Zinc is one of the many essential nutrients that your body needs. It primarily protects your immune system by fighting off harmful cells.
While zinc is thought to help keep you healthy by reducing illnesses, it’s been studied for other medical concerns, too. This includes acne. Zinc is actually one of the forms of acne treatment.
Keep reading to learn more about this acne-fighting ingredient, including who may benefit from supplementation and topical products that you can try at home.
Zinc can help fight viruses and bacteria. Although most people get the zinc they need through their diet, some people may find temporary supplementation beneficial. For example, zinc supplements are often marketed as a way to prevent colds or shorten illnesses.
Zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties. This may help relieve some of the redness and irritation associated with moderate-to-severe acne. It may even help reduce the appearance of acne scars.
Zinc has also been used for other inflammatory skin conditions, including:
The form of zinc you take for acne treatment depends on many factors. Overall, there’s been conflicting research on the best form of zinc for acne.
One reported that oral zinc was effective for inflammatory and bacterial forms of acne. An earlier study found oral zinc was effective for people with mild acne, too. In either case, oral supplementation came with side effects like nausea and vomiting.
Topical application carries less side effects, but it isn’t considered to be as effective as oral supplementation. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely ineffective.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, topical zinc may help clear acne-causing bacteria from the skin and reduce oil production.
The form you use ultimately depends on the severity of your acne, your skin type, and your current dietary habits. Your doctor or dermatologist can help determine the right type of zinc for you.
If you want to add zinc to your acne-fighting routine, you need to select the form best suited for your needs.
For example, dietary zinc and oral supplementation may be more effective for severe acne. Over-the-counter (OTC) acne medications are usually unable to treat cysts and nodules.
If your acne is more mild, topical zinc may be all that’s needed to help clear your breakout. Mild acne includes blackheads, whiteheads, papules, and pustules.
It may take up to three months of topical application before you see visible results. If you haven’t noticed any changes by this time, talk to your doctor about whether zinc can help your acne from the inside out. They may be able to recommend certain dietary changes or oral supplements.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the daily recommended amount of zinc depends on your age and sex.
For girls and women:
- ages 9 to 13: 8 milligrams (mg)
- ages 14 to 18: 9 mg
- ages 14 to 18 and pregnant: 12 mg
- ages 14 to 18 and breastfeeding: 13 mg
- ages 18 and up: 8 mg
- ages 18 and up and pregnant: 11 mg
- ages 18 and up and breastfeeding: 12 mg
For boys and men:
- ages 9 to 13: 8 mg
- ages 14 to 18: 11 mg
- ages 18 and up: 11 mg
Before considering a dietary supplement for your acne, keep a food log and determine whether you’re getting enough zinc in your diet. As with other nutrients, your body can absorb zinc more efficiently from the foods you eat than from a supplement.
The following foods are rich in zinc:
- dairy products
- fortified cereals
- red meat
- whole grains
Possible side effects and risks
Although zinc is nutritionally and physiologically important, it’s also possible to get too much.
For teens, the maximum daily amount is 34 mg. For adults, this goes up to 40 mg.
If you eat or otherwise ingest too much zinc, you may experience:
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- stomach upset
Too much zinc may even interfere with healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Your doctor may talk to you about monitoring your zinc levels if you take diuretics, develop frequent infections, or have rheumatoid arthritis.
Your doctor may recommend zinc supplements, but only if you don’t get enough from your diet. For example, certain conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, could limit zinc absorption from foods.
You should only take zinc or other supplements under your doctor’s supervision. Supplementation won’t be helpful if you aren’t deficient, and getting more zinc than you need can lead to unpleasant side effects.
Zinc is available OTC — on its own or combined with other minerals, such as calcium. It’s also in some multivitamins.
Zinc may be labeled as one of the following:
- zinc acetate
- zinc gluconate
- zinc sulfate
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, there isn’t one form that’s known to be better than the others. The key is to make sure you’re not taking multiple products with more than one type of zinc — this could lead to an overdose.
Possible side effects and risks
Overdosing on zinc supplements can lead to gastrointestinal effects very much like those from too much dietary zinc. Too much zinc could also put you at risk for neurological effects such as weakness and numbness in your extremities.
Talk to your doctor before adding zinc supplements to your routine. Zinc supplements can interact with some prescription medications, including antibiotics and those used for autoimmune diseases.
If your acne is mild and you’re getting enough dietary zinc, you may consider topical products. Topical zinc isn’t effective for severe acne nodules and cysts.
All skin products have the potential to cause side effects, even if you don’t have sensitive skin. Always do a patch test to assess your risk for allergic reaction.
- Select a small area of skin away from your face, such as the inside of your arm.
- Apply a small amount of product and wait 24 hours.
- You can apply to your face if no side effects occur. But if you develop redness, a rash, or hives, discontinue using the product.
You should always follow the instructions on the product label. Some products need to be applied less frequently than others, to start, or in the evening only.
Popular zinc products include:
- Formula 10.0.06 One Smooth Operator Pore Clearing Face Scrub
- Dermalogica Medibac Sebum Clearing Masque
- DermaZinc Cream
Possible side effects and risks
Like any skincare product, topical zinc may cause redness or irritation. Taking the patch test can minimize your risk of side effects. Stop using topical zinc if you develop a rash or hives after use.
You may be more prone to side effects from topical zinc if you have sensitive skin. Using multiple acne-fighting products at once can also increase your risk.
Zinc is an essential mineral that helps the body inside and out. It can even help maintain the health of your largest organ: your skin. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, zinc is especially beneficial for inflammatory acne and related scarring.
Talk to your dermatologist about the best form for you. They can determine whether you’re getting enough zinc through your diet and if supplementation is safe for you.