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You are here: Anti-Aging Skin Treatments > Topical Actives >

Panthenol for skin hydration, healing, revitalization and more

Panthenol is a natural chemical compound closely related to vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). In fact, panthenol is only one metabolic step away from vitamin B5 and is relatively easily converted to it in the body. Due to its chemical properties, panthenol is much better that vitamin B5 in penetrating the skin and thus appears to be superior in most topical uses. Panthenol has two main forms D and L, each being a mirror image of the other. D-panthenol (aka dexpanthenol) is biologically active while L-panthenol is at best biologically inert and might even partly counteract the biological effectiveness of D-panthenol.

Panthenol has been reported to produce a number of skin benefits. In partiular, D-panthenol promotes wound healing, helps restore damaged epithelium, reduces itching and inflammation, improves skin hydration, reduces transepidermal water less, improves skin roughness, and more. It is not entirely clear how panthenol achieves all these effects. Most likely, much of it is due to conversion of panthenol to vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid), a component of coenzyme A, which has multiple metabolic functions in the body: aid in cellular energy production; metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates; synthesis of fatty acids, steroids, glucose, acetylcholine and so forth. On the other hand, while only D-panthenol yields biologically active vitamin B5 and promotes wound healing, both D and L-panthenol appear to have moisturizing effects. More research is needed to determine which skin effects of panthenol occurs via boosting the skin levels of vitamin B5 and which through other mechanisms.

Repair of skin damage, wound healing, reversal of irritation and inflammation

D-panthenol has a good clinical track record in helping to heal a wide variety of skin damage, often as a part of a combined therapy. It appears to speed up healing of wounds and burns as well as aid in skin transplantation and scar treatment. The skin healed with the aid of D-panthenol tends to be softer, more elastic and more regular. This may be due to the demonstrated ability of D-panthenol to stimulate the growth of key skin cells (particularly dermal fibroblasts) and possibly remodel this skin matrix.

D-panthenol also improves superficial skin damage (seen in dry, rough, chafed skin) by helping regenerate/strengthen the epidermis and stratum corneum (outer skin layers) and thus improving the skin's protective barrier. D-panthenol was also shown to reduce irritation/inflammation as well as improve erythema (redness), pruritis (itchiness) and other symptoms.

Skin hydration and moisturizing

Panthenol (apparently both D and L) has a well demonstrated hydrating and moisturizing effect on the skin. It restores hydration to dry skin as well as somewhat protects normal skin from drying effects of harsh detergents. Purely moisturizing effects of panthenol appear to be more immediate both D and L panthenol chemically attract water. On the other hand, longer-term hydrating and protective effects tend to build over time, full effect usually taking about 2-4 weeks of daily use. The most likely reason is that unlike purely hygroscopic moisturizers (e.g. sodium PCA), D-panthenol also works by strengthening, revitalizing and leak-proofing the skin's protective outer layers (epidermis and stratum corneum) thus reducing water loss.

Wrinkles, fine lines, skin rejuvenation

Panthenol is most commonly used for healing, protecting and moisturizing the skin. There hasn't been much research into its anti-aging capacity. However, from general standpoint, in may help in many aspects of skin rejuvenation too, including prevention or even reversal of wrinkles.

While the most common cause of skin aging is UV damage, other factors also play a role, particularly inflammation, excessive dryness, irritation by chlorine and harsh detergents and so forth. Periodic treatment with panthenol may mitigate many of these factors by building up skin barrier and reducing inflammation. Therefore, at a minimum, panthenol is likely to have some preventive effect against the signs of skin again.

However, it may go even further. Panthenol has been shown to increase the proliferation of fibroblasts in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin where wrinkles form. Activation of fibroblasts is typically associated not just with an increase in their number but also with increased synthesis of all components of skin matrix, such as collagen, elastin and glycans as well as overall skin remodeling. Taken together, these effects tend to improve areas with damaged or irregular skin matrix, such as wrinkles and fine lines.

Proper independent clinical studies are needed to prove that panthenol can indeed reduce wrinkles. Notably, some skin care companies are not waiting for such studies (or perhaps have their own in-house research data) and are already including panthenol in anti-wrinkle formulations.

Usage practices

Most studies of topical effects of panthenol have been short-term, typically 3-4 weeks or so. In most studies, D-panthenol was used at concentrations ranging from 0.5% to 5%. Significant positive effects were noticeable starting at 1% and increasing concentration further didn't always produce significant further improvement. Generally, topical panthenol formulations were well tolerated with minimal risk of skin irritation or sensitization.

Caution: The effects of long-term use of topical panthenol are unknown. Panthenol is known to stimulate the proliferation of dermal fibroblasts. Over the short term, this is beneficial and facilitates skin healing and revitalization. However, excessive cell proliferation over the long run may lead to the so-called cell senescence, a pro-aging, metabolically abnormal state when cells can no longer divide (see our article about cellular senescence and Hayflick limit). Therefore, until continuous, long-term use of panthenol is better researched, it is better to use it only on a short-term basis: e.g. periodically, 2-4 weeks at a time.

The most common commercial use of panthenol is in hair and nail care products. Skin care products with panthenol are available primarily in the moisturizer category and not in a great variety. When looking for a commercial skin care product with panthenol, make sure it contains D-panthenol (aka dexpanthenol). If you cannot find a D-panthenol product with suitable concentration, texture and/or composition, you can use a DIY approach. D-panthenol can be easily and cheaply incorporated into do-it-yourself skin care. In fact, it is easy to enhance the majority of common skin care formulations with D-panthenol via DIY. For practical directions on making your own skincare formulations, including those with panthenol, see DIY Anti-Aging Skin Care Infopack.


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