Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rithi Choudhary (Journalist)  on 15th Dec 2020

Can Niacinamide Remove Acne Scars?  

Can Niacinamide Remove Acne Scars?

Beauty Town has seen the rise of retinol, alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), Salicylic acid, etc., when it comes to treating signs of aging, exfoliating, controlling oil, etc. But these ingredients, however effective they are, can be quite irritating to those with sensitive skin.

Here is where Niacinamide comes to the rescue. Niacinamide is a versatile ingredient when it comes to skincare. No wonder it ranks on top in the key list of dermatologists and estheticians alike.  

Niacinamide 101 

Meet Niacinamide also known as nicotinamide , a form of Vitamin B3 (niacin). 

How Does Niacinamide Work On Skin?

Okay, time for some basic science talk. Niacin(and therefore niacinamide/nicotinamide) is a precursor to two important molecules: nicotinamide Adeline dinucleotide (NAD+/NADH) and nicotinamide Adeline dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+). These compounds/molecules are central to the chemical reactions that your skin cells need to grow, repair damage, and function normally.

The same process - helping your body create more NAD+ and repair damage is thought to be the root of both topical benefits derived from Niacinamide on the skin. 

Benefits of Niacinamide for skin 

Niacinamide is pretty much suited to every skin type, and its benefits are just too pleasing: 

  • Treats Mild Acne, Rosacea, And Other Inflammatory Skin Conditions: Niacinamide's anti-inflammatory properties make it an effective treatment for skin inflammation. 
  • Controls Sebum: Topical Niacinamide may also inhibit oil production, which could be beneficial to people with acne-prone skin
  • Reduces Fine Lines And Wrinkles: Topical Niacinamide can help skin produce ceramides (lipids that help maintain the skin's safety/protective barrier), which in turn helps to retain moisture, minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. 
  • Contributes To Plump And Youthful Skin: It also helps skin make more collagen(responsible for skin elasticity) and hyaluronic acid (responsible for retaining moisture).
  • Minimizes Appearance Of Pores: Niacinamide helps the skin build protein (particularly keratin). Over time, usage helps the skin achieve a smoother texture and thus lessens the appearance of pores. 
  • Protects Against Sun Damage And Reduces Pigmentation: Niacinamide can help build healthy skin cells and protect the skin from environmental damage such as ultraviolet rays, pollution, and toxins. 

Niacinamide and Pigmentation 

Let us understand how our skin develops scars and pigmentation.

Our skin consists of three layers- epidermis (topmost protective layer), dermis (the mid-layer that has hair follicles and sweat glands), and hypodermis (the innermost layer made of fat and connective tissue ). Scars form when the dermis is damaged (from wound/injury). Our body creates new collagen fiber to repair the damage, resulting in a different texture and quality tissue than the surrounding tissue.

Pigmentation and tanning also appear on the skin when exposed to direct sunlight. The body's natural defense mechanism accelerates the production of a lot of melanin, making the area darker.

Therefore it is important to choose a formulation where the molecules can easily penetrate the skin surface to target the blemish root (that is, the dermis, where scars often originate) to help fade them out effectively.

Paula Begoun, the founder of Paula's Choice, says, 

Topically, niacinamide has so many ways to help the skin it's mind-boggling.

Niacinamide is antiinflammatory, and that makes it useful for treating skin inflammation. It also protects and repairs cells from environmental damage. Vitamin B3 is a precursor to the molecules responsible for carrying out the chemical reactions that the skin cells need to grow, repair damage, and function normally.

Hence Niacinamide will help to curb inflammation that leads to scarring in the first place. But it is not the solution to treat existing and stubborn acne scars.  

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How To Treat Acne Scars and Pigmentation

To treat scars effectively, you need exfoliating and bleaching ingredients such as: 

  • AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) - Alpha Hydroxy Acids are skin-friendly acids that not only help lighten the skin but are also potent anti-aging ingredients. Most promising among them are :
  • Glycolic Acid: Glycolic Acid is a gentle chemical exfoliant and effective at lightening brown spots. It sloughs off dead skin cells to show/reveal new, younger, and brighter cells. Its smaller molecular size puts it at an advantage to penetrate deeper into the skin and break the bonds between dead skin cells. As it exfoliates the topmost layer of the skin, it may cause some stinging feeling and pinkness for the first few times, but these effects usually subside with repeated use as the skin gets used to the product.

    Glycolic acid is best for normal to oily/combination skin. People with highly sensitive skin and dry skin may experience more side effects like skin irritation and redness. Since it is a powerful exfoliant on its own, it should not be used with other potent exfoliants like a retinoid. 
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  • Lactic Acid: The milder sister to Glycolic acid and, in fact, the gentlest of AHAs. Its hydrating properties make it an excellent option for dry and sensitive skin. It works by exfoliating the top layer of the skin and penetrating the breakdown of dead skin cells, oil, and grime clogging the pores. It is a non-friction type exfoliant that breaks down and dissolves the bonds between the dead skin cells.

    Lactic acid inhibits the production of melanin, like several skin lightening ingredients in this list. It is a great option to treat dark spots, uneven patches, suntan, and acne scars and smoothen out the skin's texture and diminish wrinkles and fine lines. 
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  • Alpha Arbutin: Arbutin is the naturally occurring alternative to Hydroquinone, a widely used skin lightening ingredient. Arbutin is derived from bearberry, mulberry, blueberry, cranberry, wheat, and some pears varieties.

    Most formulations use Arbutin in its stable form - Alpha Arbutin, glycosylated Hydroquinone, the pure water-soluble, biosynthetic active ingredient. The hydroquinone group allows Arbutin to inhibit tyrosinase and directly inhibit melanin production, resulting in brighter, blemish-free skin.

    Arbutin is suited to all skin types and works on all skin tones to mildly bleach pigmentation. Arbutin works best when paired with Vitamin C and AHA to maximize its efficacy. Studies have shown that arbutin is less effective than kojic acid when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation.

    Try: Minimalist Alpha Arbutin 2% + Hyaluronic Acid 2% 
  • Kojic Acid: Kojic Acid is a chemical compound obtained as a metabolic by-product from various fungi, including mushrooms, fermented foods like soya sauce, and rice wine. It has gained popularity as a skin lightening ingredient because of its milder nature compared to more potent ingredients like Hydroquinone, making it suitable for sensitive skin. KA lightens hyperpigmentation by suppressing the formation of tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for the production of melanin.

    Apart from its skin lightening ability, it is also popular for its role as an antioxidant. According to studies, those with oily skin/acne-prone skin will particularly benefit from KA as it has also shown antibacterial and antifungal properties. "It can help in scavenging free radicals although as I have always said with all antioxidants applied to the skin their stability is always questionable," says Dr. Dray (Andrea Suarez). Raw Kojic Acid is extremely unstable. Most formulations use a kojic acid ester - kojic dipalmitate that has been clinically proven to be one of the best antioxidants that help protect from UV damage and neutralize free radicals.

    A lower concentration of 2% or less is recommended to avoid side effects like contact dermatitis or skin irritation. Studies have shown KA paired with Glycolic Acid to be more effective than Hydroquinone in treating hyperpigmentation.

    Try: The Minimalist Kojic Acid 2% + Alpha Arbutin 1% 
  • Retinoids: Retinoids are an absolute holy grail for acne-prone skin and one of those few ingredients in the market that have proven to work effectively in reversing the signs of aging. Retinoid is the umbrella term for the huge family of chemical compounds derived from Vitamin A that increases the cell turnover ratio, stimulates collagen production, fades hyperpigmentation, brightens the skin, and softens wrinkles fine lines.

    Most OTC retinoids usually contain a lower concentration of retinol, retinyl esters (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate), adapalene, which are gentler and are safer for dry and sensitive skin. In contrast, the more potent prescription retinoids contain retinoic acid or tretinoin prescribed for targeting wrinkles and acne (depending on the concentration) in normal skin.

    Typical side effects include redness, peeling, and dryness, which is why it is important to apply retinoids over a moisturizer that forms a protective barrier over the skin, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Andrea Suarez, M.D., from Denver (better known as Dr. Dray on the internet).

    Try: Minimalist Granactive Retinoid 2% (Emulsion)

Why Should You Use Niacinamide? 

Niacinamide is a gentler alternative to address skin concerns like hyperpigmentation, fine lines, or wrinkles. Particularly if you have very sensitive skin for more potent options like prescription retinoids or other antioxidants like Vitamin C.  

How Should You Use Niacinamide?

Your skin type largely determines which kind of product you should choose. 

  • For oily skin, a water-based serum is recommended. 
  • For dry skin emollient moisturizer or hydrating toner with a lower concentration of

Is Niacinamide safe? 

  • Topical Niacinamide is usually/generally considered safe to use, even in pregnancy and breastfeeding. 
  • If your skin is ultrasensitive, you may want to start with a lower concentration (5 percent) 
  • However, people with sensitive skin and prone to allergies are advised to do a patch test before use or consult your dermatologist.

When Can One See Results? 

As is the case with all skincare routine and products, you need to be consistent and patient. Results may generally start showing after four weeks, which includes smooth texture, toned and hydrated skin.


Always make sure you have the right diagnosis before jumping to a self-treatment plan.