What is NAD+ and how is it used in skincare?

Published 18th Apr 2024 by Kezia Parkins

Present in all living cells, coenzyme NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) plays a crucial role in various biological processes, including energy metabolism, DNA repair and regulatory cell signalling.  

“Scientifically, NAD+ consists of two nucleotides: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide,” explains chemical engineer and Skin Masterclass founder Cigdem Kemal Yilmaz.

“The "nicotinamide" part of the molecule is derived from niacin, also known as vitamin B3. The "adenine" part is a nucleotide base involved in DNA and RNA synthesis. These two components are linked by phosphate groups.”  

“Think of it as a kind of "currency" that helps transfer energy between different chemical reactions in your body,” says Iain De Havilland, founder of clinic group and product NADclinic.

“Its involvement in metabolism, DNA repair, and cell signalling means that without NAD, your cells wouldn't be able to efficiently produce energy or carry out essential functions.”

How is NAD+ used in skincare?

NAD+’s inclination to boost cellular function makes it an ideal skincare ingredient. 

“NAD+ levels in our bodies naturally decline with age, which is thought to contribute to age-related changes in cells with some sources suggesting that NAD+ levels are at 50% by the time we reach our forties,” says Yilmaz. “So, by supplementing NAD+ in skincare, we can help replenish cellular levels to improve the overall health and appearance of the skin.”  

With compromised levels of NAD+, skin cells are less able to replicate and function while the skin becomes less able to tolerate inflammation, oxidative stress and toxin release.

A build up of these impaired cells can cause laxity, wrinkles, inflammation and a weakened skin barrier.

NAD+ is an active ingredient often added to serums, creams, and other topical formulations designed to be applied directly to the skin as either a targeted treatment, or in combination with other ingredients to target multiple concerns or aspects of skin health. 

“These products typically contain stabilised forms of NAD+ that can penetrate the skin barrier and deliver the coenzyme to the underlying cells,” continues Yilmaz.

As well as being used topically, formulations can also be used as part of facials, chemical peels and microneedling protocols to address specific skin concerns and increase the effectiveness of those treatments.

It can also be administered intravenously or via oral supplement. “Supplementing NAD+ can particularly help support cellular energy production and overall health in older adults,” says De Havilland.

“Other factors such as pollution, UV radiation and poor diet can deplete our NAD+ levels, so supplementing can counteract this in those that these things effect. 

What skin concerns is NAD+ good for?

One of NAD+’s primary functions in skincare formulations to target hyperpigmentation through its skin-lightening properties. “It does this by regulating melanin production, mitigating the skin’s inflammatory response and promoting cell renewal and repair processes,” says Yilmaz.

“This also helps maintain the integrity of skin cells and reduce the accumulation of DNA damage caused by environmental factors such as UV radiation and pollution.”

NAD+ boosts energy production, particularly in the mitochondria, which optimises cellular function leading to improved skin vitality and resilience as well as having the ability to smooth the skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles and enhance skin barrier function to protect against environmental stressors, moisture loss, redness, irritation, and other signs of inflammation. 

“NAD+ can support the overall health and appearance of the skin, by improving cellular health.  This strategy promotes healthy skin from the inside out," says Dr Nichola Conlon molecular biologist specialising in the study of cellular ageing and co-founder of NAD+ supplement Nuchido.

What can NAD+ be combined with?

Incredibly versatile, combining or layering NAD+ with other skincare ingredients, not only enhances its efficacy, but can also provide added benefits for the skin… 

Cigdem’s top NAD+ combinations

Combining NAD+ with antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, resveratrol, and coenzyme Q10 can help neutralise free radicals and protect the skin from oxidative stress. Antioxidants work synergistically with NAD+ to maintain skin health and prevent premature ageing.  

As NAD+’s primary utilised function is to lighten areas of hyperpigmentation, layering NAD+ over mandelic acid (also good for hyperpigmentation) is very effective.

Additionally, it synergises well when in the same formula as alpha arbutin, kojic di-palmitate and azelaic acid. It also works best with antioxidants such as niacinamide and resveratrol. Clinical trials have also been conducted combining it with tretinoin at 0.02% with good results. 

Pairing NAD+ with peptides like palmitoyl pentapeptide-4 (Matrixyl) or copper peptides can enhance the skin-rejuvenating effects and promote firmer, smoother skin.

Incorporating NAD+ with humectants such as hyaluronic acid can boost hydration levels, improve skin texture, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Pairing NAD+ with retinoids can enhance skin renewal processes, leading to smoother, more radiant skin with continued use.

Combining NAD+ with ceramides can reinforce the skin barrier, improve moisture retention, and enhance overall skin resilience and skin health.  

A blend of NAD+ and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, and lactic acid, and NAD+ with beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid can enhance exfoliation, promote cell turnover, and improve the absorption of NAD+ and other active ingredients.  

Finally, pairing NAD+ with niacinamide (vitamin B3) can amplify its benefits, such as improving barrier function, inflammation reduction, and minimising the appearance of pores and hyperpigmentation, as well as supporting overall skin health1. 

As with any active ingredient, consult with clients/patients fully before layering with NAD+ to establish any specific concerns or needs.  

Which ingredients should not be used with NAD+?

While NAD+ is generally considered to be safe and compatible with many skincare ingredients, there are a few that may interact negatively with it or weaken its efficacy when layered together.  

“The concentration in a formula varies between 0.5% ad 2%, and the stability of the ingredient is maintained when the pH of the final product is between 6-7.5 which means it cannot be integrated in the same formula with acids and LAA (L-ascorbic acid). However, it is safe to layer on top,” says Yilmaz.

NAD+ internally

"It is tricky to include the NAD+ molecule in skincare formulations as it breaks down easily," says Conlon who beleives the best way to keep your NAD+ levels topped up is orally with supplements...

NAD+ delivered via IV infusion is becoming increasingly popular with more and more clinics popping up offering the service

"This can benefit our skin, as it can prevent the formation of wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin.."

Kezia Parkins

Kezia Parkins

Published 18th Apr 2024

Kezia Parkins is the deputy editor of Professional Beauty. She has a background in medical journalism and is also as trained nail tech. As such, she is particularly passionate about all thing nails, as well as the science behind beauty products and treatments. Contact her at [email protected]

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