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Niacinamide has been around for donkey's years, in your moisturisers, toners and serums, but over the past couple of years it seems to have really caught on in the world of single ingredient actives. Today I've pulled 5 different options on the market to figure out which concentration is best, and the results might be surprising for some...
I'm actually going to work through the products in a sort of chronological order as opposed to in order of concentration, so bear with me! The two products that really come to mind when discussing standalone niacinamide serums (for me, at least) are the Ordinary's Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%* | £5 | and the Inkey List's Niacinamide* | £6.99 | which are both 10% formulas, and I think that's really where this concentration being the 'standard' came from. I actually really enjoy both of these: the Ordinary's formula comes with zinc, to act as a calming counterbalance, though many people do experience a 'foaming' effect with this product. It's nothing to worry about but doesn't make for the most pleasant application experience. For me, the Inkey List's formula feels more elegant and it also contains other beneficial ingredients like hyaluronic acid, plant oils and glycerin to hydrate and moisturise, so it's not as one-note. I have seen people complain that the Ordinary's formula irritates their skin and, honestly, this is totally possible with this sort of concentration. It's marketed as the norm, but in reality, it's still pretty strong, especially when you factor in that niacinamide can be lurking in your moisturiser or toner, so you might be double-dosing on top of the 10% concentration. If you use this product daily, that issue is only going to be more acute.
For whatever reason, many skincare brands want to put out higher and higher percentages of, well, everything at the moment, so over the past year two new products have come to market: the Paula's Choice Clinical 20% Niacinamide Treatment* | £45 | and the Ordinary's 100% Niacinamide Powder* | £4.90. Personally, I saw some good results with the Paula's Choice formula and it didn't irritate my skin, however I know of people who really had a hard time with it and, even for myself: I don't like having to tiptoe around a product because it's strong and I could have a reaction, avoiding all other actives in the same routine if it's not totally necessary. When it comes to the Ordinary's formula: I will always have a soft spot for the brand, but this is not it! It's taking the obsession with percentages of active ingredients to its logical extreme and created a product that isn't really user-friendly and could go horribly wrong. There's nothing unstable about niacinamide that would make this powder delivery system necessary and, honestly, unless you're mixing it only with the Ordinary's very simple own moisturiser: you could end up with ingredients that make the finished result far too harsh. The chance for irritation is high and ultimately: I'm not a cosmetic chemist and I want my products formulated for me. Because (here's the twist!) we don't have any evidence to show that higher concentrations equate to better results with this ingredient. But we can say that the likelihood of irritation is increased.
The product and concentration I actually recommend is the Instanatural Niacinamide Serum | £14.95 | at 5%. Why? Because all of the studies showing these amazing benefits of niacinamide are done at this concentration and I have no reason to believe that 10%, 20% or 100% are going to do anything 'better' for my skin. The 10% formulas I've discussed are good and, if your skin can handle them, I think they're fine to use but I personally think anything above that is not worth it at all! This light, milky serum from Instanatural is gentle, non-sticky, there's no foaming or crusting, plus it has other moisturising benefits. It helps with skin clarity and helps to boost a compromised barrier. In fact, a 2% concentration you may find in a moisturiser is still shown to be very beneficial, so you might not need a dedicated serum at all.
Do you use niacinamide in your skincare routine? What's your product / concentration of choice?