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The Science Behind Using Panthenol in Hair Products

By January 27th, 20219 Comments
The Science Behind Using Panthenol in Hair Products
by Tonya Mckay of NaturallyCurly

Panthenol is a popular ingredient for both skin and hair care
products. Hair care products that use this ingredient are said to have
enhanced moisturization effects and add thickness or body to the hair.
Proctor and Gamble has built their entire Pantene Pro-V
line of products to capitalize on the properties of this ingredient.
There seems to be a bit of confusion, hoever, about the role of
panthenol in a formulation and whether or not it is beneficial or
possibly even harmful for curly hair. A closer look at the chemistry of
panthenol should provide clarification about this ingredient.

The Basic Chemistry

Panthenol is a derivative of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and is
known as a provitamin. Panthenol is what is called a chiral molecule, or
one that has a molecular structure that gives it a “handedness,” either
right-handed (dextrorotatory) or left-handed (levorotatory). These two
mirror-image enantiomers are not superimposable on one another, in the
same manner in which your two hands are mirror images of one another
rather than exact duplicates. Oftentimes, the two versions of a molecule
have differing chemical or biological properties. For cosmetic
purposes, panthenol is supplied either as a racemic mixture (50/50) of
both types of enantiomers or as the purified “D” version. This is most
relevant in skin care applications, as the D-version of panthenol is the
biologically active version.

The Properties

The multiple hydroxyl (-OH) groups on the panthenol molecule impart
most of the physical properties to it, most particularly its high
solubility in water and other solvents. Panthenol is a highly effective
humectant, a class of ingredients used in skin and hair care products to
promote moisture-retention. It has a highly hydrophilic and hygroscopic
chemical structure which attracts water from the atmosphere and binds
it to various sites along the molecule. Humectants typically possess
multiple alcohol (hydroxyl) or similarly hydrophilic sites (such as
ethers or ammonium groups), which are available for hydrogen bonding
with water molecules. Hydrogen bonding between humectants and water aids
in moisture-retention by minimizing water loss due to evaporation.

Panthenol is not only a humectant, but is also a useful moisturizer
and emollient. It spreads evenly on the surface of hair strands, forming
a smooth film on the surface of the cuticle. This film gives enhanced
coherence to the reflection of light from the surface of the hair, which
imparts significant gloss and shine. The smooth film also provides
excellent slip between adjacent strands of hair and detangling
properties. Panthenol is capable of penetrating the cuticle and entering
the hair shaft as well, where it aids in moisture retention and
provides volume.

It is important to note that sometimes penetration of the shaft by
ingredients can create a rough cuticle surface and lead to frizz, due to
swelling of the hair shaft. This may not occur for everyone and is
dependent upon several factors, including porosity of the hair and the
amount of the ingredient used in the product. It is a potential
undesirable effect, so keep this in the back of your mind when using a
product containing the ingredient.

Although there is a persistent rumor that panthenol creates waxy
buildup on hair, there is no evidence to support such an assertion.
Panthenol is not at all similar in structure to waxy materials. It is
also extremely water soluble, alcohol soluble, mildly soluble in
glycerin and is fairly easily capable of being mixed into most oils.
Additionally, panthenol has no component to its chemical structure that
would cause it to bind tightly to the surface of a hair strand. For
these reasons, it should be easily removed from hair by rinsing, washing
with mild shampoo and even conditioner cleansing. If one is
experiencing problems with build up and unpleasant hair texture when
using a product containing panthenol, the issue is more likely due to
other ingredients in the formulation.

Panthenol is readily absorbed by skin, and as the precursor of
vitamin B5, it directly impacts metabolic processes in epidermal cells.
It has been found to have many beneficial properties for epithelial
tissue, including increased hydration and improved elasticity and is
believed to promote cell regeneration. When used in shampoos and
conditioners, panthenol conceivably provides added benefit by improving
scalp health and potentially improving hair growth.

Final Thoughts

Panthenol is a naturally-occurring material that adds several
beneficial properties to hair care formulations. It is a humectant,
emollient, glossifier, detangler and moisturizing agent. It is highly
water soluble and is also easily removable with mild plant-derived oils
or via conditioner cleansing. When selecting humectant-containing
products, one must keep in mind the climate in which they live, how that
impacts hair and how they might expect a humectant to contribute to the
overall performance of their own hair within the constraints of that
climate. Also, depending upon the porosity of your hair and the type of
product being used, you may experience a roughened hair texture or some
frizz due to penetration of the hair shaft. If this should happen, it
might be best to discontinue use or to decrease use of the product.
Finally, experimentation is the best way to find out what works well on
your own hair.

Do you look for products that contain panthenol?


  • Keratin Hair Products says:

    Certainly a fantastic piece of work … It has relevant information. Thanks for posting this. Your blog is so interesting and very informative.Thanks sharing. Definitely a great piece of work Thanks for your work.

  • Brandy says:

    Thanks for this information about "Panthenol", because there are so many people talking about this that panthenol is harmful for your hair but it is really not harmful because as what you have stated here, it is a natural ingredient.

  • Anonymous says:

    iin regards to your fear of 'vampire humectants' (funny!)) i was also a little cautious about them until i learned ( via the natural haven's website) that if your humectants are combined with sufficient water they actually do NOT draw moisture from your hair becuz they are satisfied to just hold onto the water they are orginally supplied with and do not let it go which is what helps keep your hair moisturized ( surrounded with humecteant bonded water ) for a longer period of time. just make sure there is enough water in your homemade mixes or storebought products and you should be fine! nia

  • Annie L. says:

    Great article! Easy-read and lots of information, one of my favorites so far!

    I shy away from panthenol and all humectants now because my hair is highly porous. And though I live in NYC which stays pretty humid throughout it's four seasons – between A/C use in summer, and the inferno heat my apartment supplies in the winter and the same in every store, restaurant, office and apartment in the city – the benefits of humectants are typically lost on me as these factors suck the moisture out of the air. And going back and forth between dry indoor environments and the humid outdoors gives my hair and the humectant schizophrenia eventually causing the humectants to turn into a vampire and suck out all the moisture in my hair :/

    Also, I've finally realized that my natural hair has most of the properties that humectants provide, slip, gloss, easy detangling. I just need to keep feeding my high porosity hair lots of water and sealing it in and its perfect. It took a LONG time and a lot of failed experiments (and MONEY!) to realize I had everything I needed, but this article had great information and brought it home to me even more.

  • Anonymous says:

    I always wonder what pantene was talking about panthenol I was scared to try products with because I did not know what it was or what it would do to my hair break it off etc. Thank you for this article your articles are so informative.

    Megan Montgomery

  • Derika says:

    I have never looked for products with panthenol because I didn't know what it was until I read this article lol. Thanks for enlightening me on this ingredient. I will start to look for it in my products now!

  • Dee says:

    I don't look for products that have panthenol in there. Pardon my ignorance (lack of knowledge) at the time, but I thought it to be an alcohol. While I've seen it in products as an ingredient, I looked to see if it was further down on the list versus being listed as one of the top 5 – 6 top ingredients. I was told that the first few/several ingredients make up more of the product than those listed further down. So, having seen it, though I don't like products with alcohol, I'll get it anyway. I did today say to myself "oh no" when I gota new product by Bronner Brothers, a moisturizer with castor oil and aloe vera in them. Not seeing lanolin, sulfate, petrolam, or any "alcohols" I purchased it, but when I got home I considered returning the product before it was used because of the "alcohol" pathenol. This information persuaded me to keep it and try it. What a coincidence to have that experience earlier and come across this article! Thanks!

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes! I love panthenol and I have even purchased a bottle of it to mix it up with my oils and conditioners that don't contain any in it.

  • Anonymous says:

    My products that do contain panthenol leave my hair feeling very soft & moisturizing so I do tend to look for this ingredient. This article was very helpful, thank you.

    Brooke B.

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