Zinc for Acne: is This Mineral The New Zit Zapper?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Let’s dive into what the science says about zinc for acne — plus, how to use zinc to treat breakouts.

Zinc for acne: How does it work?

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.

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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

Other skin conditions that respond well to zinc:

  • rosacea
  • eczema
  • seborrheic dermatitis (red, itchy skin)
  • melasma

So, what kind of zinc should I use for my acne?

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.

In general, science says oral supplements work best for severe acne, while topical treatments are bae if you’re dealing with occasional breakouts or mild to moderate acne.

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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.

How long does zinc take to clear acne?

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.

Nosh on these zinc foods

Eating foods full of zinc can help prevent zinc deficiency *and* pimples. Beef, shellfish, and eggs are top contenders.

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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:

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:

  • red meat
  • oysters
  • chicken
  • nuts
  • beans
  • dairy
  • whole grains
  • zinc-fortified cereal

Study up on supplements: Zinc tablets and pills

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.

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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:

  • an upset stomach
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • wacky cholesterol levels
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And as a general rule, talk with a healthcare pro before starting a new supplement.

Take it topical with zinc creams and gels

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.

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Here’s how to use zinc topicals:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Any other vitamins that help acne?

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.

The takeaway

Zinc is an essential micronutrient that is also anti-inflammatory.

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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.

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