Zinc is one of many essential minerals, meaning that it cannot be synthesized by your body and must be consumed from external sources. It is involved a variety of metabolic activities and is required for the catalytic activity of about 100 different enzymes in the human body. Zinc also plays a role in protein synthesis, immune functions, and wound healing. You need to take zinc daily to help promote your health and homeostasis, especially considering your body has no specialized system for storing excess zinc.1
Your skin is in a constant state of renewal and zinc is integral to its health. Old skin cells make their way to the top of your skin and constantly shed off with every movement. These older skin cells need to be replaced with newer cells. When cells reproduce they require zinc and it is no surprise that zinc is required for optimum skin health. However, not many people know that zinc deficiencies are associated with acne. Let’s find out how zinc can it can potentially help to combat acne and promote clear, healthy skin.
Research Shows the Link Between Zinc and Acne
Acne affects an estimated 50 million Americans every year, making it the most common skin condition in the country.2 It can occur at any stage of life and can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including diet, hormones, and genetics but many studies suggest a link between diet and acne. The following studies demonstrate the promising role of zinc, an essential mineral, in the treatment of acne.
Study 1 shows individuals who suffer from zinc deficiency tend to have acne.
The study compared the levels of zinc between healthy men and women and men and women with acne. The study found that women tend to have lower zinc levels than men overall and that the severity of acne was correlated with the level of zinc deficiency.12
Study 2 participants who suffer from a higher severity of zinc deficiency have more acne.
A second study found similar correlations between severity of zinc deficiency and acne.3
The third study is a double-blind clinical trial in which 56 participants suffering from acne vulgaris were split into two groups. One group was given a placebo while the other were given 600 mg of zinc sulfate every day. After 12 weeks of treatment, 17 of the patients given a daily supplement of zinc sulfate showed improvement with statistically significant decreases in the number of cysts, papules, and infiltrates. The group given zinc sulfate also showed higher levels of serum vitamin A. The placebo group showed no improvements or changes.4 A fourth study in Sweden found similar results14.
Study 5 shows that zinc was successful at improving participants acne by 31.2%.
The fifth study from 2001 compared the efficacy of zinc gluconate and minocycline (a common antibiotic treatment for acne). In the randomized, double-blind trial, 332 patients received either 100 mg of minocycline or 30 mg of zinc over the course of 3 months. The main endpoint was defined by the clinical success rate at the end of 90 days, characterized by at least a two-third decrease in inflammatory acne lesions, pustules, and papules. By the end of the study, the clinical success rate was 63.4 percent for minocycline and 31.2 percent for zinc. While this does show that minocycline is more effective than zinc.5
Clearly, zinc has a role in the treatment of acne but little was known about its mechanism. It was not until other studies examined the role of diet in acne since certain foods can cause acne flares in susceptible people. One famous study that examined populations living on a hunter-gatherer diets in Canada and New Zealand found that those people did not develop acne as teenagers as well as adults.
Study 6 shows zinc helps to inhibit the IGF-1 pathway in acne lesions.
Further research has elucidated the role of the hormone Insulin Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) in acne. IGF-1 is released by the body by high glycemic diets (processed foods with high glycemic loads) which causes proliferation of skin cells that go on to clog pores, causing acne. Moreover P. acnes bacteria, long thought to be the cause of acne, has been implicated in the IGF-1 pathway as it up increases the expression of IGF-1 receptors and the production of IGF-1. Zinc helps to inhibit the IGF-1 pathway in acne lesions.13
Understanding Zinc Deficiency
Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is not commonly studied. One study estimates that 17.3 percent of the global population is at least at risk of zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiencies in high income areas were estimated at 7.5 percent of the population, while 30 percent of populations in South Asia were estimated to suffer from zinc deficiencies.6
One actual study in Iran found zinc deficiency in 31.1% of school-aged children (average age of 13.2)10. Another study in Mexico found 28.4% of female adolescents and 24.5% of male adolescents to be zinc deficient11.
The three main causes of zinc deficiency include:
Simply not getting enough zinc in your daily diet
Certain chronic conditions (Celiac, Crohn’s disease, diabetes)
Poor absorption of zinc or excessive loss of zinc7
Furthermore, the absorption of zinc is antagonized by copper, meaning that consuming copper impairs the absorption of zinc. Studies on rats showed that copper interfered with the process of absorbing zinc into the lining of the gut.8
Water supply pipes are made of copper which may provide an unaccounted for source of copper. This may mean that a combination of continuous copper intake and already low zinc intake may contribute to zinc deficiency.9
Good Food Sources of Zinc
The recommended daily intake of zinc is 8 mg for adult women and 11 mg for adult men. Thankfully, zinc can be found in a wide array of foods. Oysters are the richest source of zinc and contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Zinc is also found in red meat and chicken, as well as other types of seafood, like lobster and crab.
Foods with Zinc
Zinc is also readily found in nuts, beans, whole grains, dairy products, and fortified cereals. However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan it is important to know that grains and plant-based sources of zinc contain phytates, which bind zinc and inhibit its absorption.
Zinc is available in several forms as a supplements, including zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, and zinc sulfate. The percentage of zinc can vary from form to form.1 If you aren’t sure where to start with a supplement, take a look at DrFormulas Zinc Oxide and Chelated Zinc Citrate for Acne, which supplies 50 mg of zinc or 333 percent of your daily zinc intake.
Topical Zinc Creams for Acne
Zinc is known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects which would theoretically minimize the number of Cutibacterium acnes (also known as Propionibacterium acnes) bacteria on your skin. Forms of topical zinc include zinc gluconate, zinc oxide, zinc calamine, or zinc pyrithion.11 However, studies on the use of topical zinc for acne have not found it to be helpful for the treatment of acne.15