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.