Panthenol: Uses, safety, and risks

Panthenol is a chemical substance that derives from pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5. It is a common ingredient in a wide array of skin care and personal care products due to its moisturizing, soothing, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Panthenol is an alcohol derivative of pantothenic acid. The term “pantothenic” comes from the Greek word “pantothen,” which means “everywhere.” This refers to the fact that pantothenic acid is abundant and can come from both plant and animal sources.

When panthenol gets absorbed in the body, it becomes vitamin B5, which plays a role in many important bodily functions. This includes a positive effect on the skin, which is why many manufacturers often include it in topical cosmetic products.

In this article, we discuss why panthenol is a common ingredient in many products, as well as its safety and risks and other considerations.

Panthenol is an alcohol derivative of vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid. It is a stable, water-soluble, light ingredient that readily penetrates the skin. At room temperature, panthenol is typically a viscous, transparent oil or white powder.

It is structurally similar to vitamin B5 except that it contains a hydroxyl group, making it an alcohol. Experts also call it pro-vitamin B5, because the body converts it to vitamin B5 once applied to the skin.

Manufacturers often use panthenol as a moisturizer in topical cosmetics. It also has uses as a softening, soothing, and anti-irritant agent.

Manufacturers include panthenol in many cosmetic, personal care, and pharmaceutical products for its wide range of benefits and a good safety profile.

Moisturizes and hydrates

An impaired skin barrier contributes to water loss and plays a significant role in skin conditions such as:

Panthenol has humectant properties, meaning it allows the skin to retain moisture and maintain hydration.

Promotes wound healing

Panthenol is a common ingredient in wound healing therapies and can help treat minor skin injuries, burns, and sunburn.

Some people may also use it after medical and cosmetic surgeries for its wound healing properties. It can treat superficial and deep wounds by increasing cell turnover and fibroblast proliferation. It is also a good candidate for wound dressing, according to a 2020 study.

A 2020 review on the role of panthenol, or dexpanthenol, on wound healing states that it is excellent for post-procedural wounds, especially when used immediately after skin damage.

Boosts skin barrier function

Panthenol can promote skin barrier repair by enhancing lipid synthesis and epidermal differentiation. This helps hydrate the outermost layer of the skin and locks in moisture.

A 2016 study also found that dexpanthenol increases the mobility of proteins and lipids in dehydrated skin, improving its elasticity and hydration. It also retains or increases molecular fluidity to compensate for reduced hydration. Moreover, it enhances the skin’s permeability to active ingredients in topical products.

Soothes and reduces inflammation

Panthenol’s moisturizing properties also contribute to its anti-inflammatory nature.

Keeping the skin moisturized can help prevent it from becoming sensitive and easily irritated. As such, panthenol can help improve the roughness, dryness, itching, redness, and scaling associated with conditions such as eczema, contact dermatitis, and psoriasis.

A 2019 study adds that panthenol may alleviate facial redness resulting from winter xerosis in people with sensitive skin.

Products containing panthenol can also help soothe and protect infants against irritant diaper dermatitis. Panthenol is also a common ingredient in nipple creams to treat nipple trauma and pain in breastfeeding individuals.

Improves hair health

Panthenol is present in a wide variety of hair care products, with some evidence suggesting it may help prevent hair loss.

Other possible benefits may include protecting the hair against environmental and styling damage by trapping moisture to prevent hair from becoming dry and brittle.

Panthenol is a common ingredient in a host of products, including:

  • hair care products, such as shampoos, conditioners, hair mousses, and hair sprays
  • skin care products, such as facial cleansers, lotions, serums, creams, sunscreens, and toners
  • cosmetic products, including eyeliners, mascaras, foundations, and lipsticks
  • eye care products, such as eye drops and contact lens solutions
  • pharmaceutical products, including ointments, creams, nasal sprays, and lozenges

In general, people tolerate panthenol well.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted it a “generally recognized as safe and effective” rating as a supplement and food ingredient.

Additionally, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) deems it safe for cosmetic use at concentrations of 1–5%.

The risk of having skin irritation from personal care products with panthenol is low, possibly because of the low levels of panthenol in these products. A person typically ingests higher levels of vitamin B5 from food sources.

Experts do not associate any significant risks with the use of panthenol.

Neither the Environmental Working Group nor the CIR classifies panthenol as potentially toxic or harmful. Also, both organizations note that panthenol is not:

  • cytotoxic
  • immunotoxic
  • carcinogenic
  • mutagenic

However, a person can still have an allergic reaction to panthenol. For example, a 2018 study notes that while allergic contact dermatitis due to panthenol is rare, it is advisable to test for this ingredient as an allergen.

A person concerned about potential irritation can do a patch test before applying a product containing panthenol to their face or body.

If a person chooses to avoid products containing panthenol, they should review product labels thoroughly.

Additionally, it is advisable to be familiar with other names that people may use for panthenol. Some manufacturers may list panthenol under alternative names, such as:

  • pantothenol
  • D-panthenol alcohol
  • DL-Panthenol
  • panthenol
  • pro-vitamin B5
  • dexpanthenol
  • butanamide
  • alcohol analog of pantothenic acid

People looking for alternatives to panthenol may consider allantoin, urea, and N-acetyl glucosamine, which mimic its humectant properties. They can also add calendula and aloe vera if they require a product with soothing properties.

Panthenol is a common ingredient present in a wide variety of products, including skin care products, due to its moisturizing, soothing, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Experts deem panthenol safe for personal care, cosmetic, and skin care use and suggest that it presents a low risk of side effects for consumers.

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