacy actives like glycolic acid and retinol, our core skincare philosophy is to always first have your skin barrier care down pat before diving into the other more glamorous skin concerns. But what even is skin barrier function and how do you take care of it? The good news is, you’re probably already doing a lot of things that are good for your...

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