Niacinamide is an ingredient that is widely used in Korean skincare products to help brighten the skin. In fact, unlike in Western skincare, niacinamide is actually preferred over other ingredients (such as vitamin C, hydroquinone and retinoids) when it comes to fading hyperpigmentation.
So much so, that you will find at least 2% niacinamide in a majority of Korean skincare products. However, I’d like to share what I think the best Korean skincare products with niacinamide are if you’re wanting to brighten your skin or fade hyperpigmentation.
What Is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is the physiological active (and water-soluble) form of vitamin B3. It’s also known as nicotinamide and it is one of the most studied skincare ingredients in the field of dermatology.
It is a stable ingredient (unlike L-ascorbic acid AKA vitamin C), meaning it is relatively unaffected by light, heat, moisture and oxygen.
Niacinamide works by reducing the degradation of the important enzymes NADH and NADPH in our cells (including skin cells). These enzymes are important for the cell processes that keep our skin elastic as we age and act as antioxidants when degraded in the cells – repairing damage caused by free radicals.
The reason you’ll find niacinamide in so many skincare products is because there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the presence of the enzymes NADH and NADPH in our cells decreases as we age.
What Benefits Does Niacinamide Have For Your Skin?
Although I’m focusing on niacinamide’s ability to fade hyperpigmentation in this article, niacinamide is such a hugely versatile skincare ingredient. Not only is it well tolerated by almost any skin type – it also provides a broad array of improvements for many skin concerns! It really does so much for the skin that this needs to be a whole post on its own (which I’m planning on writing soon).
For now, here’s a list of some of the wonderful things that niacinamide can do for your skin:
- Improves acne vulgaris (acne caused by bacteria) due to its strong anti-inflammatory and healing properties (see studies here and here). It appears that niacinamide is especially effective at treating acne in people with oily skin.
- Helps fade melasma (a form of hyperpigmentation). Studies (such as this one) have shown that niacinamide is almost as effective as hydroquinone in the treatment of melasma (and with less side effects). It’s also been shown to provide improvements in solar elastosis (the yellowing and thickening of the skin as a result of sun damage).
- Improves the appearance of enlarged pores by increasing the skin’s elasticity (see study here).
- Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles – niacinamide really has tremendous anti-aging effects (see studies here and here). The mechanisms at play are yet to be determined, it’s thought that niacinamide increases dermal collagen production while reducing excess glycosaminoglycan production (that are characteristic of photodamaged or wrinkled skin).
- Enhances skin barrier function and decreases trans-epidermal water loss by up-regulating epidermal ceramide, free fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis (see studies here and here). It has been shown that topical application of a solution containing only 2% niacinamide can effectively improve the stratum corneum barrier function.
- Regulates sebum production, which has important implications for the treatment of acne (see studies here and here). Although the mechanism of action hasn’t been determined yet, niacinamide has been shown to significantly lower sebum production of the skin.
- Improves dry skin, decreases sensitivity and helps treat rosacea. Research suggests that niacinamide improves rosacea and skin sensitivity by effectively decreasing trans-epidermal water loss and improving the skin’s barrier function (see an amazing study here).
So as you can see, it doesn’t matter what your skincare concerns are, you are very likely to see improvements in the appearance (and health) of your skin by using niacinamide-containing skincare products.
How Does Niacinamide Work To Brighten The Skin?
As I’ve already mentioned, Korean skincare focuses heavily on skin-brightening – which involves fading hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide has become a very popular ingredient in many Asian skincare products as numerous studies have shown it to be very effective at lightening the skin.
But how does niacinamide fade hyperpigmentation?
Unlike some other popular skin-brightening ingredients (such as vitamin C and kojic acid) which inhibit the activity of tyrosinase (the enzyme that stimulates melanin production), niacinamide has been shown to suppress the melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes.
What this means is that instead of suppressing the production of melanin, niacinamide inhibits the transfer of melanin to the skin cells of the epidermis.
This study compared the effects of 4% niacinamide with 4% hydroquinone in the treatment of melasma (in 27 patients over an 8 week period). Although, the lightening effects of hydroquinone were seen 4 weeks sooner, at the end of the study no statistical difference was found between the two treatments! It was also found that patients were less likely to experience side effects such as erythema and burning when using the niacinamide treatment (and when side effects were experienced, they were less severe).
A Korean study (read it here), showed that applying a topical solution containing 2% niacinamide and sunscreen every morning reduces the appearance of irregular hyperpigmentation significantly more so than when only sunscreen is applied.
A similar study looked at the effects of 4% niacinamide combined with 2% N-acetylglucosamine (an amino acid sugar naturally found in our skin with skin brightening benefits). After two weeks, the authors found that the niacinamide and N-acetylglucosamine solution provided skin-brightening effects (for both melasma and dark spots) beyond that achieved by using sunscreen only.
The Best Korean Skincare Brands For Niacinamide (Updated June 2021)
If you’re looking for skincare products containing niacinamide and you love Korean skincare – then you’re in luck since so many Korean skincare products contain niacinamide.
But which brands are the best when it comes to niacinamide? While researching for this post, I found that there are a handful of Korean skincare brands that feature niacinamide as an ingredient in many of their products. These brands are:
- Beauty of Joseon
- Cos De BAHA
- I’m From
The 5 Best Korean Skincare Products With Niacinamide For Skin Brightening (updated June 2021)
I’ve prepared a list of what I believe are the 5 best Korean skincare products containing niacinamide for skin brightening. The good news is that unlike some other actives (such as L-ascorbic acid, AHAs and BHA), you can use multiple niacinamide-containing products in your skincare routine. This is because niacinamide is generally very well tolerated by all skin types – meaning it doesn’t cause skin irritation or sensitization.
If you’d like to find more products containing niacinamide, I recommend you do a search for ‘niacinamide’ in the ingredients section of the COSDNA website. If you are signed in (it doesn’t cost anything to create an account), you can then view products that contain niacinamide.
So, here are my top 5 Korean skincare products containing niacinamide for skin brightening (scroll down for some more information on each individual product):
- COSRX – Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence
- Cos De BAHA – Niacinamide 10 Serum
- Isntree – C-Niacin Toning Ampoule
- PURITO – Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence
- I’m From – Rice Serum
1. COSRX – Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence
Why I love it: This brightening essence is almost a sort of upgrade of the COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence and Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream (both of which I love!). I like that it contains 5% niacinamide, instead of the usual 2% found in most other COSRX skincare products. Studies such as this one have shown that niacinamide is effective at lightening hyperpigmentation at concentrations of 4-5%.
Ingredients I love: This snail essence contains 74.3% of Triple Snail Complex, which combines COSRX’s regular snail mucin along with black and gold snail mucins. I’ve mentioned that the essence contains 5% niacinamide for skin brightening, but it also contains glutathione, which works to fade hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase enzyme activity.
On top of these brightening ingredients, this essence also contains some powerful humectants to help hydrate your skin AND some wonderful oils to help maintain the skin barrier and decrease transepidermal water loss.
Full ingredients list: Snail Secretion Filtrate, Butylene Glycol, Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Betaine, Panthenol, Water, Glycerin, Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Allantoin, Carbomer, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Sodium Polyacrylate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Arginine, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Surfactin, Ethylhexylglycerin, Glutathione
How to use it: This essence comes in a pump bottle with two separate compartments (with different ingredients in each) to maximize the freshness of the product. Use this product after cleansing and toning by simply pumping an appropriate amount into your palm and mixing the two essences. Apply gently to your face and neck and pat using fingertips to aid absorption.
2. Cos De BAHA – Niacinamide 10 Serum
Why I love it: Cos De BAHA is a Korean skincare brand that offers a variety of specialty anti-aging and skin brightening serums. Think of them as the Korean version of The Ordinary!
This is a really good product for someone looking for a niacinamide booster, without any unnecessary fillers as it contains 10% niacinamide as the main ingredient.
Ingredients I love: Aloe barbadensis leaf extract (hydrating and soothing), glycerin (hydrating), zinc PCA (controls sebum production and has anti-aging properties), sodium hyaluronate (hydrating), allantoin (soothing), dipotassium glycyrrhizate (derived from licorice root – soothing).
Full ingredients list: Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Niacinamide, Propanediol, Glycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Zinc PCA, Sodium Hyaluronate, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Organic Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Organic Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, Organic Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract, Organic Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Extract, Organic Aspalathus Linearis Extract
How to use it: Apply 2-3 drops to your face after cleansing, toning and any exfoliating acids. This serum can be used in both your morning and evening skincare routines).
3. Isntree – C-Niacin Toning Ampoule
Why I love it: I’m a little obsessed with Isntree skincare products. I really love this powerful brightening serum as it also works to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier.
Ingredients I love: Apart from containing 2% niacinamide, this serum contains 69% of vitamin-rich sea buckthorn fruit extract (which a good source for vitamin C, various B vitamins, vitamin E and many phenolic compounds that provide antioxidant benefits). It also contains aloe vera extract (hydrating and soothing), sodium hyaluronate (hydrating), dipotassium glycyrrhizate (soothing), beta-glucan (hydrating and anti-aging), vitamin E (helps protect the skin from UV radiation), turmeric root extract (anti-inflammatory), panthenol (hydrating), and allantoin (soothing). It also contains Physalis alkekengi fruit extract, which has also been shown to have skin brightening properties and ethyl ascorbyl ether (a vitamin C derivative).
Full ingredients list: Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) Fruit Extract, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Water, Glycerin, Betaine, Niacinamide, Propanediol, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Extract, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Flower Extract, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Leaf Extract, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Fruit Extract, Physalis Alkekengi Fruit Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Ocimum Sanctum (Holy Basil) Leaf Extract, Beta-Glucan, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract, Corallina Officinalis Extract, Brassica Oleracea Italica (Broccoli) Extract, Coccinia Indica (Ivy Gourd) Fruit Extract, Moringa Pterygosperma (Moringa Oleifera) Seed Oil, Panthenol, Allantoin, Bioflavonoids, Ethyl Ascorbyl Ether, Sodium Polyacrylate, Tocopherol, Polysorbate 80, 1,2-Hexanediol, Ethyl Hexanediol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract
How to use it: This ampoule is sort of a cross between a toner and serum in texture and viscosity. It’s extremely hydrating and absorbs into the skin very easily. I would recommend applying this ampoule to your face and neck after cleansing and toning (and also after any exfoliating products).
4. PURITO – Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence
Why I love it: This is such a powerful little essence as it contains 92% galactomyes ferment filtrate and 5% niacinamide, which work together to brighten the skin while improving the health of your skin also. Purito products are suitable for even sensitive skin types as they contain no harsh ingredients or preservatives.
Ingredients I love: Galactomyces ferment filtrate (rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, organic acids and yeast peptides, which reduces melanin synthesis, strengthens the skin’s barrier, decreases the number of enlarged pores and blackheads AND reduces sebum production and acne).
It also contains bifida ferment lysate ( rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals and helps strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier), lactobacillus ferment (helps to suppress melanogenesis – the production of melanin in the skin), allantoin (soothing), adenosine (anti-aging) and dipotassium glycyrrhizate (soothing).
Full ingredients list: Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Viscum Album (Mistletoe) Leaf Extract, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Lactobacillus Ferment, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Arginine, Allantoin, Adenosine, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Disodium EDTA
How to use it: This is a “first treatment essence”, and so as the name suggests it needs to be applied before everything else in your skincare routine (after you’ve cleansed your skin and used any pH-dependent actives such as vitamin C, BHA, AHA or any type of retinoids). You can either pour some of the essence onto a cotton pad or onto clean hands and gently pat it onto your skin. Some people also like to decant their first essence into a small spray bottle and mist it onto their face.
5. I’m From – Rice Serum
Why I love it: A niacinamide-containing rice serum with 73% rice germ ferment extract filtrate. The embryo bud of rice is used in this serum formulation as it contains 69.5% of the total nutrition of rice. The embryo bud of rice also contains 43 times more gamma-orizanol than a grain of rice, which inhibits the synthesis of melanin.
Ingredients I love: Glycerin (hydrating), panthenol (hydrating), allantoin (soothing), dipotassium glycyrrhizate (soothing), adenosine (anti-aging), hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid (hydrating), sodium hyaluronate (hydrating), madecassoside (soothing – derivative of Centella asiatica), and glutathione (anti-aging).
Full ingredients list: Aspergillus/Rice Germ Ferment Extract Filtrate (73%), Propanediol, Glycerin, Methylpropanediol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Niacinamide, Caprylyl Methicone, Water (Aqua), Cyclohexasiloxane, 1,2-Hexanediol, Squalane, Betaine, C12-14 Pareth-12, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/Vp Copolymer, Panthenol, C30-45 Alkyl Cetearyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Ethylhexylglycerin, Allantoin, Xanthan Gum, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Adenosine, Disodium Edta, Pentylene Glycol, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Alpha-Glucan Oligosaccharide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Madecassoside, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Hydroxypropyl Cyclodextrin, Glutathione
How to use it: Apply a moderate amount to your face and neck after cleansing, toning and any pH-dependent actives such as vitamin C serums and BHA or AHA products. Gently tap for better absorption.
Can I Use Too Much Niacinamide?
Since so many Korean skincare products contain niacinamide, you might be wondering if too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Can your skincare routine consist of two or more products with niacinamide? Can you cause damage to your skin if you use too many products with niacinamide?
The good news is that niacinamide is a relatively gentle ingredient (compared to actives such as AHAs, BHAs, retinol and vitamin C).
Many people use multiple niacinamide-containing products in their skincare routine without any negative effects on their skin. However, although rare, using higher concentrations of niacinamide can cause temporary skin redness (in the form of blushing) in some people.
Niacinamide is one of the most versatile skincare ingredients that you can include in your routine as it has so many benefits for your skin. In particular, it has terrific skin-brightening properties.
It has been shown that niacinamide is as effective as hydroquinone at treating hyperpigmentation, but without any of the side effects that hydroquinone and other skin-brightening ingredients can cause.
I hope this article has helped you find some Korean skincare products with niacinamide to try.