Study: Vitamin B3 May Help Prevent Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers

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Key Takeaways

  • Nicotinamide (vitamin B3) has been shown to prevent the reoccurrence of non-melanoma skin cancers.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the leading cause of basal and squamous carcinomas.
  • Vitamin B3 is primarily consumed through natural and fortified food sources in one's diet.

A new study has shown that a form of vitamin B3 can help protect skin cells from ultraviolet exposure (UV), the main risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancers.

The findings of the study were announced during the 29th European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology virtual conference in October.

The researchers revealed that non-melanoma skin cancer cells treated with 25 microns of nicotinamide (NAM) 24 hours before UV exposure protected the skin cells from DNA damage and subsequent cell death.

“My understanding is that this study confirms that nicotinamide at low concentrations can help to protect human skin cells from some of the damaging effects of UV radiation,” Diona Damian, MBBS, PhD, professor of dermatology, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, tells Verywell. “We know from previous work that nicotinamide can boost the rate of DNA repair in skin cells after UV exposure, and that nicotinamide tablets can help to reduce the numbers of new skin cancers in people with a history of multiple previous skin cancers.”

What This Means For You

While vitamin B3 might be able to help prevent some non-melanoma skin cancers, you still need to take other precautions to protect your skin from all forms of cancer, such as wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen when you are outside and avoiding tanning. If you notice any new, odd-looking spots on your skin or areas that are changing, itching, or bleeding, make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for an exam.

What Is Vitamin B3?

NAM is a form of vitamin B3 that the body uses but does not store. The vitamin is necessary to keep the nervous system, digestive system, and skin healthy.

Vitamin B3 is found in many multivitamins, but most people consume it through food, such as leafy greens, cereals, meat, fish, nuts legumes, dairy, and yeast.

Dermatologists might prescribe a daily oral tablet of NAM to patients with a history of non-melanoma skin cancers to help prevent reoccurrence.

“It is an effective treatment,” Sonya Kenkare, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist, and assistant professor with Rush University Medical Group, tells Verywell. “Daily doses vary but usually start at 500mg. If the patient has a history of skin cancer, new frequency does go down.”

What Are Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers?

Non-melanoma skin cancers are comprised mostly of basal cell carcinomas (the most common type of cancer), and squamous cell carcinomas (which are primarily caused by sun exposure and indoor tanning equipment).

Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common malignancies in light-skinned populations. The risk of skin cancer increases with age, and cases are on the rise worldwide with UV radiation as the primary cause.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) lists several risk factors for non-melanoma skin cancers.

  • Having fair skin, light-colored eyes, and/or natural blond or red hair
  • Having had sunburns or severe burn injuries (especially in one's youth)
  • Having had skin cancer before
  • Having a weak immune system (from illness or medication)
  • Living somewhere that gets a lot of sun and heat year-round or living at a high altitude
  • Skin damage from the sun or tanning beds
  • Smoking cigarettes

UV Protection

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your skin is damaged every time you tan—whether it's exposed to the sun’s UV rays or visit an indoor tanning salon. As the damage builds, you speed up the aging of your skin and increase your risk for all types of skin cancer—including melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

NAM does not protect against sunburn. The best way to protect your skin from UV radiation is to stay out of the sun, routinely apply sunscreen, and avoid tanning beds. 

“In order to give the skin its best chance for protection and repair, it is important to protect it from UV by using sun-safe behaviors, clothing, hats, sunscreen, and wrap-around sunglasses,” Damian says. “Particularly for the face, consider applying a broad-spectrum, SPF 50+ sunscreen every morning when you brush your teeth.”

The AAD provides additional tips to protect your skin from sun damage and reduce your risk of skin cancer:

  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. These surfaces reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of getting a sunburn.
  • Consider using a self-tanning product if you want to look tan. Continue to use sunscreen with it.
  • Perform regular skin self-exams. This will help you detect skin cancer early, which is when it’s most treatable.

Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist if you notice new or suspicious spots on your skin or any spots that changing, itching, or bleeding.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Camillo L et al. The role of nicotinamide in photoprotection of human primary keratinocytes from oxidative stress damages UV-induced. Late-breaking abstract no 3109 EADV Virtual, 29-31 October 2020.

  2. Surjana D, Halliday G, Damian D. Nicotinamide enhances repair of ultraviolet radiation-induced DNA damage in human keratinocytes and ex vivo skin. Carcinogenesis. Bgt017. doi.org/10.1093/carcin/bgt017

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin cancer types: squamous cell carcinoma causes. Updated January 2019.