Lately, my bare skin has just been going kind of right, and up until recently—i.e., about two weeks ago—I wasn’t precisely sure of the culprit. I hadn’t overhauled my skincare routine or made significant changes to my diet (if anything, there’s been an uptick in wine, cheese, and sugar), so in all honestly, I was blatantly astonished as I watched my skin getting smoother, my acne scarring getting lighter, and my frequent flyer club of acne getting sparser.
Racking my brain, I made a list of every single thing that I had changed in the course of the last month, and really, the only things I could pen with confidence were my religious usage of IS Clinical’s Hydra-Cool Serum ($94) (every damn day, either morning or night and sometimes both), Klur’s Supreme Seed Delicate Purification Mask ($60) (once or twice a week), and my one and only new supplement, ZitSticka’s Skin Discipline ($44). Of course, I began cross-checking ingredients, and I noticed one factor, in particular, that had a starring presence across both topicals and my supplement—vitamin B5.
Hours of sleuth work later, I realized that there was a high likelihood that my new regular habit of applying and ingesting the vitamin could very well be the cause of my beaming complexion, but to triple-check my hypothesis, I went to the experts: Kristina Holey, a Marie Veronique collaborator and holistic skincare specialist; Eden Gilliam, an esthetician and founder of Eve Milan New York; and Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist, and co-founder/formulator of Mija.
What is vitamin B5, and can it really be used to treat or prevent acne? Keep scrolling! I’m asking all of my burning questions on the topic just below.
Vitamin B5 (also known as pantothenic acid) is a water-soluble B vitamin and is one of the eight core B vitamins our bodies absolutely need to function at their highest, healthiest level. (Technically, panthenol is a provitamin, a precursor, that our bodies naturally convert into the B5 vitamin.)
“Internally, vitamin B5 is important for breaking down and metabolizing fats, carbs, and proteins to be used for energy by the body,” explains Koszyk. “It also helps to form red blood cells and synthesize cholesterol, and it plays a role in other processes such as helping the adrenal gland produce stress-reactive hormones, keeping the nervous system in check. There has also been evidence that vitamin B5 is directly linked to liver, skin, hair, and nail health.”
Topically, Gilliam tells us vitamin B5 is a humectant and is great for binding water into the skin, keeping it plump, soft, and hydrated—all perks that are particularly beneficial in preventing premature aging.
Like most ingredients in the realm of skincare, the correlation between vitamin B5 and acne, and whether or not the former is an effective treatment for the latter, begs a lot more research. As a topical skincare ingredient, vitamin B5 doubles as a moisture-locking humectant and emollient. Plus, it’s thought to help foster and expedite wound healing due to its anti-inflammatory properties. (Acne, technically speaking, is a wound.) Thanks to its hydration-binding properties, it plays exceptionally well with other humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides, which can help promote plump, bouncy, healthy skin.
Vitamin B5’s correlation with healthy, clear skin doesn’t stop at the bottles and tinctures lining your vanity, however. If it’s digested via food or supplements, experts and studies both say vitamin B5 could help target acne since the vitamin helps to regulate the body’s sebum and oil production.
“Vitamin B5 helps regulate the skin’s barrier function, including sebum production, which can help reduce facial acne and acne-related blemishes,” says Koszyk. “Vitamin B5 is important for processing and breaking down fat. One proposed modality of acne is that excessive fat buildup is expelled through the skin in the form of sebum (an oily substance), which can clog pores and cause acne. So those with naturally oily skin or who tend to break out after eating high-fat foods may benefit from this vitamin.”
According to Koszyk, vitamin B5 is also necessary to synthesize Coenzyme A (CoA), which is important for fat metabolism. Since CoA reduces excess oil from the skin’s oil glands, those who are deficient in CoA may be more likely to experience breakouts.
The takeaway? Applying vitamin B5 will keep essential moisture locked into your skin for a dewier glow, boost your skin barrier’s function by increasing natural cell activity, expedite wound healing, and decrease inflammation-induced redness. Ingesting vitamin B5, on the other hand, may help pump the brakes on sebum and oil production.
Since vitamin B5 taken via supplements/food and vitamin B5-infused skincare are correlated with improved skin health, it can be tricky to know which route to take or what’s more or less effective than the other.
“It’s interesting because science is primarily based on the benefits of vitamin B5 through dietary modality,” Koszyk says. For instance, she points out that a 2012 study published in the Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications noted a test group in which individuals who took B5 supplements experienced a significant reduction in facial blemishes and facial lesions without negative side effects. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the sample size was quite limited, thus more research is needed. And unfortunately, there is not a lot of established research on the effectiveness of topical vitamin B5 in replicating the same benefits for skin health.
The writing on the wall? You may very well see great skin gains by adding vitamin B5 to your regular skincare routine (it certainly won’t cause harm, and it can help soothe, moisturize, and heal), but research points to supplementation as the optimal route for achieving clearer skin, as the vitamin needs to be metabolized and digested to reach its full potential.
When it comes to increasing your daily intake of vitamin B5, all three experts we consulted said to start with your diet.
“I am a big believer in making sure you have all the internal support necessary for healthy skin and a healthy body before you start adding supplements or lots of skincare products,” Gilliam clarifies. She recommends prioritizing foods that are naturally high in vitamin B5 like shiitake mushroom, sunflower seeds, egg yolks, broccoli, sweet potato, wild-caught salmon, avocado, lentils, and spearmint tea.
That said, if a health professional has diagnosed you with a condition like leaky gut syndrome, malabsorption, or anything else that inhibits proper digestive function, Holey notes you may benefit from a vitamin B5-rich diet and supplementation.
“Always check with your doctor or dermatologist before taking a supplement to get the correct dose needed for your specific acne treatment,” says Koszyk. For the most part, minimal risks are associated with vitamin B5, but according to Koszyk, high doses may cause diarrhea. She recommends starting with a low dose so that you don’t create an imbalance between other important B vitamins. For this very reason, most B5 supplements are sold as a B-complex vitamin or multivitamin. Olly’s (below) has you covered with your daily five milligrams.