- Zinc for acne is an effective treatment that may be used topically or taken in supplement form.
- Zinc is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, regulates sebum production and cell turnover, and more.
- Oral zinc supplements are considered more effective than topical zinc.
- Zinc treatments work best for mild to moderate acne.
Zinc, an essential nutrient found in foods and supplements, can be used to treat acne. People treating acne with zinc often take supplements or use topical zinc formulations.
This important mineral boosts the immune system, blocks harmful bacteria, protects the body from illness and helps maintain a state of homeostasis, or balance, within the body. Zinc also fights inflammation and is a common natural treatment for acne.
Is Zinc Good for Acne?
As an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial nutrient, zinc is often used to fight acne. For people with moderate to severe acne, zinc can help with inflammation and pustules.
Zinc also helps with other inflammation-related skin issues such as rosacea, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and melasma.
Most of the time, we get the amount of zinc we need from the foods we eat. However, sometimes taking a zinc supplement temporarily can help clear mild to moderate acne breakouts.
Some scientific evidence shows that zinc appears to fight inflammatory acne pustules. Other research suggests that zinc’s effect on acne is unclear, although the patients who took low-dose zinc supplements experienced better results than those who took a placebo.
In another study on zinc for acne, effervescent zinc formulations and zinc gluconate appear to have better results than other types of zinc. Yet more research shows that methionine-bound zinc significantly reduces acne pustules.
Zinc is often used to treat:
- Acne vulgaris
- Cystic acne
- Seborrheic dermatitis
How does it work?
Zinc has a number of mechanisms that work against acne. It can be taken orally in supplement form or used topically to treat acne lesions and prevent future breakouts.
First, zinc is anti-inflammatory; its antioxidant properties help it to reduce inflammation.
Zinc is also antibacterial. It has been shown to kill at least two forms of bacteria that cause acne: Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) and Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).
Since zinc is a mineral and not an antibiotic medication, acne-causing bacteria can’t become resistant to it. It also helps to keep bacteria from multiplying on the skin. Recent studies have found that the bacteria that cause acne have become resistant to conventional antibiotic acne medications like erythromycin.
Zinc inhibits the activation of keratinocytes, the cells that produce keratin. Keratin is a binding protein in skin cells and hair. Overproduction of keratin results in acne and blocked pores, so regulating its production naturally helps reduce acne.
In addition, zinc helps to regulate the production of sebum, the skin’s natural oil. It also plays an important role in the life cycle of cells.
A zinc deficiency can mean that cell turnover isn’t happening properly. Improper cell turnover on the face leads to blocked pores and acne, so using or taking zinc can help to regulate this issue.
Oral zinc supplements plays a hand in vitamin A’s conversion into retinol, which is also an antibacterial, acne-fighting nutrient. It can make topical retinol for acne more effective. In addition to treating and preventing current breakouts, retinol also helps to heal papules, pustules and scars caused by acne.
Like vitamin A, oral zinc supplements also make vitamin E more effective.
Does Zinc Work for Acne Scars?
Zinc could reduce the appearance of scarring from acne. In part, this is due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Zinc also helps with cell turnover, which may aid in healing or reducing scars.
Best Type of Zinc for Acne
The best type of zinc for acne depends on multiple variables, such as your skin type and how severe your acne is.
Research has been inconclusive so far, but oral zinc is considered to be a more effective treatment than topical zinc. Some studies indicate that oral zinc supplements are most effective for treating mild acne, inflammation and bacteria.
Using topical zinc for acne may treat inflammation, regulate the overproduction of sebum and kill bacteria on the skin.
Zinc is available over the counter. Common types of zinc used in acne treatments include:
- Zinc acetate, a zinc salt that may be taken orally as a supplement or added to food and drink.
- Zinc gluconate, an oral zinc tablet often used to fight bacteria.
- Zinc methionine, a compound made up of zinc and methionine, an amino acid that makes zinc more bioavailable.
- Zinc oxide, a powdered zinc that is used topically.
- Zinc picolinate, a highly bioavailable zinc salt.
- Zinc sulfate, a compound often recommended to correct zinc deficiency.
There is no indication that any type of zinc is superior to the others. Be sure not to combine types, though, because you could overdose.
How to Use Zinc for Acne
You may use topical zinc or take oral zinc supplements as recommended. Both topical and oral zinc treatments are available over the counter. Each available form of zinc varies in its formulation and method of consumption. Different types of zinc and absorbed and processed in different ways by the body.
Before you begin zinc treatments for acne, your dermatologist or doctor will likely evaluate your diet to determine whether you’re getting enough zinc from foods.
Topical zinc works best for mild to moderate acne. If you have cystic acne or nodules, topical zinc isn’t the best choice for you.
People who are getting plenty of zinc in their diets may also benefit from topical zinc rather than oral supplements. Zinc topical formulations are readily available over the counter in gel, ointment and cream formulas.
Topical zinc may be used in conjunction with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). It may also be used in a treatment plan alongside other acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, retinol or resorcinol. Only combine acne treatments under your dermatologist’s supervision.
Some topical zinc products should be applied more often than others. Check the label before use. Your dermatologist may also recommend that you start slowly and less frequently than the label recommendations, so don’t hesitate to ask them.
Always test new topical products on a small patch of your skin before applying them to a large area of skin. Discontinue use and talk with your dermatologist if you experience skin irritation or signs of an allergic reaction.
Oral zinc supplements come in tablet, pill and chewable forms. Oral zinc comes by itself, in multivitamins or in combination with other nutrients and minerals.
Only supplement with zinc under the supervision of a doctor. Generally, the maximum dosage for teenagers taking zinc is 34 mg per day. Adults may take up to 40 mg daily.
Topical zinc oxide has few side effects. Common side effects of topical zinc include rash, itching and hives.
Oral zinc supplements are responsible for a wider range of side effects. Taking too much zinc can cause:
- Appetite loss
- Upset stomach
- Numbness of extremities
Oral zinc could negatively impact your levels of HDL, or healthy cholesterol. It could also interact with immunosuppressant drugs and some antibiotics. Talk with your dermatologist or doctor to ensure you aren’t taking prescriptions or other medications that could interact with zinc supplements.
There is a variety of alternative, OTC vitamin and mineral supplements that you can take or use topically to combat acne. These include:
- Aloe vera, a topical plant extract available in cream or gel formulations
- Benzoyl peroxide, a topical, antibacterial medication that is available in cream, cleanser, gel, toner and moisturizer form
- Vitamin A, a nutrient that can be taken as a supplement, a prescription drug or used as a topical treatment (retinol)
- Vitamin E, a nutrient that can be taken as a supplement or used as a topical treatment
Your dermatologist can help you determine which treatment is best for your skin type and acne condition.
Zinc may be an effective, natural treatment in people with mild to moderate acne. Talk to your doctor before beginning treatment with any supplement to ensure you aren’t taking any medications that could interact with it.
While topical zinc produces few side effects, it isn’t considered to be as effective for acne as oral zinc supplementation. If you are an adult taking a zinc supplement, do not exceed 40 mg per day.
Zinc may be used in conjunction with, or alongside, other natural acne treatments like AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, retinol or sulfur. Consult your dermatologist before beginning any combination acne regimen.
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