When you think of zinc, oftentimes it's an image of a lifeguard with a thick, white cream slathered on their nose. While zinc oxide is used in sunscreen, zinc itself is a power player in the mineral world—and is considered by dermatologists to be a reliable ingredient for acne treatment.
Although more research is needed, studies have found the mineral may decrease papules and cysts when when applied topically. So, how can you use the acne-fighting powers of zinc in your skincare routine? Ahead, dermatologists Purvisha Patel, MD, and Marisa Garshick, MD share how to safely and effectively use zinc for acne.
Meet the Expert
- Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology.
- Purvisha Patel, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs and cosmetic surgeon. She is also the owner of Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Associates and the founder of Visha Skincare.
What Is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential mineral that aids in the body's immune system by helping to fight germs and heal wounds, making it a good pick for acne lesions. Frequently, zinc-infused facial soap is recommended by dermatologists as part of an acne-fighting skincare routine.
Is Zinc an Effective Acne Treatment?
According to Garshick, zinc has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits, so it is often recommended as a topical acne treatment (typically in the form of a cleansing bar). "It can also work to regulate sebum production, making it a good option for someone with oily skin as well," she says.
"Zinc is a high-performance ingredient that helps to address redness, irritation, and inflammation caused by conditions like acne, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis," says Patel. "The ingredient, in combination with mild alpha and beta acids, helps decrease inflammation, exfoliate the skin that clogs the pores, and helps kill the bacteria/fungus that causes acne."
Can You Use Zinc With Other Acne Treatments?
Patel says that side effects associated with zinc in topical form are nominal and that it's generally "well-tolerated." The main issue with using zinc topically is that "Zinc can be quite thick and occlusive, preventing other skincare products from penetrating" says Patel. That's why—for acne patients—zinc is often recommended in the from of a face wash or cleansing bar that is rinsed away before the rest of your routine is applied.
Oral Zinc vs. Topical Zinc
While topical zinc is most often recommended by dermatologists when it comes to acne treatment, zinc that is taken orally can be recommended as well. (But only take zinc orally when it has been specifically advised by your dermatologist).
"With topical products, when used twice a day, there should be a decrease in acne within two weeks. When taken orally, there should be a difference in four weeks," says Patel. However, Garshick says that just because you see faster results, doesn't necessarily mean it's more effective.
As a nutrient, Patel says the absence of zinc could be contributing to acne. "Zinc is necessary for collagen synthesis, and when deficient, the keratin in the skin can be more 'sticky,' resulting in more clogged pores. A lot of people with acne may find supplementation helpful to decrease acne breakouts." Oral zinc should only be taken under the direction of a board-certified physician, as it can come with some severe side effects (and in many cases, topical zinc is enough to improve acne). "Oral zinc may be considered more effective than topical zinc, but may come with more side effects such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea," adds Garshick.
How to Use Zinc for Acne
Topical zinc can be found in washes, bars, masks, or leave-on creams or serums. Garshick says that depending on the other products in your skincare routine, zinc as a topical treatment may be used daily or a few times per week. Most often, your dermatologist will recommend using a zinc facial bar in place of your usual cleanser 3-4 times a week, in conjunction with a prescription acne treatment like tretinoin.
Meanwhile, if you're a candidate for a zinc supplement, your dermatologist will give you an exact daily dose that is not to be exceeded. As with any supplement, make sure you are following the exact guidance of your physician, and don't start a new supplement without consulting your doctor first.
Due to it's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, topical zinc can be an excellent addition to your skincare routine if you deal with acne. You should see a dermatologist for personalized instructions, but most dermatologists will have you begin with a zinc cleansing bar a few times a week. In more extreme cases, an oral zinc supplement may be recommended.
Cervantes J, Eber AE, Perper M, Nascimento VM, Nouri K, Keri JE. The role of zinc in the treatment of acne: a review of the literature. Dermatol Ther. 2018;31(1):10.1111/dth.12576. doi:10.1111/dth.12576