Testing each product on both clear and blemish-prone skin, we wanted something that not only treated but prevented some of the most common skin issues. The best niacinamide serum also had to gel with the rest of our skincare and makeup routine – preferably by providing that elusive glowing base we’ve dreamed of for years.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar ultra-concentrated serum
Developing products in partnership with dermatologists, La Roche-Posay is committed to making excellent skincare accessible to all. To that end, this serum is packed with high concentrations of niacinamide and both salicylic and glycolic acid to target breakouts and scarring. Both of the latter two act as resurfacing ingredients which, when applied between cleansing and moisturising, help exfoliate and brighten skin. Despite its aggressive purpose, it’s surprisingly gentle. Our tester’s skin is notoriously reactive to chemical exfoliants but experienced no irritation after a month of patting the watery formula onto damp skin each evening. This is probably thanks to the niacinamide and the brand’s trademark thermal water working to protect the skin barrier. Months old acne scars seemed to start healing in fast forward and our skin has never looked more glowy.
The Ordinary niacinamide 10% and zinc 1%
Not only is this the cheapest serum on this list, but it’s probably the most famous. The endlessly glowing reviews are mostly down to its high niacinamide percentage which, combined with zinc, makes quick work of blemishes and hyperpigmentation. It has a very thin, non-sticky texture, so you can just as easily apply this everywhere as you can use it as a spot treatment. We mostly used it for the latter, applying it in problem areas. After a couple of weeks, we noticed that spots came to a head less frequently and existing acne settled and faded at a much quicker rate. It also cleared up congested skin on our nose and helped control oiliness. If you’re planning on using this across your entire face, we recommend introducing it gradually into your routine; it’s a very potent solution, and our tester experienced some dryness and irritation when she dived right in.
Allies of Skin prebiotics & niacinamide pore-refining booster
Packed with prebiotics, probiotics and a ten per cent concentration of niacinamide, this serum provides a healthy dosage of everything you need for clear skin. Our tester was in the middle of a monster breakout when she first tried it and, after a week of patting it into damp skin twice a day before moisturising, it soothed the worst of the redness and didn’t irritate her usually sensitive skin, despite the high percentage of actives. While we used it on its own across problem areas, you can also mix it with another serum, moisturiser or mask. Our only criticism is that it is slow sinking in, despite having a very watery consistency.
Alpha-H vitamin B with copper tripeptide
First of all, fair warning that this serum is bright blue. But don’t let that put you off — fortified with five per cent niacinamide, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and collagen-boosting copper tripeptide, it’s pure magic for anyone with dry, dull or dehydrated skin. While niacinamide plays its usual role of refining texture and strengthening your skin barrier, the copper tripeptide is the big draw here. This is a combination of copper and amino acids, which go a long way in reinvigorating your complexion. Our skin received a welcome boost and felt smoother then it had in months. However, as is often the case with watery serums, you’ll have to be careful not to use more than you need.
Verso hydration serum with niacinamide
Swedish brand Verso specialises in age-defying skincare like this hydration serum. Its light gel formula is derived from Nordic countries, supporting the niacinamide with a unique mix of oat lipids and oils that bolster your skin barrier. This goes a long way in protecting the hydration of your skin in the long-term but also made a more superficial difference after a couple of uses. Our skin felt firmer, and our pores less pronounced, but considering the high price point we would have liked to have seen more radical effects. Nevertheless, this is a solid choice for those with persistent dryness.
Murad Revitalixir recovery serum
The winter months are not kind to our skin, but this serum perked up our dull complexion after just one use, which is rarity with any skincare product. While the niacinamide tackles texture, it also features caffeine to target under-eye puffiness and a blend of neuropeptides and cannabis sativa seed oil to soften your skin. Our tester was struggling with dry patches around her nose, but these disappeared after a few days of using this both morning and night. A little bit goes a long way and as it can be a bit sticky at first, we recommend leaving it to sink in for ten minutes or so before moving onto moisturiser, SPF or make-up. Its ability to lock in moisture makes this a good (but pricey) choice for those with fine lines or mature skin.
The Inkey List niacinamide
On a mission to cut through the noise of the industry and deliver simple yet effective skincare, The Inkey List offers powerful products that try to keep ingredient lists to a minimum. With a ten per cent concentration of niacinamide, this serum packs a real punch at the fraction of the cost of its competitors. We eased ourselves in slowly, starting with nightly application across our T-zone where the serum made a rapid difference in sebum production and the congestion of our pores. We later increased our use, but quickly cut it down again after experiencing irritation and a small break out. However, we put this down to our skin’s sensitivity to such a potent solution rather than the product itself. If you’re not used to high percentages of niacinamide, we suggest sticking to already problematic or oily areas where it can do its best work.
Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s magic serum crystal elixir
We’re sceptical of any skincare product touting itself as “magic”, but this serum might just warrant the title. Its powers are aimed at rejuvenating tired, mature skin and come from the blend of niacinamide with vitamin C, antioxidants, actual crystals and polyglutamic acid. Most of the magic comes down to the latter — with hydrating abilities four times that of hyaluronic acid, it traps moisture in your complexion to keep it glowing and youthful. The formula itself has a light, milky consistency. After application, you’ll notice a slight tightening sensation across your face and skin will have a healthy glow that only improves with further use. We saw improvement in our skin texture over time and imagine the effects would be even more pronounced on mature skin.
Oskia renaissance brightlight
This serum is an investment, but worth it for anyone struggling to banish dark spots. The niacinamide is backed up by vitamin C, pumpkin and papaya extracts, zinc glycinate and other actives to gradually treat hyperpigmentation and sun damage. Obviously this is a long process, but our tester started to notice a difference after just three weeks. In the meantime, it did a stand-up job of softening and smoothing rough skin and gave our cheeks a healthy glow, even in sub-zero temperatures. Of all the serums we tested, this also had the best texture — it absorbed quickly and sat well beneath a full face of make-up.
Decree by AJ Sturnham protect elixir
Formulated by doctors, Decree has a very concise approach to skincare. Everything in its limited product range serves a clear purpose, with this serum’s being to protect your complexion from ageing and damage. It’s got a strong lineup of ingredients: niacinamide, vitamins C, B and E, ferulic acid, copper, zinc, magnesium minerals and hyaluronic acid. Together these form the perfect barrier against environmental aggressors and keep your complexion hydrated without clogging your pores. Although it comes out like an oil, skin looks bright not greasy. After a few weeks, our tester’s skin tone had evened out significantly and a persistent patch of redness disappeared. While it’s only a low percentage of niacinamide (two per cent), this works best when just used once a day, in the morning. We also recommend storing it in the fridge to keep the ingredients fresh.
The verdict: Niacinamide serums
Our skin’s had a tough year but La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar ultra concentrated serum managed to save it, making it our top choice. If acne or scarring isn’t your main concern, Murad’s Revitalixir recovery serum delivers an unbeatable glow, while both The Ordinary and The Inkey List’s respective serums are solid budget choices. For more skincare intel, read our review of the best vitamin C products