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Keeping up with the latest skin-care trends is pretty much a full-time job. And just when you think you’ve got it down by mastering your retinols from your retinals and your hyaluronic acids from your polyglutamic acids, another buzzy ingredient pops up.
The latest arrival? A mouthful of an ingredient called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, which is (thankfully) referred to by its initials, NAD. It’s also sometimes called NAD+, which is a type of NAD that sits under its umbrella. NAD is technically not new, as NAD already exists within our cells, but scientific breakthroughs have meant that it’s now possible to use it in skincare (as well as things like supplements and IV drips), and rumor has it that it might just be the secret to preventing and reversing skin aging.
If you want to maintain plump, baby-smooth skin and keep fine lines at bay (don’t we all?), then we suggest you keep reading to see whether it’s worth adding to your beauty routine.
What Is NAD?
“NAD is a coenzyme that’s central to the metabolism in all our cells,” London-based cosmetic dermatologist and skin-care brand founder Sam Bunting tells POPSUGAR. “It plays a critical role in a wide range of cellular processes and is essential for energy production. Its levels dwindle as we age, and by the time you’ve reached the age of 40, your cellular NAD levels have dropped by 50 percent.” This means that our skin is no longer able to function as efficiently as it once did (a bit like us after our morning double-shot has worn off) and starts to become sluggish and slow.
As with all things science-y, topping up the levels of NAD in our skin is not as straightforward as smothering on a serum packed with it and assuming it’ll get to where it needs to be. NAD can be hard to stabilize and deliver to the skin, so that needs to be done through innovative systems, or you can use other ingredients to recharge existing NAD.
Invity, a science-focused skin-care brand led by biotechnologist Eugene He, uses both NAD as an ingredient and what Dr. Eugene calls “NAD precursors” as a two-pronged approach that covers both bases, while Dr. Bunting has been focusing on the recharging element within her products.
“This year we discovered an exciting new ingredient that helps us to charge our NAD levels called Sunflower Shoot Extract (SSE),” Dr. Bunting says. “This increases the amount of NAD+ actually getting recycled inside the cells and the amount of available NAD+ as a result.” It’s a bit like connecting a charger to your skin cells, rebooting and boosting them without having to go through the faff of changing the battery or keeping it constantly plugged into an extra battery pack.
What Are the Benefits of NAD in Skin-Care?
We’ve got it all charged up and ready to go, but what is NAD doing in and for our skin? “It’s very established that optimized NAD levels do more than just give your cells more energy,” says Dr. He. “They promote efficient cellular functions, improving skin health and delaying skin aging. On the surface level, NAD works as a skin conditioner and can normalize and support the skin barrier. You can expect clearer skin, a more even-toned complexion, increased skin hydration and moisturization, reduction of flaky skin, and a decrease in skin redness.” Essentially, from turning back the clock to making skin less prone to irritation, there’s not much this over-achieving component isn’t promising to do – and it’s much easier to get your hands on than the Philosopher’s Stone.
To maximize these benefits, NAD is best used in leave-on products like serums and moisturizers. Serums will have the highest concentration of NAD and NAD-boosting ingredients.
NAD Side Effects
Another good thing about NAD is that, because it already exists naturally in our skin, just like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, it’s familiar and well tolerated by all skin types – even sensitive ones. “NAD is generally considered safe,” says Dr. He. “It’s a molecule that is naturally produced by the body and is essential for various cellular processes. Since it’s an essential part of life, it can be used on all skin types and is also suitable for all life stages.”
It’s a welcome contrast to gold-star anti-aging ingredient retinol, which isn’t advisable for use on very young skin and also has the potential for irritation when you first start using it. NAD is that friend everyone is always pleased to see, versus retinol as the stranger someone brings to the pub and makes things a bit awkward at the start of the night.
Generally speaking, NAD also plays nicely with and will enhance the effects of other ingredients. “I’m most excited by the synergy of NAD boosting with ingredients like retinoids,” says Dr. Bunting. “Maximizing the benefits of retinoids takes lots of cellular energy, so you want that battery fully charged. Boosting NAD also makes it easier for the skin to tolerate retinoids as it strengthens and repairs the skin barrier.”
The only exception is, according to Dr. He, with exfoliating products. “Due to the instability of NAD+, NAD precursors, and some novel NAD boosters, avoid using it together at the same time as highly acidic or alkaline products such as skin peels.” We’d say that’s not bad advice to take on board generally, as overloading your skin with too many products at once will only confuse it, and you’re more likely to end up causing more problems than you’ll solve.
Best NAD Products to Try
Excited to see what the fuss is all about for yourself? These are the NAD-packed and NAD-boosting products to try. As it’s a new ingredient, there aren’t loads to choose from, and they are on the expensive side, but we predict more launches in 2024 if you prefer to sit tight.