Zinc is one of those essential nutrients you need for a healthy immune system. This little mineral plays a big role in your overall health, helping your body fight illness. But it also supports your largest organ — your skin!
Let’s dive into what the science says about zinc for acne — plus, how to use zinc to treat breakouts.
You’ve probably seen zinc advertised as a defense against the common cold or a general immune booster. “Boosting” your immune system isn’t really a thing, but zinc does help your immune system fight off invaders.
Zinc is also anti-inflammatory, which means it could reduce swelling, redness, and general irritation — all symptoms linked to acne. Its soothing powers *might* even help reduce the severity of acne scars. #winning
Research in 2014 also found an interesting link between zinc and chronic breakouts: Folks who live with severe acne tend to have low zinc levels. Does that mean low zinc = cystic city? Not necessarily. But it might mean that taking care of your zinc levels could help with skin health.
Other skin conditions that respond well to zinc:
The jury’s still out on this one. You can get zinc from foods, from supplements, or by using a topical ointment, cream, or gel.
Safety PSA: It’s totally possible to take too much zinc. Have a heart-to-heart with a doctor or dermatologist before springing for supplements.
Good question! Zinc isn’t a magic bullet against zits, especially if your breakouts are triggered by hormones or an underlying condition.
Most folks won’t see immediate results from a new supplement or topical treatment. Make a plan and stick with it for 1 to 3 months to see if it’s effective against your acne. Some options to consider:
- Nosh on zinc-rich foods for a few months to see if the diet tweaks make a difference in your skin health.
- Talk with your doc about zinc supplements — and make sure to ask how often to pop ’em and how long you’ll need to wait to see results.
- Invest in a high quality, well-reviewed zinc cream or gel. Don’t expect it to work overnight. Reassess your skin after a few weeks of use.
Your recommended daily amount (RDA) of zinc depends on your age and your sex.
Here are the zinc RDA deets, expressed in milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health:
|9–13||8 mg||8 mg|
|14–18||9 mg||11 mg|
|14–18 and preggo or nursing||12–13 mg||—|
|18+||8 mg||11 mg|
|18+ and preggo or nursing||11–12 mg||—|
In general, it’s easier for your body to absorb nutrients from food than from supplements. So before you start taking zinc supplements, try to up your intake of these zinc-rich foods:
First things first: You should take a zinc supplement only if your doc recommends it. That’s because supplements don’t typically help acne unless the breakouts are triggered by a deficiency. Also, most folks get enough zinc from food alone.
You’re more prone to zinc deficiency if you:
- have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- are pregnant
- eat plant-based
- have diabetes, sickle cell disease, or liver problems
Some multivitamins include a bit of zinc, so you might also get a boost that way. It’ll show up on the label as zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, or zinc sulfate. One form isn’t better than another — they’re all zinc.
Are there any risks to taking zinc supplements?
Zinc is a super important micronutrient, but you *can* have too much of a good thing. Remember: You shouldn’t consume more than 40 milligrams per day.
Too much zinc could lead to:
And as a general rule, talk with a healthcare pro before starting a new supplement.
Zinc creams and gels won’t fix a zinc deficiency, but they can help soothe breakouts.
Research suggests that topical meds with 5 percent zinc sulfate are effective against mild to moderate acne.
Heads-up: You should always do a patch test before slathering a new product all over your breakout.
Here’s how to use zinc topicals:
- The patch test. Apply a dot of product on the inside of your arm or wrist. Wait 24 hours to make sure you don’t react.
- No side effects? Use it. Apply the recommended amount to your face or body and note whether it seems to make a difference in your breakout over the next few days. If things start to get red or itchy, stop using the product.
- Track your results. Always follow the instructions on the label. Some zinc creams are meant to be applied several times a day, while others are just for nighttime use. You won’t know whether it’s working unless you follow the instructions and make notes on your acne level.
There’s no magic bullet for kicking acne to the curb. Zinc helps, but so do other nutrients. In one small 2014 study in people with severe acne, low levels of vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc seemed to correlate with breakouts.
Here’s the tea:
- Taking vitamin A — the vitamin in retinol — boosts skin cell turnover and might reduce surface bacteria.
- Research suggests that dabbing vitamin E (along with zinc) on acne can soothe breakouts.
- Vitamin D also has the potential to zap zits caused by bacteria.
Zinc is an essential micronutrient that is also anti-inflammatory.
It’s not as powerful as antioxidants, but it can be an effective treatment for mild to severe acne, especially when paired with other anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals.
You can get zinc through foods, supplements, or topical treatments.
Though zinc has the power to zap some zits, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement. If you have severe acne that’s interfering with your life, consult a dermatologist about treatment options.