Vitamin B Derivative (Nicotinamide) Appears to Reduce Skin Cancer Risk

Safia Nazarali, MSc; Paul Kuzel, MD, FRCPC


Skin Therapy Letter. 2017;22(5):1-4. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Nicotinamide, an amide form of vitamin B3, has shown the potential to treat a variety of dermatological conditions, including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis. Recent studies have demonstrated the role of nicotinamide, in both topical and oral forms, as a chemopreventive agent against skin cancer. Its anti-carcinogenic role may be due to its ability to enhance DNA repair and prevent ultraviolet (UV)-induced immunosuppression, which is known to contribute to the progression of pre-malignant lesions. Furthermore, nicotinamide is a precursor of essential coenzymes for many important reactions in the body, including the production of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). NAD is a key coenzyme in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which transports chemical energy within cells. Therefore, nicotinamide plays a significant role in supporting energy-dependent cellular processes, including DNA repair.


Nicotinamide is an amide form of vitamin B3. The other main form of vitamin B3 is niacin (Figure 1). Vitamin B3 is an essential water-soluble vitamin. It is not stored in the body, and is maintained by dietary intake of both vitamin B3 and tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in most forms of protein.[1] Vitamin B3 is found in foods such as legumes, nuts, grain products, mushrooms, chicken, pork, beef and fish.[2] The recommended daily intake of niacin for men and women is 16 mg and 14 mg, respectively; this dose increases to 18 mg during pregnancy and 17 mg for lactating women.[3] Diets deficient in vitamin B3 can result in a condition known as pellagra, which is characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and death (the 4 D's).[4]

Both vitamin B3 derivatives, niacin and nicotinamide, are precursors for the production of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which is a key coenzyme in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).[5] Since ATP is responsible for transporting chemical energy within cells, nicotinamide and niacin play a significant role in boosting cellular energy and supporting many energy-dependent cellular processes, such as DNA repair.[1] Nicotinamide has been shown to prevent the depletion of cellular NAD levels, which occurs as a result of ultraviolet (UV) exposure.[6] Decreased NAD levels are associated with increased susceptibility to cell genotoxicity, indicating that there is an inverse relationship between cellular NAD concentration and susceptibility to DNA damage.[5] A study conducted by Gensler et al. (1999) demonstrated that in mice there is an inverse relationship between niacin supplementation and UV-induced skin cancer susceptibility due to niacin's role in increasing cellular NAD levels.[7] The findings of the study showed that dietary supplementation with 0.1%, 0.5% or 1.0% niacin reduced the incidence of skin cancer from 68% to 60%, 48% and 28%, respectively. These results demonstrate a dosedependent reduction in skin cancer risk with the use of niacin supplementation.