It’s natural to be a bit skeptical of natural remedies like supplements and vitamins, but zinc therapy in dermatology needs no introduction. There has been a surprising amount of research done on the effectiveness of zinc to treat acne vulgaris, and many studies have found that the mineral can significantly improve this skin condition. It’s not a cure-all for pimples (There is no such thing!), but it’s definitely worth your consideration because zinc really can help 👍.
However, there are a few helpful things you should know before you start using zinc supplements or topical preparations for acne.
Research has shown that bacteria called p. acnes 🦠 are involved in the formation of acne, but they’re not all bad. Most strains always live on the surface of our skin and are called “commensals,” which are helpful microbes living in or on our bodies. Their main energy source is the oil our skin produces, which means they may help manage acne by preventing the oil buildup associated with pimples.
However, not all strains of P. acnes are good. Once certain types get trapped in a pore or follicle, they start to multiply until they create a minor infection. Infection stimulates an immune response, and this is where zinc therapy shines.
1. Zinc Works by Supporting the Immune System.
This essential mineral has many functions in the body, of which strengthening the immune system is one of the most important. On a cellular level, it regulates immune cell response in a way that reduces inflammation drastically, thereby addressing one of the root causes of acne formation.
Taking a zinc supplement would therefore be a good idea if you have severe inflammatory acne, and in fact, also if you’re ill with any infection. The body doesn’t produce zinc, so we get it via the food we eat, but sometimes our reserves need supplementing. Usually, taking this mineral is not associated with side effects, but this can depend on the zinc supplement 💊.
2. People with Moderate to Severe Acne May Have a Zinc Deficiency.
One study by Dr. Pinar Ozuguz et al shows that people with severe acne are more likely to have a zinc deficiency than those who don’t. In developed countries this is not a common deficiency, but your diet still needs to be balanced, not laden with junk food.
Not sure if you are zinc deprived? Look out for these further symptoms 📝:
- Low body temperature
- Hair loss
- Low blood pressure
- Taste abnormalities
- Delayed wound healing
- Abnormal nervous system functioning
- Abnormal reproductive system functioning
- Abnormal skeletal system functioning
If you experience several of these symptoms, you should mention them to your doctor or dermatologist 👩⚕️ and ask for advice.
3. You Can Get Zinc from Supplements, Creams, or Your Daily Diet.
Some ways to make sure you’re getting your recommended daily zinc allowance are taking oral supplements, applying topical zinc, or ingesting certain foods. Food and oral zinc will have a greater impact on your body as a whole, but topical zinc will work better if you want to try it as an acne treatment specifically.
If you like cooking or trying new foods, getting more zinc through your diet is probably the best way to go. Shellfish 🦞, meat, some cereals, and legumes (like chickpeas or beans) are all rich in this mineral.
If you would rather be certain you’ve gotten your daily dose of zinc, oral zinc supplements may be the route to take. They can be purchased from most health food stores, or even online, though we recommend using non-commercial websites, like the NIH, FDA, or USDA to avoid getting scammed.
You can also benefit by applying topical zinc creams, which may be a good starting place if you want to use zinc for acne specifically. There are also many different types of zinc to choose from.
4. There Are Several Types of Zinc You Can Try for Acne.
So far we’ve been talking about zinc in general, but there are actually several different forms of zinc. They’re very similar, but there are some minor differences in price 💰 and effectiveness for various skin types.
Many dermatologists recommend zinc gluconate because it is good for any skin type or budget, but zinc oxide can also be helpful for fair skin, while those with sensitive skin may want to try zinc ascorbate.
Zinc sulfate in capsule form seems to benefit only pustules, according to one study, and it may be associated with many side effects.
Not much clinical data is available on zinc acetate for acne, but it enhances the absorption of antibiotics such as erythromycin 💊. This combination is available in topical antibiotics like the brand Zinerit.
Is Zinc Safe for Dark Skin?
Some topical acne treatments, like hydroquinone, are not safe for dark skin because they can cause discoloration or hyperpigmentation. However, zinc gluconate is safe for all skin types, dark to light, oily to dry. It is also absorbed easily in the digestive tract, if you decide to take it as a supplement. It is a reasonable option for most people’s budget and good value, because a little money buys a lot 💰.
You may have heard of zinc oxide before—it’s the stuff in certain sunscreens that makes them completely white, the kind you can’t rub in. Because of this, you won’t want to use zinc oxide during your morning routine, but you could add it to your night time routine 🌙. Zinc oxide for acne is also available as an oral supplement, for around the same price as zinc gluconate. However, it is not recommended in any form for dark skin because one of its side effects is creating white spots.
Best for Sensitive Skin
Zinc ascorbate is typically the best option for sensitive skin because it fights free radicals, thereby acting as an anti-inflammatory agent. One study conducted by Katsuhiro Iinuma et al also showed that it inhibited the growth of all strains of the acne-causing bacteria, P. acnes 🦠. The “ascorbate” part means that this form contains some vitamin C, which can also reduce acne scarring, but might not be safe for dark skin. It’s also the priciest of the three options.
5. Using Zinc for Acne Is Almost as Effective as Antibiotics.
This is true. Zinc is nearly as effective as antibiotics, but the issue is that antibiotics aren’t actually all that effective.
When antibiotics were first introduced as an acne treatment, they cleared a little over 60% of acne. While that can make a world of difference, the success rate is not as high as you might have expected.
Many doctors 👨⚕️ unfortunately still prescribe antibiotics as the go-to for acne, even though its efficacy is questionable. So much research demonstrates that antibiotics for acne are now even less effective due to antibiotic resistance.
What Is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when some bacteria 🦠, when exposed to antibiotics, randomly mutate in ways that prevent them from being killed by the medicine. These resistant bacteria reproduce until there is an entire colony of them that can’t be killed by the antibiotic. Because we have been using antibiotics for so long now, and often not finishing the course as prescribed 📝, most of us carry some form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This means antibiotics have become even less effective in treating acne.
So, for acne vulgaris, antibiotics alone aren’t as effective as other options, and they have to be discontinued after three months to prevent antibiotic resistance from getting worse. In combination with other treatments, however, they might have a positive effect. Therefore, if you are taking antibiotics, you should ask your doctor 👨⚕️ about taking zinc for acne as well. Used alone, zinc for acne has the same effect as antibiotics, but when they are combined, your skin could see fast and drastic improvement.
As previously mentioned, studies have found that zinc can cause certain antibiotics to be absorbed into the skin more easily. Also, it can help make the transition from antibiotics to no antibiotics smoother after that three month point. Some people see a resurgence of acne when they stop taking their antibiotics, which can be very disheartening after three months of clearer skin, but the zinc should prevent some acne from returning.
6. If You Are Increasing Your Zinc Levels, Make Sure You Keep an Eye on Your Copper Levels, Too.
Zinc is an essential mineral, meaning it’s something your body needs for proper functioning, but it has a twin mineral: copper. Our bodies absorb zinc and copper together. It works like this: imagine you had an individual jar for each of your essential minerals, and every time you ate something with that mineral or took a supplement, it got added directly to the jar. Copper and zinc share a jar 🏺. If you take a lot of copper one day, then there’s less room in the jar for zinc.
This is something to watch out for if you decide to start taking zinc supplements or adding zinc to your diet. If you start taking more zinc, your body can’t absorb as much copper, which can lead to a copper deficiency.
Beware of Too Little Copper
Without enough copper, you can develop anemia, muscle weakness, mental fatigue, and psychological symptoms. To keep yourself balanced, it’s helpful to know the FDA’s recommended daily allowance of zinc. According to their guidelines, an adult should get 8 to 11mg of zinc per day.
Most zinc supplements contain 15-20% elemental zinc, meaning a 50mg tablet has anywhere from 7.5mg to 10mg of zinc, the perfect amount. If you experience adverse effects when taking zinc, consider switching brands or asking your doctor for recommendations 👨⚕️.
7. Zinc Shouldn’t Be Your Only Acne Treatment Product.
Zinc can help reduce acne, but it isn’t meant to be used on its own.
At Exposed Skin Care 🏆, we focus on getting rid of acne for good through a three-step system that is tough on acne but gentle with your skin. This is available in our skin care kits. Each step combines scientific and natural ingredients, all proven to get rid of acne and keep skin healthy.
The first step is a Facial Cleanser with a low concentration of salicylic acid to clear away excess oil or dead skin cells which could clog pores, and sage extract, to prevent dryness or irritation.
The second step is Clearing Tonic, which also uses a small amount of salicylic acid. Additionally, our Tonic utilizes green tea extract, passion flower extract, and azelaic acid, all of which prevent redness and irritation.
Step three has a different routine in the morning and in the evening. After cleaning and toning in the morning, apply our Acne Treatment Serum with benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil to kill acne-causing bacteria 🦠.
In the evening, our Clear Pore Serum with salicylic acid and licorice root extract will ensure an even skin tone. Dry skin will benefit from our Expanded Kitwith its signature Moisture Complex. It contains pumpkin seed, green tea extract, and small amounts of caffeine to calm irritated skin and reduce redness.
Also see our Ultimate Kit for the full range of Exposed products.