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Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is found in anti-acne ranges by brands such as Skin B5, who use it in oral supplements as well as skincare products. Here’s the science behind it, and a review by my sister on how it worked for her.
Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that’s found in a wide variety of foods. It’s structurally related to panthenol, the key ingredient and namesake of Pantene hair products.
How does Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) work against acne?
The theory behind how large doses of vitamin B5 works for acne comes from a 1997 paper by Dr Lit-Hung Leung, in a rather non-mainstream journal .In short, the theory is:
- Pantothenic acid is used by the body to make Coenzyme A
- Coenzyme A is required for making hormones and metabolising fats
- If you don’t have enough pantothenic acid, you won’t have enough coenzyme A. In that situation, your body will preferentially make hormones leaving your fats unmetabolised
- The fats will then leak out through your face as sebum
- Excess sebum leads to acne
There’s very little evidence for this theory, and there are a lot of dodgy claims and bizarre leaps in the paper. For example, he writes:
“When lipids are deposited in the sebaceous glands and excreted as sebum secretion, it does suggest some abnormality is going on and hint that some form of fat metabolism may be at fault. These fatty materials, after all, are energy rich compounds. Under normal circumstances, they should be stored away in fat depots.”
Except that sebum does have a functional role, as a natural lubricant and moisturiser for skin and hair. Leung also bases his recommended dosage of B5 on Linus Pauling’s discredited theories on how most cancers can be cured by taking a metric truckload of vitamin C.
There are some newer potential explanations for how B5 works to improve acne, that are a lot more plausible. B5 has been found to be important for the growth and development of skin cells (keratinocytes), so increasing the amount of B5 available could help this process. Additionally, an enzyme involved in coenzyme A metabolism is also involved in inflammatory pathways, and since acne is an inflammatory disease, this could be a potential link.
Are there any studies showing that Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) works against acne?
Regardless of the way in which it works, a more important question is: does it work? There are a couple of clinical trials that have been done using vitamin B5.
- The best one was a randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial on 41 people with acne found that taking 2.2 g of pantothenic acid a day for 12 weeks improved acne for 43% of people vs 14% for the placebo group. However, there’s the caveat that this trial was sponsored by a marketing company that sells a B5 supplement, and the corresponding author is from a company that conducts research for supplement companies, so there’s a conflict of interest.
- Another study had 10 subjects taking 2.2 g of pantothenic acid a day for 8 weeks; however, this study also had no control group, the pantothenic acid supplements contained 8 other nutrients, and the same conflicts of interest are there.
- There’s also been a study on the application of creams containing panthenol. 1-5% panthenol in creams was found to improve the hydration of skin and its resilience to washing.
In terms of safety, pantothenic acid isn’t known to be toxic for humans, and the only side effect from overconsumption seems to be diarrhea.
Review of Skin B5’s Vitamin B5 Acne Control Range
So there are plausible mechanisms of action, there’s (potentially biased) evidence that it can work – why not try it? Because I don’t have much acne! So I gave it to my sister, who does have some acne. Here’s her review:
Skin B5 Skin Purifying Mask: This is a pale beige paste that’s smooth and spreadable like Nutella, with no lumps – it’s really nice to apply and feels soothing. I liked that it works quickly (5 minutes) and is easy to wash off.
Ingredients: Purified Water, Kaolin, Bentonite, Glycerin, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Carbomer,Ceteareth-20, Cetyl Alcohol, Glycerol Mono Stearate, Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Great Barrier Reef Salt (Sodium Chloride), Panthenol, Eucalyptus Oil, Sodiumhydroxy Methyl Glycinate, Matricaria Extract, Horsetail Extract, Horse Chestnut Extract, Rosemary Extract, Sage Extract, Gingko Extract, Menthol, Grapefruit Extract, Chamomile Extract, Chamomile Oil, Propylene Glycol, Mental Piperita Oil.
Skin B5 Acne Control Cleanser: This comes in a foaming pump bottle. It’s gentle and didn’t make my skin feel dry afterwards, unlike a lot of other cleansers I’ve tried. The fact that it foams by itself is pretty convenient!
Ingredients: Water, Caprylic Glucoside (and) Cocamidopropyl Betaine (and) Sodium Lauramphoacetate, PEG-150 Distearate, Glycerin, Salicylic Acid, d-Panthenol, Polysorbate 20, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Methyl Isothiazolinone (and) Methylchloro Isothiazolinone, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Green Tea Extract, Aloe Vera, Bergamot Calabrian Oil.
Skin B5 Acne Control Moisturiser: It’s light and not oily, but not incredibly moisturising either. One squidge is enough to cover my whole face and is a good amount over sunscreen, but it can feel a bit thin by itself so I ended up using 1.5 squidges (though the instructions tell you to use 1 pump only).
Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride, Acrylic Polymer, Cetyl Stearyl Alcohol, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Glyceryl Stearate, Sodium Hydroxymethyl Glycinate, Triethanolamine, Polysorbate 20, Allantoin, Disodium EDTA, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, d-Panthenol, Jojoba Oil, Tocopherol Acetate, Green Tea Extract, Aloe Vera, Bergamot Calabrian Oil.
Skin B5 Acne Control Extra Strength Tablets: These tablets were pleasantly tasteless, but a bit biggish if you’re not used to taking large pills. I found it a bit annoying to take 3 times a day – I forgot to take them a couple of times. I’m not sure I’d be able to keep up this regimen for long.
Calcium Pantothenate 500 mg (equiv. to 450mg pantothenic acid (vit. B5))
Zinc Gluconate 34.87 mg (equiv. to 5 mg zinc)
Copper Gluconate 1.79 mg (equiv. to 250 mcg copper)
Silicon Dioxide 10.7 mg (equiv. to 5mg silicon)
Retinyl Acetate 132 mcg (Vitamin A 115 mcg RE)
Nicotinamide (vit. B3) 125mg
Folic Acid 80mcg
Overall: After about 2 months of this regimen (30 days of taking the pills and using the skincare products, and 1 month with just the skincare products), my skin seems less spotty, but given it’s meant to take at least 6 weeks to have an effect, it could be coinciding with my period.
These products were provided for review, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.