Panthenol is a provitamin of pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5. As a provitamin, it’s converted to vitamin B5 once it enters the body. Vitamin B5 is required in small quantities by all cells in the human body for normal cellular metabolism. It’s involved in numerous biochemical reactions in the body. Despite its importance, a deficiency of this vitamin is uncommon since it’s found in a wide variety of foods. Panthenol differs slightly in structure from vitamin B5 and is classified as an alcohol. It’s made from a natural ingredient called d-pantolactone found in honey but can also come from animal sources or be made synthetically.
According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, a modified form of panthenol called dexpanthenol is beneficial for treating some skin disorders and wounds. In the treatment of wounds, panthenol stimulates the activity of cells called fibroblasts that are important for wound repair and establishment of new tissue. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial activity, which is important for wound healing. Wounds treated with dexpanthenol, a modified form of panthenol, showed less redness and fewer signs of inflammation.
Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, panthenol may be useful for treating other minor skin problems like sunburn, bug bites and contact dermatitis. It’s sometimes mixed with another ingredient called allantoin to treat minor skin problems. It’s also been suggested as a possible acne treatment due to its anti-bacterial properties and ability to block inflammation.
Panthenol is also a good skin conditioner and moisturizer. As a moisturizer, it acts as both a humectant and an emollient. Humectants draw water from the environment to the surface of the skin, while emollients create a protective barrier over skin to prevent water loss. Because of its ability to moisturize, soften and protect skin, it’s an ingredient often found in cosmetic and skin care products including facial moisturizers, eye creams, anti-aging products and make-up products such as lipstick, eye shadow and mascara.
Panthenol is also an ingredient in hair care products such as shampoo, hair conditioners, hair coloring treatments and hair styling products. Some research suggests that panthenol strengthens and thickens hair while preventing breakage, but these studies were carried out using larger amounts of panthenol than are found in hair care products. Whether or not panthenol actually strengthens and thickens hair is unproven, but it does coat the hair shaft and give hair more body and shine. Using panthenol-based products can improve the appearance of hair, especially hair that’s prone to dryness. Just as panthenol helps skin hold onto moisture, it also coats the hair shaft to prevent moisture loss. Because it holds onto water from the environment, panthenol “plumps up” the hair shaft, which gives it a thicker appearance. When using panthenol-based hair products, it’s a good idea to use a clarifying shampoo occasionally to remove any build-up of the product.
Since it is a provitamin of pantothenic acid, panthenol isn’t harmful since pantothenic acid is found naturally in the body where it’s required in numerous chemical reactions necessary for good health. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database labels panthenol as a low-risk cosmetic ingredient. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies it as “generally recognized as safe” and allows it to be used in food products as well as cosmetic and personal care products. It can be irritating to the skin but usually only at concentrations higher than those found in skin and personal care products. In the amounts in skin creams and cosmetics, panthenol is not a skin irritant, and allergic reactions to it are uncommon.
All in all, panthenol is an effective skin moisturizer that has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits that could make it useful for treating acne and minor skin wounds and irritation. It’s also an effective hair conditioning agent that coats the hair and makes it look and feel softer, shinier and thicker. In addition, it appears to be safe and non-irritating to skin with a low probability of causing allergic reactions. It’s common to find it as an ingredient in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products formulated to improve the appearance of skin and hair.