Is pantothenic acid (a.k.a. vitamin B5) really that good for your skin?
Some acne sufferers swear by it.
And it’s certainly touted by the cosmetic companies. It’s in everything from moisturizers, shampoos, and sunscreens, to conditioners to hairsprays, and even mascaras and lipsticks.
They don’t hide it, either—they practically shout it at you on the labels. Procter & Gamble even made a whole product, “Pantene Pro-V” shampoo, because of the positive association between pantothenic acid and “healthy hair”. There are approximately a bajillionty-billion products called of “moisturizing b5” or “b5 moisture barrier” or some such configuration.
And the supplement companies haven’t failed to get in on the action. An Amazon search for pantothenic acid supplements results in five pages of them… and those are just the best sellers.
So, we should just trust the cosmetic companies and slather their B5 products liberally all over our skin, right? And while we’re at it, swallow fistfuls of supplemental B5 like they’re M&M’s?
You know how we do things around here: we’ll take a look at the evidence for ourselves, thank you very much. Then we’ll see where we come out on the other side…
Watch this video if ya dig, then keep reading:
So, what does the research have to say about B5 and healthy skin?
Well, there’s an unholy mountain of research on pantothenic acid and the skin, and a lot of it is promising. But it comes with some pretty big caveats.
Let’s get into the research, first. Then we’ll discuss the “buts” and “howevers”.
Pantothenic acid helps manufacture the structural proteins your skin needs, like collagen. . It makes skin cells multiply faster, and helps those cells cross wound barriers to help form new skin layers. 
Basically, B5 is like a performance enhancing drug for all the stuff that helps your wounds close up and repair themselves faster.
Also, the opposite seems to be true: taking away vitamin B5 significantly impairs it’s ability to regenerate. So, it would seem the skin not only likes pantothenic acid for repairing wounds–it actually needs it.
This one seems pretty confirmed.
It seems that B5 really helps skin retain it’s moisture, which has the side benefit of helping the skin maintain it’s softness and elasticity.
One study showed that topical treatment with panthenol radically reduced the effects of skin irritation and inflammation. The trials were done over 4 weeks and showed improved tissue regeneration, reduction in erythema (reddened skin) and significantly reduced skin irritation (dryness, redness, itchiness, roughness, and fissures) compared to a placebo.
That study also talks about how panthenol has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in skin transplant patients, as well as scar, burn, and dermatosis treatments.
Also, one review  talks about how B vitamins in general are powerful antioxidants. (Plants use B5 in particular to manufacture antioxidants such as polyphenols.) If you’ve read other stuff on this site about antioxidants (such as in turmeric), you know they’re your body’s main way of fighting off free radicals. If left un-fought, free radicals lead to chronic oxidative stress—a big deal since some researchers believe that oxidative stress may be exactly what drives the pathogenesis of acne in the first place!
A study from 2006 tested pantothenic acid on 25 women with oily skin and found that it significantly reduced their sebum levels.
They proposed that since B5 is a precursor for coenzyme A (which helps you metabolize fats) it helps to increase the amount of squalene, cholesterol, and other fats necessary to protect the skin, and actually strengthens the hair follicles. Stronger follicles means they form a stronger barrier which prevents them from filling up with excess sebum.
It’s important to point out that the exact mechanisms aren’t really known. In almost all of these studies, there is a clear clinical effect, and the authors are taking a stab at an explanation and suggesting further study. We forget that science is rarely a bright beam of light shining on an incontrovertible truth. More often it’s a lot of blind, groping in the dark, with a lot of proposals and rejections of models until we find something that explains the effects we’re seeing.
But even if we can’t quite explain it yet, B5 seems to have a pretty clear effect on the skin!
That same 2006 study also contains a tantalizing hint that the formulation of panthenol they are using might be involved in an anti-bacterial effect. This means that in addition to strengthening the follicles barrier where P. acnes bacteria like to make their home, it also might directly kill off the bacteria itself! The authors admit this is something that needs further study.
A 2014 study is a little more positive: the researchers were able to directly suppress the growth of pathogenic skin bacteria using panthenol. They conclude that it’s a good idea to have this stuff in skincare products to prevent infections. They didn’t test it on P. acnes bacteria, but it is still seems to be a promising result for B5.
OK, so it seems pretty clear that B5 helps the skin thrive. It’s well supported by plenty of clinical trials and research, even though the exact mechanisms are not fully understood yet.
Also, it seems to address many issues associated with acne: excess sebum production, inflammation, microbial infection from P. acnes bacteria, and healing up those pesky blemishes.
Most of the research we’ve looked at so far revolves around the topical application of panthenol (the provitamin that gets converted into pantothenic acid when it comes into contact with living tissue). This is the stuff generally found in skincare products.
But just because a given topical product contains panthenol does that mean the product is good for your skin? Of course not! When it has a list of other unpronounceable chemical ingredients as long as your arm, you should probably steer clear.
Let’s look at one example. This is one of those products that screams PANTHENOL in big letters: Clubman Country Club Shampoo Enriched with Panthenol (Provitamin B5), marketing you into believing it’s “healthy”.
OK, so it’s got the good stuff in it. But what else has it got? (Info comes from ewg.org)
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (Irritates the skin, eyes, and lungs; Organ system toxicity; Contamination concerns)
- PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate (Organ system toxicity; Contamination concerns)
- Methylparaben (Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Biochemical or cellular level changes)
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Allergies/immunotoxicity, Ecotoxicology, Contamination concerns)
- Triethanolamine (Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity, Contamination concerns)
- Methylchloroisothiazolinone (Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Ecotoxicology, Cancer)
- Methylisothiazolione (Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Neurotoxicity, Ecotoxicology)
- Fragrance (Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Organ system toxicity, Ecotoxicology)
Wow. Sure, that panthenol might be trying to punch it’s weight in there, but when harsh skin and health-damaging chemicals are in the ring it might as well be using feather pillows.
Do you really care about the skin benefits of B5 when you’re risking organ toxicity, endocrine problems, and cancer??
(If you are wondering about any of the cosmetic or other products you regularly use, we highly recommend punching them into ewg.org. They do a fantastic job of telling you the health effects and risks of every ingredient, and suggesting much safer alternatives.)
Here’s something else to chew on: are your skin problems really owing to a lack of topical panthenol? Skin problems are a pretty modern phenomena, and it’s not like cosmetic companies were around in ancient times to help everyone have healthy skin. If you’re really being honest with yourself, might not there be something in your habitual way of eating or your lifestyle that’s causing the damage to your skin? If so, is frantically trying to outdo the damage by piling on the panthenol really the best way to go about curing your acne?
Third, none of the research we’ve looked at so far really addresses the issue of supplementation. Like most of dermatology, the entire focus for years, it seems has been on what we put on the outside of our skin. These researchers are to be commended for coming up with natural alternatives to harsh peels, and salicylic acid, and all the rest. Panthenol seems to be something that damaged skin likes to wear–it does a bang up job at helping it heal.
But this raises the inevitable question… what about preventing the damage in the first place? Why has hardly anyone studied the effects of frontloading our B5, through diet? What about dietary B5? Is there any research talking about our dietary requirements for B5, or the effects of supplementation? Is B5 deficiency is even really an issue?
If topical B5 is so beneficial to the skin, what about dietary B5?
There is one study from 2012 that seems to hit the mark squarely… erm, in the face, as it were. The title says it all: Efficacy of a Pantothenic Acid Based Dietary Supplement in Subjects With Mild to Moderate Facial Acne Blemishes. 
Okay! This seems to be exactly what we’re looking for…
And the study seems pretty promising: after eight weeks of taking supplemental pantothenic acid, the subjects had a 56% reduction of facial blemishes. A fantastic result! Anyone who’s had a really bad spell of acne would happily take a 56% reduction in only eight weeks.
The study also measured changes in DLQI (Dermatology Life Quality Index), which is a clinical questionnaire that gets patients to evaluate how their symptoms are affecting their quality of life. The DLQI scores for the participants were significantly lower (better) after eight weeks of pantothenic acid.
Also, the B5 supplements were well-tolerated, with no adverse side effects.
Great! So, what’s the catch?
Well, the author of the study admits its shortcomings:
The mechanism for the blemish reduction via B5 is still not understood, and this study doesn’t pretend to know the answer. (Though, it does refer some of the research we’ve already discussed, e.g., enhanced barrier function, wound healing, etc.)
The sample size of the study was very small (only 13 subjects participated!)
There was no control (comparison) group, so it’s not entirely certain that pantothenic acid even was the determining factor in the blemish reduction. For example, the participants might have made other lifestyle changes during that eight weeks. (Who knows, perhaps even some of the ones CSF recommends!)
The acne reduction might also have been attributable to the other B-complex vitamins in the supplement. Or to a synergistic action between them. Or to the L-carnitine, which has recently also been shown to reduce sebum secretion in human skin.
As this article points out, this study seems to have been sponsored by the supplement manufacturer… which is not exactly a glowing endorsement of its objectivity.
The author ends the study by saying that larger, randomized, placebo-controlled study is required.
And, lo and behold, one was done in 2014. . Same tests, but this time they used 41 participants, they had a placebo group, and tested for 12 weeks. And virtually the same results: a mean reduction on total blemish count, and a significant reduction in DLQI scores.
But this study involved the same author, and another private research facility, again, probably at the behest of the supplement company. These results would carry a lot more scientific weight if they were independently confirmed by another source.
Get on that, Science!
So, we have two slightly promising (if slightly under-scienced) studies of supplementing B5 for acne. Not exactly overwhelming support.
Of course not!
Sometimes science lags behind. Sometimes way behind.
For example, in our article on turmeric we discussed how researchers are only now really starting to understand the health benefits of curcumin, even though it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. Pantothenic acid was only discovered in the 1930s, and we haven’t even really scratched the surface yet.
(Anecdotal aside: a doctor recently told me he’d attended a lecture by a colleague who had just discovered a new form of Vitamin K… last year. Researchers are constantly peeling back the layers, unlocking the mysteries of what’s in our food. This is one reason we should strive for open-mindedness in our health beliefs. Research is coming out constantly which contradicts the long-held dogmas of the health establishment.)
Despite being relatively unsupported, many acne sufferers report that taking megadoses of supplemental vitamin B5 really does improve their skin, at least in the short term.
So, maybe there is something to it, and science is just playing catch up on this one.
There is a bigger picture question that we need to ask, though: why dose yourself with anything, supplements or otherwise, unless your body really needs it, i.e., unless you’re deficient?
There just hasn’t been that much research on vitamin B5 deficiency.
Because hardly anyone is deficient.
The only real data we really have is from starvation victims (Allied prisoners of war during WWII, for example), lab animal studies, or very limited volunteer trials, and in all cases the deficiency symptoms went away immediately after resuming normal eating.
“Pantothenic” is from the Greek *pantonen(, meaning: “from everywhere”. It’s found in nearly all foods. Here’s a list:
- virtually all plant and animal foods (except for pure oils, e.g., olive oil)
- particularly abundant in meat (a major food source of B5) (e.g., a single chicken breast has 2.2 mg)
- organ meats (liver is a powerhouse of vitamins!)
- sweet potato
- vegetables: avocado, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini
- whole grain cereals (All in the outer shell–milling removes the B5.)
- royal jelly
- yogurt and dairy
- probiotics: the gut flora produce B-vitamins for the host. (Is there no end to what these little guys do for us??)
So, if you’re eating food, chances are you’re getting pantothenic acid. It’s in everything.
(Bonus: pantothenic acid is critical for the manufacturing of sex hormones in the adrenal glands. So eat that B5-rich food and toss the Viagra, fellas!)
Basically, pantothenic acid essential to all forms of life and everything alive has it. If it’s alive, it’s got B5. (Look out for our dope rhymes, rap world.)
The RDA for pantothenic acid is listed at 5mg for adult men and women. You can easily hit this by eating a moderate amount of meat and vegetables.
For example, here’s the data from a day I tracked recently:
|Cod, Pacific, cooked from frozen||7oz||173|
|Olive oil||1 tbsp||119|
|Zucchini, cooked from fresh||3 medium||75|
|Apples, raw, with skin||2 small (2-3/4" dia)||154|
|Bananas, raw||2 medium (7" to 7-7/8" long)||210|
|Almond butter, salted||3 tbsp||287|
|Brussels sprouts, raw||3 sprout||24|
|Chicken leg (thigh and drumstick)||1.5 large||565|
This was a fairly low-calorie day for me (less than 1700) and also a fairly low-vegetable (and higher-fruit) day compared to usual. Yet, check out the B5 numbers:
|Cod, Pacific, cooked from frozen||0.7 mg|
|Olive oil||0 mg|
|Zucchini, cooked from fresh 1.4 mg
Apples, raw, with skin
|Bananas, raw||0.8 mg|
|Almond butter, salted||0.1 mg|
|Brussels sprouts, raw||0.2 mg|
|Blueberries, fresh||0.1 mg|
|Chicken leg (thigh and drumstick)||2.8 mg|
That’s 6.3 mg of B5, or 126% of the RDA, without even eating that much. If I had focused more on eating heaps of veggies and a little more protein like I usually do, those numbers would’ve been even higher.
If you’re eating moderate amounts of meat and veggies every day, chances are you’re getting plenty of B5.
Here’s the deal: if you’re experiencing acne symptoms, something’s out of whack in your body.
It might represent an excess of something your body doesn’t need (dairy or sugar, for example).
Chances are your B5 levels are not the culprit.
If your B5 levels are deficient, you might have some malabsorption issues which are making you deficient in many other things, too. Taking one vitamin in isolation isn’t going to fix that–you need to seriously examine your whole dietary approach!
FYI, here are several factors that might be interfering with your ability to absorb vitamins:
- excess pathogenic bacteria in the gut
- excessive alcohol intake
- many pharmaceuticals
- excess phytic acid (from consuming too many nuts, for example)
- OD’ing on other nutrients
- low stomach acid (something common to a vegan diet)
- excess caffeine intake
- excess sugar intake
Getting the picture? If you’re overdoing it in one of these areas, you’re hampering your body’s ability to intake what it needs. Make sure these issues are under control if you want to absorb all your B vitamins from food!
Similarly, if your lifestyle habits are contributing to your acne (stress, not enough sleep, smoking, chemical exposure, etc.) then scarfing down B5 really is the second-to-least of your concerns.
Work on fixing the major imbalances in your life and diet, first. Once you have those dialed-in, then you can focus on tweaking your micronutrients by a few milligrams here and there.
And, while we’re on the subject of dosage, the doses in the study we mentioned above were 2.2 grams of pantothenic acid per day. 
That’s right… 44,000% of the RDA!
Whatever the pantothenic acid is doing for the skin in that study (and it does appear it might be doing something) it’s not correcting a deficiency. There is just no way that anyone “requires” that amount of B5.
There’s probably some other mechanism at work—perhaps the accelerated wound healing, for example.
This is entirely speculation (since that’s all we have at this point) but it could be that B5 is just really good at healing the short-term surface damage caused by acne, but long-term it doesn’t address underlying causes.
Well, no… and yes.
On the face of it, there is no established Tolerable Upper Intake Level for pantothenic acid. It seems you can take it in vast quantities and suffer no adverse effects.
So, even if you think you might be deficient (let’s say you somehow have survived thus far in life eating only packaged, processed, laboratory frankenfoods from your friendly neighborhood food conglomerate… yuck) you might be fine experimenting with taking some B5.
(The far smarter option, as we’ve already discussed, would be to just start eating, you know… real food.)
Some vegans/vegetarians out there might be wondering if they’re deficient. Animal meat is the largest and easiest source of pantothenic acid. But even vegans tend to get enough B5 from plant sources. Typically, vegans/vegetarians have bigger deficiencies to worry about, such as vitamins A, D, B12, and zinc.
(If you are vegan and feeling fatigued all the time, you are almost certainly B12 deficient – it’s only found in animal foods, and you pretty much have to supplement it. Also, just so you know: B12 deficiency is associated with cancer. Yee-ikes.)
The best way to know for sure is track your B5 levels for a couple of weeks and see where you’re at. If you’re getting enough B5-rich veggies then you might be fine, even as a vegan.
OK, now for that partial “yes” to downsides.
When you supplement anything, particularly in the dosage levels we’ve been talking about, you might be throwing all your other vitamins and minerals out of whack.
Sometimes it’s absorbability issue, for example, too much calcium can crowd out your absorption of magnesium.
Sometimes it’s a synergy issue, where each micronutrient is useless by itself, but in the right proportions they activate each other’s benefits. (And in the wrong proportions just plain mess things up.) We know, for example, that taking too much vitamin E can lead to deficiencies in both vitamins A and K. Vitamins need to be in the proportions your body recognizes and desires. Megadosing one in isolation is a little like strapping a jet engine to your family car. Sure the thing will go fast for a while, real fast… until the car disintegrates in a enormous ball of flame.
Finally, there’s a time issue. Taking megadoses of B5 may show no adverse affects in the short term, but does that mean no long-term effects? We just don’t have the research to say “No” on this.
Listen, as a rule, it’s best to consider any supplementation a short-term experiment to deal with a deficiency issue, with the long-term plan to correct the deficiency through proper diet and lifestyle modification.
Supplements are to help you get back on track. Once you’re back, you stay that way through healthy living.
For all the reasons we’ve discussed, if you do decide to supplement B5, consider doing it as a B-complex. By taking the entire B-complex, you are taking things in the right proportions, and getting the full benefit of the synergistic action between them.
Again, if you’re eating your B-vitamins as food, things already occur in the right proportions. If you are regularly consuming animal protein, you probably have very little to worry about as far as the B-complex vitamins go.
Another consideration: if you do use supplements, always try to find whole food, rather than synthetic, isolated supplements. When you take synthetic supplements you’re really just introducing the ingredients to your body in the blind hope that it knows what to do with them, which, more often than not, it doesn’t.
Think of it like this: you want to fly an airplane. Would you just “introduce” all the isolated airplane “ingredients” to one another—an engine from a Lear jet, a couple of wings from an airliner, a tail from a biplane, a frame from a single-engine Cessna, a couple wheels, some oil and aviation gas, etc.—blindly, in a big pile, and expect it to fly?
Yeah. Didn’t think so.
The ingredients need to be in their proper structure, proportion, and relation to one another, so each part knows how to interact with the other. Otherwise, all you have is a big, flaming pile of junk. (Which, come to think of it, is really not a bad metaphor for most people’s inflamed, broken down bodies!)
As some examples of whole food supps, here are some B-complex supps we found with a search. These are not “recommendations” since we haven’t tried them ourselves, so much as they are an idea of what kinds of thing to look for.
Note: These are affiliate links, which means we receive a small amount of compensation if you make a purchase using this link, but it doesn’t cost you any more! 🙂 Visit our disclaimer page for more information.
Again, if you really want to, try them just for a few weeks, and see what happens. But remember they aren’t a long-term solution.
The best B5 supplements are already out there in a form your body already loves: as food.
- Pantothenic acid (B5) seems very promising for acne patients: it helps with excess sebum production, inflammation, microbial infection from P. acnes bacteria, and healing up blemishes.
- However, despite one promising, yet relatively unsupported study, and anecdotal evidence, we are not recommending long-term supplementation of B5. Get it from your food!
- …which, unless you are trying anything really dietarily wacky, or you have serious malabsorption issues, you are already doing. B5 deficiency is very rare.
- If you have some reason to suspect you might be deficient, B5 seems fairly harmless to experiment with, in the short term (like, for a few weeks).
- If you do supplement it, use a B-complex vitamin. And always try to find whole food supplements, not synthetics.
- Remember that supplementation is really just a way to get past a deficiency. Ask yourself how you got to this deficient state to begin with. Is there something in your dietary approach, or lifestyle choices that you need to address?
- Good news: if you do decide you want a complete diet and lifestyle makeover the book Clear Skin Forever covers it all. And there is a 1-year money back guarantee, so you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by checking it out!
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