If you looked around your home, you’d likely run across panthenol in several ingredients lists of products you own. Panthenol appears in food, supplements, and hygienic products of a wide variety. It has a similar chemical structure to alcohol. It’s used to help hydrate and smooth your skin and hair from the inside in its ingestible form and from the outside in its topical form.

But is it safe for you and your family when it appears in personal care products? Read on to find out why panthenol is in so many cosmetics and read the facts to understand how it affects your body.

Panthenol is a chemical substance made from pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B-5. It occurs organically and can also be produced from both plant and animal sources. It’s used as an additive in various cosmetic products around the globe.

You very likely have pantothenic acid in your system right now, since it occurs in so many common food sources. And you’ve likely used a cosmetic or personal care product with panthenol within the last 24 hours.

Panthenol takes the form of either a white powder or a transparent oil at room temperature. You will sometimes see panthenol listed under one of its other names on ingredients list, including:

  • dexpanthenol
  • D-pantothenyl alcohol
  • butanamide
  • alcohol analog of pantothenic acid
  • provitamin B-5

When absorbed into the body, panthenol becomes vitamin B-5.

In topical cosmetics, product manufacturers often use panthenol as a moisturizer. But it’s also included in many cosmetics as a softening, soothing, and anti-irritant agent. It also helps your skin build up a barrier against irritation and water loss.

Skin products

Vitamin B-5 is essential for a healthy diet, skin, and hair. It makes sense that panthenol, its derivative, is a staple of many skin care products, such as lotions and cleansers. It’s also found in cosmetics as various as lipstick, foundation, or even mascara. Panthenol also appears in creams made to treat insect bites, poison ivy, and even diaper rash.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information lists panthenol as a skin protectant with anti-inflammatory properties. It can help improve skin’s hydration, elasticity, and smooth appearance. It also soothes:

  • red skin
  • inflammation
  • little cuts or sores like bug bites or shaving irritation

Panthenol helps with wound healing, as well as other skin irritations like eczema.

Hair products

Hair care products include panthenol because of its ability to improve your hair’s:

  • shine
  • softness
  • strength

It can also help protect your hair from styling or environmental damage by locking in moisture.

One study found that panthenol may help slow down and hide the look of thinning hair. The study tested it with other active ingredients as a leave-in treatment.

Nail products

Your nails are made from keratin proteins, just like your hair. So, it follows that panthenol can strengthen your finger- and toenails. You might find it in your shine and strengthening nail treatments, or in hand creams and cuticle oils.

One study found that applying panthenol to the nail can help hydrate the nail and prevent breakage.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Commission on Cosmetic Ingredients have approved panthenol for use in cosmetics. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) classifies panthenol as “possibly safe” for general topical applications and nasal sprays. And it’s listed as “likely safe” for topical use by children.

The FDA currently lists panthenol in its widely known “Generally Regarded as Safe” database for when it’s ingested as a food ingredient, or as a supplement. But remember that ingesting panthenol or panothenic acid in food or as a supplement is very different than using it on your skin or hair.

Although it’s widely considered beneficial as a supplement, it’s only classified as “likely safe” for topical use on the skin, hair, and nails. That means there’s no significant evidence that panthenol causes harm, and plenty of anecdotal evidence that it’s helpful for many skin concerns. But there isn’t enough evidence to be sure, so the FDA suggests that more research is needed.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), another reputable organization that protects consumers, assembled a panel of experts in 2017 to assess panthenol’s topical safety in light of recent research.

This review board found no significant evidence that cosmetic products containing panthenol irritate or otherwise harm the skin, except in case of allergy. Bad reactions to topical panthenol are extremely rare. But when side effects do occur, they usually take the form of contact dermatitis or gastrointestinal distress.

It’s still important to remember that, from the perspective of the FDA, there isn’t sufficient evidence to officially give panthenol a “safe” designation. But the CIR notes that the amount of panthenol in cosmetics shouldn’t pose harm when absorbed into the body, since much higher levels of vitamin B-5 already occur in our food. So, there’s no significant evidence that topical panthenol will cause systemic problems.

It’s hard to prove anything is unequivocally safe even with extensive testing. Even then, any time you decide whether or not to use a product, you should weigh the benefits against the risk for side effects.

That said, most of the research now available on panthenol suggests that using a concentration 5 percent and under in a topical skin, hair, or nail product presents a very low risk to consumers. And the instance of negative side effects, like contact dermatitis, is very low.

In the end, if you’re a healthy adult who uses or is considering using a product with panthenol, you likely have nothing to worry about.