Niacin is a water-soluble B vitamin (B3) and an essential human nutrient which must be obtained from diet sources since it cannot be synthesized by the body. It’s primary role is to turn food into energy needed by our cells. Within the body, vitamin B3 can combine with nicotinic acid. The end product is niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide which has been receiving much attention as a skin beauty ingredient. And now more research studies are coming to the forefront which support Niacin benefits for hair follicle health.
Sources of Niacin for Your Hair and Overall Health
Niacin can be derived from natural food sources such as:
- green vegetables
- sunflower seeds
- cereal grains
- green peas
Niacin as well as niacinamide are also available to consumers as supplement products
Research on Topical Niacinamide for Hair Growth in Women
In a research study called, A pilot study evaluating the efficacy of topically applied niacin derivatives for treatment of female pattern alopecia, 60 women at various stages of pattern hair loss (Ludwig types 1-3) participated in a double-blind, placebo controlled study on the effects of nicotinate .
In women, pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia) manifests as thinning hair density, increased shedding and hair strands with reduced volume. So far, Minoxidil 2% is the only approved treatment for this condition.
As discussed earlier, nicotinic acid combines with Niacin to form nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide. The anionic form of this acid is nicotinate which was observed in this study.
The researchers observed the topical effects of octyl nicotinate. They divided the female participants into two groups:
- Treatment group who received a topical solution of the octyl nicotinate
- Control group who received an inactive vehicle solution
After 6 months, the Niacin derivative solution was able to induce a significant increase in the fullness of hair within the treatment group subjects. The researchers are not clear on the exact mechanism of action. But they speculate that the treatment formula may have helped improve the density of the follicles and the quality of existing hairs.
This showed that nicotinic acid derivatives can be a potentially viable treatment for female alopecia. But continued studies on larger sample sizes are still needed at this point.
A Study on a Niacin Topical Hair Growth Formulation
In another study, A Novel Cosmetic Approach to Treat Thinning Hair, a group of researchers designed a topical leave in formulation to treat hair strands with diminished diameters . This consisted of the following set of ingredients (CNPDA)
- acrylate polymer
The research team hoped to find a new way to address thinning hair in women. Existing hair loss treatments usually attempt to improve hair density or prevent further damage. So far, there are no solutions that actually address the thinning diameter of the hair shafts.
This group of scientists were optimistic that they could devise a Niacin based formula to help address this issue of diminishing hair strand thickness.
They measured hair fiber diameters using a laser scan micrometer. They also used the tensile break stress and torsion pendulum testing methods to determine improvements in mechanical and behavioral properties.
Based on their data, the researchers found that the CNPDA treatment was able to increase hair strand diameters by 2-5 um, expanding their cross sectional areas by about 10%.
The treated hairs also displayed the characteristic properties of thicker hair with improved subtleness, pliability and ability to withstand force without breaking.
Niacin HDL and Why It Matters For Hair Loss
Niacin may potentially help reduce hair loss by improving levels of high density lipoproteins, also known HDL cholesterol, or “good cholesterol” in the body.
In a study called, Both low circulatins insulin-like growth factor and high density lipoproteins are associated with hair loss in women, a group of scientists discovered a strong correlation between low HDL levels and hair loss in females .
They closely examined 323 middle-aged women and found that the subjects with lower than average HDL cholesterol were more likely to suffer from hair loss, compared to the female participants with normal levels of good cholesterol.
Since niacin is commonly used to boost HDL cholesterol , this nutrient may be able to prevent, or even reverse hair loss in women. Further research would needed to see if this could be a cause and effect relationship.
Niacin and It’s Role In Keratin Production
Niacin, in it’s amide form, niacinamde, helps to facilitate and speed up the synthesis of keratin(keratinization) in the hair follicles which is needed to form the visible hair strands .
This process centers around a cell division mechanism at the base of the follicles. The derma papilla cells emit a hormonal signal to the stem cells which causes them to differentiate into progenitor cells. These progenitor cells divide and split into two daughter cells. One of them will retain the nucleus and the other will die, forming a container of keratin (keratinocyte). This buildup of keratin forms new hair strands.
Niacin’s job is to help keep this process moving. A lack of proper movement will result in weak, thin strands..
How Niacin Improves Blood Flow
Niacin helps blood vessels dilate which helps to improve blood circulation throughout the body.
Additionally its derivative, nicotinic acid can also reduce blood thickness (i.e. viscosity) which also facilitates blood flow.
Healthy hair depends on blood circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrients needed by the follicle to function properly. By helping to stimulate blood circulation, Niacin contributes to optimizing hair growth processes.
Niacin Repairs DNA Damage
Niacin also helps repair DNA damage which can decrease the protein levels which are necessary for the healthy production of hair.
Our DNA contains code sequences for building all the proteins in the body. Damage to the DNA, which occurs through natural aging processes, UV radiation and free radicals can hinder the construction of important protein structures, whether they are used for hair or other parts of the body.
Niacin is used to make a coenzyme called NAD (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) which plays a primary role in a process called oxidative phosphorylation, converting food derived components like fatty acids and glucose into energy.
Research shows that the body engages in heightened levels of oxidative phosphorylation in response to damaged DNA.
Niacin therefore helps to restore normal protein production by serving as a crucial building block for DNA repair processes.
- Draelos et.al,A pilot study evaluating the efficacy of topically applied niacin derivatives for treatment of female pattern alopecia,, Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 4(4): 258-61, Jan. 2006
- Davi MG, et al., A novel cosmetic approach to treat thinning hair, BrJ. Dermatol 2011 Dec; 165 Suppl 3:24-30
- Noordman et. al., Both low circulatins insulin-like growth factor and high density lipoproteins are associated with hair loss in women, Br.J Dermatol. 2016
- Gehring W., Nicotinic acid/ niacinamide and the skin, J.Cosmet. Dermatol: 2004 Apr. 3(2) 88-93
Frequently Asked Questions – Niacin Benefits for Hair Follicle Health
How many mg of niacin for hair growth should I take on a daily basis?
Although Niacin is considered a vitamin and a nutrient that we need for our health, over -dosage can lead to adverse health effects. These include: flushing, upset stomach, liver dysfunction, glucose intolerance and blurred vision. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adult male is 16mg/day. And the RDA for adult females is 14mg per day. The Tolerable Upper (TU) upper intake level of niacin has been determined to be 35 mg/day.
The consumption of niacin through food sources is likely to be safe. But the safe use of supplement products for niacin ( or any other nutrient ) should be discussed with your physician who can recommend an appropriate dosage for your particular health needs. For these reasons, may may find topical hair products to be the best method to deliver niacin to the hair. There is less chance of systemic side effects to niacing from applying through a topical product. Some natural hair products have made optimal use of niacin in their formulation to very good effect on hair health.
Does nicotinamide cause hair loss?
There are no studies which support nicotinamide as a cause of hair loss. In fact research, such as the studies discussed above, actually suggest that nicotinamide supports hair growth as a topical treatment and within the body’s own natural processes.
Are Niacin benefits for hair limited to the hair strands? Can the nutrient also help the hair follicle?
Researchers have found that nicotinamide is able to exert photoprotective properties . And as an ingredient in sunscreens, it can also offer improved protection for the the epidermal barrier of the skin’s surface , Which also benefits the hair follicles, keeping them safe from the damaging effects of UV rays.