Zinc and Acne: Does It Help or Hurt?

zinc and acne

We get questions almost daily about ways to reduce or prevent acne. Acne can be especially difficult to control,  and affects millions of people physically, emotionally, and socially. So there are numerous products, techniques, and even challenges (like the dove soap challenge) that claim to clear up acne. The topic of zinc and acne sometimes pops up in questions and conversations. Zinc is a mineral that plays an important part in many body functions, including creating new DNA. But can it save you a trip to the cosmetic counter or even the dermatologist? Keep reading to find out how effective zinc and acne interact, along with some proven ways to keep your skin under control.

What is Zinc exactly?

Zinc is an “essential trace element” needed in minimal amounts for overall health. It’s present in all organs, tissues, fluids, and secretions in the body. The majority – 83% – is present in skeletal muscle and bone. It plays an essential role in healing wounds, fighting off infections, viruses, and bacteria. Without a doubt, zinc should be included in your diet. You get it mainly in red meat, seafood (like oysters), and poultry. Vegan alternatives include beans, seeds, nuts, and grains.

Zinc and Your Skin.

Unfortunately, your body doesn’t store this mineral for later, so you must consume it daily to avoid developing zinc deficiencies. When it comes to your skin health, it works with other vitamins and minerals to repair, protect, and revitalize. Furthermore, it is  both anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory.

Zinc is sometimes seen as the “beauty mineral” as it’s transformative for your skin, nails, and hair. This is why some of the most common signs of zinc deficiency are brittle nails and hair loss. People with deficiencies have more eczema flare-ups, rashes, and xerosis, aka dry, scaly skin. These flare-ups happen since the uppermost layer of skin contains the most zinc compared to deeper skin layers.

And When It Comes To Acne…

Acne occurs when hair follicles become clogged with sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells. If your body produces a lot of sebum, clogged pores form, leading to whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, or cysts on the face, neck, chest, and back.

Zinc’s anti-inflammatory properties help the body to reduce swelling and redness in acne patients. Studies show that patients who were treated with zinc noticed a decrease in active breakouts compared to those who didn’t. Since zinc also helps wound healing, it can help to reduce any residual acne scarring. Your dermatologist may prescribe zinc supplements if they believe there is a possible deficiency.

Using Zinc For Your Acne Efforts.

The best source of zinc is from your daily food intake. For those of you who are zinc deficient, you will need a consistent supply to combat acne. The recommended daily intake for an adult is no more than 40mg. Any amount between 40-150 mg helps treat acne, depending on the severity.

Most over the counter supplements only go as high as 50mg, so combining with a healthy diet should be enough. Zinc comes in many forms, but what you need to look for is oral zinc sulfate, as it’s the easiest for the body to absorb. Zinc can also help with acne externally. Sunscreens containing zinc oxide can help with repairing your skin while protecting against harmful ultraviolet rays.

Potential side effects

Remember that more is not always better.

It is possible to take too much zinc into your body. Common zinc poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, metallic taste, kidney and stomach damage, and other side effects.

If you consume alcohol, you may have a more challenging time absorbing zinc. In this case, it’s best to seek advice from a healthcare provider before taking it. They would most likely perform a routine check and test your zinc levels before writing up a prescription. You can start with a smaller dosage and work your way up to tolerable lev annot treat acne with zinc supplements alone. Seeing a board-certified dermatologist is a key step in figuring out the root cause of your acne. Each person’s acne responds differently to a given treatment. Your dermatologist will perform a detailed assessment of your skin. From there, the right treatment can help clear your skin up.

Topical Medication

Your dermatologist can prescribe a topical medication to decrease oil and eliminate bacteria. Topical medications often contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid.

Each of these compounds has its own benefits:

  • Topical treatments with benzoyl peroxide kill the bacteria that causes acne.
  • Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps with oil, inflammation, and dead skin cells.
  • Glycolic acid also helps with reducing dead cells and exfoliates the skin.
  • Lactic acid works best for sensitive skin and, like glycolic acid, helps with exfoliation.


Retinoids are powerful compounds derived from Vitamin A. These are another go-to topical medication that can treat different types of acne. Topical retinoids exfoliate and clear out dead skin cells. It also improves cell turnover and reduces inflammation. Retinoids are stronger than their over-the-counter counterparts, retinol. Note that retinoids increase the sensitivity to ultraviolet rays, so it’s best used before bed.


For those with moderate acne, oral antibiotics can help, as it helps with painful breakouts. Antibiotics target the P. acnes bacteria responsible for acne. The medication works over a period of several months and is more effective when paired with topical medications like benzoyl peroxide and a proper skin care regimen.

Corticosteroid injections

For severe cases, your dermatologist may use a steroid shot to quickly reduce your inflammation. These injections send powerful medication directly to the problem area. You should see favorable results in as little as 48 hours. Corticosteroid injections are quick procedures that can happen at your lunchtime. These injections can only be used a couple of times a year.

Stock up on Zinc today.

Zinc is a powerful mineral in the fight against acne. Its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and skin healing properties can be a great support to your acne-fighting regimen. Zinc helps but does not completely cure your acne. Speak with our board-certified dermatologist at Eternal Dermatology for advice on supplementation and other potent acne treatments.


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