- Zinc is effective against mild to severe acne and is available as a topical or oral treatment
- Zinc has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, can regulate sebum production and boost cell turnover
- Oral supplements are considered more effective than topical applications, especially for severe acne
Zinc for acne is an effective treatment available in both topical and oral formulations.
This important mineral strengthens 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, moderates oil production and is a natural treatment for acne.
Is Zinc Good for Acne?
Zinc has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which can effectively treat acne. For those with mild to severe acne symptoms, it has been shown to reduce inflammation and redness, and help heal lesions.
Zinc can target the following acne symptoms:
In a review of data of a number of independent studies on the topic of zinc and acne, researchers saw a clear relationship between zinc and acne.
Participants with acne were found to have significantly lower levels of zinc in their bodies compared to those without acne. Participants treated with zinc had a significant improvement in inflammatory papules compared to those with acne who did not receive this treatment.
In another study, effervescent zinc formulations and zinc gluconate were more effective than other types of zinc. Yet more research shows that methionine-bound zinc significantly reduces acne pustules.
How does it work?
Zinc can be taken orally in supplement form or used topically. Both formulas have a number of mechanisms to work against acne. As an anti-inflammatory, zinc’s antioxidant properties can reduce redness and inflammation.
Zinc is also antibacterial. It has been shown to kill Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes), the bacteria associated with acne.
Recent studies have found that the bacteria that causes acne have become resistant to conventional antibiotic acne medications such as erythromycin. Since zinc is a mineral and not an antibiotic, bacteria can’t become resistant to it, making it a strong choice in acne treatment.
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 blocked pores and acne, so regulating its production naturally helps prevent acne.
In addition, zinc helps regulate sebum production, the skin’s natural oil. It also plays an important role in the life cycle of skin cells. A zinc deficiency can cause sluggish cell turnover, which in turn causes buildup in pores. Taking zinc supplements can help regulate this function.
Oral zinc supplements play a hand in vitamin A’s conversion into retinol, (which is also an antibacterial, acne-fighting nutrient) by boosting the efficacy of topical retinol. In addition to treating and preventing current breakouts, retinol also helps to heal papules, pustules and scars.
Like vitamin A, oral zinc supplements also make vitamin E more effective.
Does Zinc Work for Acne Scars?
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, zinc could work to prevent acne scars from forming and help reduce deep scar formation. 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.
It is important to note that while both topical and systemic treatment are effective against acne, the oral treatment is felt to be superior of the two, especially for severe acne nodules. 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.
Common types of zinc used in acne treatments include:
- Zinc acetate, a zinc salt hat may be taken orally or added to food and drink
- Zinc gluconate, an oral zinc tablet commonly 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 one type is more effective than the other. Be sure not to combine types, though, as you could overdose and experience adverse effects such as nausea, diarrhea and headaches.
How to Use Zinc for Acne
Your doctor will recommend either topical zinc or oral supplements; both are available over the counter (OTC). Both forms vary in formulation and method of consumption. And different types of zinc are 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 have a deficiency.
People who are getting plenty of zinc from their diets will most likely be advised by their doctor to use topical zinc. Zinc topical formulations are available 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 medications 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 larger area. Discontinue use and talk with your dermatologist if you experience skin irritation or signs of an allergic reaction.
Oral zinc supplements are available in tablet, pill and chewable forms. Oral zinc is used as is, in multivitamins or in combination with other nutrients and minerals.
Only take supplements under the supervision of your doctor. Generally, the maximum dosage for teenagers is 34 mg a day; adults up to 40 mg.
Topical zinc oxide has few side effects and includes rash, itching and hives.
Oral zinc supplements are associated with a wider range of side effects when recommended amounts are exceeded.
- 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.
If you choose, there are several other alternative vitamin and mineral supplements to combat acne. These include:
- Aloe vera, a topical plant extract available in cream or gel formulations; has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits and is high in antioxidants
- Vitamin A, a nutrient available as an OTC or prescription drug (retinol) encourages cell turnover and skin healing
- Vitamin E, a nutrient that can be taken as a supplement or used as a topical treatment, boosts the immune system and speeds up cell regeneration
Your dermatologist can help you determine which treatment is best for your skin type and acne condition.
Zinc is a mineral that may be an effective, natural treatment to fight mild to severe acne. It can target inflammation and bacteria, regulate sebum production and boost cell turnover.
Zinc is available as a topical or oral treatment but is commonly used alongside other more standard acne therapies such as AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, retinol or sulfur.
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 is associated with less 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.
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