Panthenol safety

Written by krista niece
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Introduction
  • Introduction

    Panthenol safety

    Panthenol is an ingredient often used in cosmetics and topical medications. It is converted to vitamin B5 in the body and sometimes called "provitamin B5." Because it is found in so many products, often making up 2 per cent of the total formulation weight, its safety has been repeatedly examined. Although any chemical can be dangerous at sufficiently high exposure levels, panthenol is "safe as presently used in cosmetics," as concluded by a study in the "International Journal of Toxicology." In the body, converted to vitamin B5, it is described in "Handbook of Vitamins" as "generally safe, even at very high doses."

    Panthenol is a common ingredient in moisturising hair products. (straightening hair image by Horticulture from Fotolia.com)

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    Chemistry

    Panthenol is the alcohol form of vitamin B5 and is soluble in water. It is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture from the air. This is part of the reason it works well as a moisturiser. Even in its pure form, panthenol is a relatively non-hazardous material. The materials safety data sheet (MSDS) for panthenol describes it as a chemically unreactive white powder that is likely to cause only minor irritation if inhaled, ingested or spilt on the skin. As a 50 per cent solution in water, it is a viscous liquid with an even lower health hazard rating. In cosmetics and other products, it is typically used at a much lower concentration, as a 0.5 to 2 per cent solution.

    Panthenol absorbs moisture from the air. (Clean water and water bubbles in blue image by Suto Norbert from Fotolia.com)

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    Toxicity

    Panthenol is converted to vitamin B5 in the body when ingested or absorbed through the skin. Like panthenol, B5 is water-soluble and quickly excreted from the body, so little or no toxicity is observed even at very high doses. No adverse side effects were reported in a study, published in 1952 in the "AMA Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology," in which up to 15g a day of panthenol was orally administered to human patients--500 times the daily requirement. "Very high doses (>1g/day)" of vitamin B5 may cause gastrointestinal distress, according to "Handbook of Vitamins," but more serious side effects have not been reported.

    Massive doses of panthenol may cause mild stomach upset. (vitamin capsules image by Edsweb from Fotolia.com)

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    Skin Irritation

    Typically, panthenol-containing products soothe skin irritation rather than causes it. In fact, it is used in acne treatments and smoking-cessation products to counteract the irritation that can be caused from their active ingredients. An allergic reaction to it is rare enough to merit a scientific case study, as demonstrated by a 2006 article in "Contact Dermatitis." However, a small percentage of individuals do show sensitisation to the panthenol in some products, resulting in redness and irritation of the repeatedly exposed area.

    Panthenol in skincare products usually soothes rather than irritates. (skin image by Robert Kelly from Fotolia.com)

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    Carcinogenic and Environmental Effects

    In bacterial culture testing, a standard first-pass method for determining the carcinogenic potential of a chemical, no evidence of mutagenic activity was seen. According to a 1987 report in the "International Journal of Toxicology," since panthenol is metabolised into a necessary nutrient, the likelihood of it acting as a mutagen in humans is in any case considered negligible. Outside the body, panthenol is not known to degrade into toxic or environmentally hazardous chemicals, although at very high concentrations (comprising more than 10 per cent of a solution) panthenol can be toxic to aquatic microorganisms.

    Panthenol is toxic to algae and other microorganisms at very high concentrations. (pond pipe image by chrisharvey from Fotolia.com)

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    Conclusions

    Panthenol has been used topically and as a provitamin for more than 50 years. Panthenol-containing products can be ingested or used on the skin or directly in the eyes without adverse effects on most individuals. No long-term health concerns have been reported, and both panthenol and its metabolite, vitamin B5, are readily eliminated from the body. Minor irritation and sensitisation can be experienced by some individuals, but there is little or no evidence of major health hazards associated with panthenol.

    Panthenol is essentially safe as used in cosmetics and skincare products. (long curly hair image by Frenk_Danielle Kaufmann from Fotolia.com)

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