Firstly, vitamin B5 is a fairly ordinary vitamin. It is one of the 24 that are considered essential for our health and it is involved with the digestion of fats, wound healing, and the utilisation of energy.
Nothing particularly noteworthy, but the one place where vitamin B5 has gained fame is in the acne community. Acne patients claim that taking a B5 supplement will not only improve your acne, but could clear it completely. People believe that B5 deficiency could be the sole cause behind acne in the first place.
The hype behind B5 is so big that people are recommending it left, right and centre…
If you have come across those reports, then do NOT be taken in by them. Vitamin B5 can have minor benefits for your skin, but it is nowhere near the miracle that is suggested. You don’t have to waste your time taking B5 supplements, and you don’t have to waste your money either.
In fact you don’t even need to worry about vitamin B5 at all.
The origin of the B5 hype machine
The B5 hype machine kicked off in 1997, when a scientist called Dr Lit-Hung Leung published a famous paper. In it he hypothesised that vitamin B5 deficiency was the biggest reason behind acne.
His reasoning was as follows: vitamin B5 is very important for the digestion of dietary fats. B5 converts into coenzyme-1 which both digests your fats and allows energy to be extracted from them. If you have a deficiency in vitamin B5 then your ability to digest fats will be impaired, and your body will have to find alternative ways to deal with them.
Therefore, your body will resort to pushing the fats out of your skin, in the form of sebum production. Your face gets a lot oilier and your skin pores get blocked. Nobody disputes that high sebum production is behind acne, so if this is true then B5 deficiency is a massive cause of acne.
This theory is the backbone of the vitamin B5 craze. It is the reason why so many people went crazy for the treatment, and it is the reason why many people will tell you to use it.
However, while it does sound plausible at first, there are some gaping holes in the reasoning. The whole hype machine is based upon faulty science in the first place:
- Vitamin B5 deficiency is extremely rare. There’s masses of fuss about curing deficiencies for common nutrients. There’s focus on curing zinc deficiency, people are fussed about getting more vitamin D, and it’s come to our attention that magnesium deficiency is an epidemic. But you’ll never hear about vitamin B5 deficiency, for the simple reason that it hardly ever happens. Vitamin B5 is commonly referred to as pantothenic acid, which is derived from the Greek word “pantothen”. That translates as “everywhere” and it is called that because vitamin B5 is found in almost every food. You can get good amounts from steak, from eggs, from vegetables, from bread, from fruits, from almost any food you can think of. For that reason vitamin B5 deficiency is almost unheard of. This has big implications for the Doctor’s theory; if B5 deficiency is the main cause of acne then why is acne so common, despite deficiency being extremely rare?
- No evidence for the sebum theory – the key part of the theory, that B5 deficiency increases sebum production, is not backed up by evidence. There’s very little data at all to suggest that this is the case. A theory is all it remains.
- Carbohydrates, not fats, control sebum production – the B5 theory is based on the idea that an excess of fat in your body will lead to higher sebum production. However the truth is that carbohydrates, not fat, are the biggest determiner of sebum production. Eating too many carbohydrates will lead to elevated insulin levels, and insulin is notorious for stimulating your sebaceous glands. Fat, on the other hand, has only indirect links to sebum production. Certain types of fat, the very bad types (like the dreaded trans-fat), can affect your sebum production but total fat intake is not a factor. Many decades ago it was generally believed that eating fat increases sebum production. It makes sense at first; sebum is entirely composed of fatty acids, hence why it is so oily. But the idea is too simplistic and has been discredited. The B5 deficiency theory is based on the whole “too much fat causes acne” theory; therefore it is based on flimsy science in the first place.
So the idea behind B5 being the glorious solution to all your acne problems is not based on proper science. You don’t need to worry about it at all. However, is there any evidence that vitamin B5 can help your skin in other ways?
Anecdotal evidence for vitamin B5
First you have to consider the numerous online testimonials. Many people report a reduction in acne when taking a very high dose of vitamin B5…
…but there are plenty of people who report no benefit at all. Some people report minor benefits, some people report reduced whiteheads but increased pimples, some people report reduced oil, and so on.
The stories about B5 are endless and extremely conflicting, and that is a prime reason why you should never rely on online testimonials.
Many people reporting on the internet will be accurate, but others are highly inaccurate. The reporters do not lie, but many people are very hopeful for results and imagine that things are better than they actually are.
There’s also the problem of other factors; was it really the B5 that did it, or did some other dietary factor do the trick, a factor that they didn’t take into account? If a product’s score is overwhelmingly positive then you can use that as an indicator but don’t rely on it alone.
In the case of B5, the scores are fairly positive but not great; the review average on acne.org is about 3.7. That is not high enough to use as an endorsement, especially when you consider the fact that supplement companies are often behind many of the positive reviews.
Scientific evidence for vitamin B5
If you get into a conversation with someone about B5 curing acne, they may point you towards this study. It shows that acne patients who were given high doses of B5 for 8 weeks experienced a huge 50% reduction in acne.
This seems like the smoking gun as far as B5 and acne is concerned, but there’s a big problem with it: it was sponsored by a vitamin supplement company. The study was also conducted extremely badly; there was no control group for comparison. In other words, the study is useless. I’ll leave you with your own common sense to work out why.
It’s possible of course that vitamin B5 helps your skin in a way that we don’t know about. While online testimonials cannot be trusted it’s still worth noting that plenty praise it. Vitamin B5 could potentially help your skin for the following reasons:
- This study found that vitamin B5 reduces insulin resistance. Supplementing with B5 caused insulin to be more effective and thus the body needed to produce less of it. Less insulin means less oily skin and less acne.
- This study found that vitamin B5 promotes wound healing. In fact vitamin B5 is widely known for its wound healing properties. If there’s anything that explains the benefits people have seen, then this is it.
However, these effects are only minor and not enough to even make it worth considering. More importantly, almost every single nutrient there is can affect your skin in minor ways. Vitamin B2 can decrease your stress levels slightly, selenium has antioxidant functioning, and vitamin K2 can improve sleep quality.
Almost every single nutrient can affect your acne in an indirect way but that doesn’t mean you should supplement with them all. You would never have the time or money to do so and besides, it would be pointless.
There is hope for vitamin B5
There is actually one study that does show results with B5 supplementation. In this study acne patients were given 2.2 grams of vitamin B5 for 12 weeks, and by the end, the researchers noted that acne had been substantially reduced. Therefore there may well be some value to this nutrient after all…
However I still don’t recommend that you use it. Firstly, the dose they used was far too high; 2.2 grams is over 200 times the recommended daily allowance. Taking that much would be far too costly.
Secondly, the study doesn’t show that vitamin B5 is important in the grand scheme of things. Nutrients such as zinc are vital for your acne effort; deficiency in them is extremely common and that can cause unavoidable problems for your skin. Supplementing with B5 on the other hand, is not necessary and should be considered more as an extra acne fighting weapon.
It’s possible that you’ll get great results if you use it, but it’s completely unimportant. You could also get great results by taking high doses of vitamin C, antioxidants or other b-vitamins. There are so many other ways to fight acne that you’ll see results without needing to bother with B5.
Conclusion – should you be concerned about vitamin B5?
The answer is: only if you are extremely desperate. It’s possible that vitamin B5 can help your skin, but the required dose is so high and the evidence is so thin that it’s not worth it. Vitamin B5 might give you an extra boost, but unlike other nutrients such as vitamin D and zinc, it is not a vital part of your strategy.
There’s also not much information about how it could actually cure your acne. We know that zinc is useful for constraining the immune system, we know that vitamin A decreases sebum production but with vitamin B5 we are in the dark.
The main theory upon which it is based was not based on proper science in the first place. My recommendation is that you don’t worry about vitamin B5 one bit. Even if it is important in ways we don’t know about you still don’t have to worry about it; deficiency is almost unheard of and almost any diet will provide you with enough. Just relax and eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, potatoes, meat and fish, and you will easily get enough.
There is of course the possibility that vitamin B5 has unknown magical effects which can cure your acne, but again, that could apply to every single nutrient. What are you going to do, supplement with all of them?
That’s another rule that you need to remember when treating acne: just because something has benefits doesn’t mean you need to take it. For example, you can get enough antioxidants by eating a diet rich in them, so there’s no need to supplement as well. You can easily clear your skin without following every strategy under the sun.
Don’t become a supplement company cash cow! There’s definitely no need to follow every strategy that might have benefits, as is the case with vitamin B5. Try it if you want, but other nutrients would be a far better choice.
Final words: don’t worry about vitamin B5, it’s not important for your acne and you’re almost certainly getting enough already.
Thanks for reading!