Today we answer the question: what is panthenol and what does it do for my skin?
Panthenol, also known as pro-Vitamin B5, has a number of benefits once absorbed into the skin. It’s a good humectant, like hyaluronic acid. It also helps to fortify your skin barrier to keep your skin supple. And on top of all that, it’s a very good anti-inflammatory as well.
When you’re looking for skincare products with panthenol in it, at Maelove, we recommend a 1% concentration of Panthenol or more.
If you’re new here, My name is Jackie and I’m the CEO and Chief Product Obsessor here at Maelove.
How is panthenol good for hair?
When you hear about panthenol, you might think of your hair before your skin.
And that’s because panthenol is used in a lot of hair conditioners. It binds to the hair shaft and lubricates it, making the hair stronger and thicker. One study indicates it also helps grow hair by stimulating the growth phase in hair follicle cells (Shin et al. 2021).
The cells that make up the hair shaft are produced in the hair follicles located in the dermal layer of your skin. Cells in the hair follicles are alive and responsible for the growth of hair, and this part of hair in the skin is called the hair root, whereas cells in the hair shaft are outside of the skin. Cells in the hair shaft are dead as cells cannot live without the blood supply from the skin. These cells are mostly full of keratin.
And when applied to the hair, panthenol can bind to the hair shaft and lubricate it, making it thicker and smoother, and panthenol can also penetrate into the hair root where it is rapidly converted into pantothenic acid, which is THE vitamin B5, which is essential for healthy hair growth.
Panthenol, when absorbed into the skin, becomes vitamin B5, and this stimulates the growth phase of the hair follicle.
And this is the reason panthenol is also commonly called pro-vitamin B5. When you hear pro-something in biology, think of it as meaning a precursor. So pro-vitamin B5 means something that is a precursor to Vitamin B5, and that’s panthenol.
How is panthenol good for skin?
Now, what is lesser known perhaps, is that panthenol has been used for over 70 years to treat skin conditions in people of all ages and people with various skin conditions. So panthenol isn’t just good for your hair, but also for your skin!
Panthenol has been used to treat eczema, nappy rash in infants, diabetic skin conditions, or as a general ointment in wound healing. It is known to help repair a damaged skin barrier, to reduce skin irritation and redness, and to function as a powerful anti-inflammatory (Proksch et al. 2017).
Panthenol vs pantothenic acid
So, what is panthenol? Panthenol is an alcohol form of pantothenic acid, which is the Vitamin B5.
More specifically, a form of panthenol called D-panthenol or dexpanthenol is typically used in skincare.
The INCI name for dexpanthenol is just panthenol which is what you would see in ingredient labels.
Panthenol is also known as pantothenol and pantothenyl alcohol. You might see these terms instead when you try to look up panthenol in scientific papers.
"Alcohols" in skincare
I had mentioned that panthenol is an alcohol form of pantothenic acid.
When you think of alcohol, you may think of the ethanol in your beverages or the isopropyl alcohol in your hand sanitizer.
However, the chemical definition of alcohol is different from what people generally call alcohol. Chemically, it basically means you have a hydroxyl group bound to a carbon atom. And a ton of different substances you may not associate with the properties of alcohol are alcohols.
Some alcohols like cetyl alcohol are waxy solids at room temperature, while panthenol is a thick liquid at room temperature.
So, when you see something alcohol in ingredient labeling, it could be they are waxy and viscous rather than something akin to drinking or rubbing alcohol that you might be more familiar with in everyday life.
How does panthenol work?
Now, going back to panthenol, what is it good for?
Panthenol is a humectant, emollient, and moisturizer that can penetrate the skin and hair to provide hydration and nourishment.
How it works is that once panthenol is absorbed into the skin, it is rapidly converted enzymatically into pantothenic acid.
While Pantothenic acid is the actual form of vitamin B5, panthenol is much preferable as a topical ingredient as it penetrates the skin better and is more stable at room temperature (CIR 2017, Proksch et al. 2017). That’s why in skin and haircare you see Pro-vitamin B5 instead of Vitamin B5.
Pantothenic acid, like hyaluronic acid, is hygroscopic which means it attracts and holds water. This is why topical panthenol is such an excellent moisturizer for both hair and skin.
Further, pantothenic acid is an important nutrient that is necessary for the normal growth and development of cells and tissues in the body.
And this is because it is a key component of coenzyme A (CoA), which is an important molecule that helps with many different metabolic processes in the body, such as breaking down and creating fats.
Specifically, it helps the body to burn fat for energy and helps the skin to produce the fatty acids that make it waterproof. This means it helps to keep your skin healthy and strong by making it more resistant to water and other elements. Without enough pantothenic acid, the skin's barrier may not function properly and may become more vulnerable to damage and infection (Proksch et al. 2017).
Panthenol appears to be an effective anti-inflammatory as well. A study performed by Nisbet and colleagues showed that panthenol can help to reduce a specific hormone-like lipid called prostaglandin E2 involved in inflammation which is often elevated in sensitive skin. Additionally, they found that topical application of panthenol helped prevent inflammatory chemicals from inflicting damage to the skin cells (Nisbet et al 2019).
This anti-inflammatory action, combined with its ability to hydrate the skin and repair the skin barrier, may be why panthenol is so effective in reducing redness and irritation.
And thankfully, panthenol is well-tolerated by those of us with sensitive skin (Nisbet et al. 2019) and even by infants (Stettler et al. 2017).
What to look for
How much panthenol is recommended? I want to point to a study conducted by Camargo and colleagues in 2011 where they tested various panthenol concentrations: 0%, 0.5%, 1% and 5%.
1% panthenol or higher had a significant hydrating benefit on the skin whereas lower concentrations did not.
“Concentrations of pro-vitamin also influenced the improvement of skin barrier function. One percent panthenol added to the basic formulation tested was sufficient to show efficacy in this parameter.” - Camargo et al. 2011
So, I would recommend 1% or more panthenol in the products you use.
Similar to niacinamide, panthenol is quite stable to air and light exposure and has the lowest rate of breakdown in a solution that isn’t too acidic or basic, so between a pH of 4 and 6 (Loden 2014). Because of this pH issue, you’re unlikely to see panthenol in Vitamin C serums for example, which tend to be on the acidic side with pH 3.5 or lower.
For an extra boost in efficacy, combine a panthenol serum with serums containing its fellow B vitamin, the skin barrier strengthening superstar, niacinamide.
Camargo FB, Gaspar LR, Maia Campos PMBG (2011). “Skin moisturizing effects of panthenol-based formulations.” J Cosmet Sci 62: 361-369.
Cosmetic Ingredient Review (2017). “Safety Assessment of Panthenol, Pantothenic Acid, and Derivatives Used in Cosmetics.”
Loden M (2014). “Hydrating Substances.” In Barel AO, Paye M, Maibach HI (Eds). Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology (4th ed., pp 347-360). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Nisbet SJ, Targett D, Rawlings AV, Qian K, Wang X, Lin CB, Thompson MA, Bulsara PA, Moore DJ (2019). “Clinical and in vitro evaluation of new anti-redness cosmetic products in subjects with winter xerosis and sensitive skin.’ Int J Cosmet Sci 41: 534-547.
Proksch E, de Bony R, Trapp S, Boudon S (2017). “Topical use of dexpanthenol: a 70th anniversary article.” J Dermatol Treatment 28(8): 766-773.
Scott LN, Fiume M, Bergfield WF, Belsito DV, Hill RA, Klaassen CD, Liebler DC, Marks Jr
JG, Shank RC, Slaga TJ, Snyder PW, Heldreth B (2022). “Safety Assessment of Panthenol, Pantothenic Acid, and Derivatives as Used in Cosmetics.” Int J Toxicol 41(3_suppl): 77-128.
Shin JY, Kim J, Choi YH, Kang NG, Lee S (2021). “Dexpanthenol Promotes Cell Growth by Preventing Cell Senescence and Apoptosis in Cultured Human Hair Follicle Cells.” Curr Issues Mol Biol 43: 1361-1373.
Stettler H, Kurka P, Lunau N, Manger C, Bohling A, Bielfeldt S, Wilhelm KP, Dahnhardt-Pfeiffer S, Dahnhardt D, Brill FHH, Lenz H (2016). “A new topical panthenol-containing emollient: Results from two randomized controlled studies assessing its skin moisturization and barrier restoration potential, anfd the effect on skin microflora.” J Dermatol Treatment 28(2): 173-180.
Stettler H, Kurka P, Wagner C, Sznurkowka K, Czernicka O, Bohling A, Bielfeldt S, Wilhelm KP, Lenz H. J (2017). “A new topical panthenol-containing emollient: skin-moisturizing effect following single and prolonged usage in healthy adults, and tolerability in healthy infants.” J Dermatol Treatment 28(3): 251-257.