What a Dermatologist Thinks About Zinc for Acne

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Zinc is a power player in the mineral world. It boosts your immune system, aids in brain development and memory retention, and prevents cellular damage in the retina, among so many other benefits. And interestingly, our bodies don't naturally produce it, which is why we need to get it through food or supplements.

Another impressive use for zinc? Acne treatment. Although more research is needed, studies have found the mineral may decrease papules and cysts when taken orally and when applied topically. So to glean a bit more information on how to safely and effectively use zinc for acne, we spoke with dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD.

Meet the Expert

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.

Keep reading to find out what she had to say about zinc for acne.

Just How Effective Is Zinc for Acne?

"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."

The actual absence of the mineral may be the cause of breakouts. Patel explains, "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." Proceed with caution, though: Ingesting too much zinc can cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and ironically, a weakened immune response. Always check with your doctor before taking a zinc supplement for acne and before altering your routine.

How Does Zinc Compare to Antibiotics?

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Rochelle Brock / Refinery29 for Getty Images

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for treating bacteria-causing acne (though they're met with mixed criticism), and while zinc certainly isn't a replacement for antibiotics in the big picture, for acne, it may be a much better treatment option. Says Patel, "Antibiotics are generally used in moderate to severe acne, and their efficacy seems to be due to anti-inflammatory effects as well as antibacterial properties. They are not as utilized in the treatment of acne in my clinic, as they should not be used for long periods, and the underlying causes of acne can be treated in other ways. Four things cause acne: follicular occlusion, oil production, growth of an organism in clogged oily pores, and inflammation. When we get rid of two of these four factors, we cannot make acne anymore. Zinc addresses all four factors above; antibiotics only help with two. Visha Skincare Advanced Purifying Cleanser ($30) addresses all four of these factors."

Can You Use Zinc With Other Products?

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, while not targeted for treating acne, if zinc is applied to the skin in zinc oxide form (commonly used as a physical sunscreen), then it may hinder the absorption of other products. "It can be quite thick and occlusive, preventing other skincare products from working," says Patel.

How Should You Use It for the Best Results?

You may find faster results when applying zinc topically versus orally. "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.

Products With Zinc

double detox
BaeBody Double Detox Gel Face Mask $10.00

Acne who? Mud meets gel in this uniquely-formulated purifying face mask. Zinc combines with acne-busting ingredients like charcoal and kaolin clay for an all-over cleanse that'll stop acne in its tracks.

Bliss Clear Genius™ Acne Spot Treatment $16.00

For a spot treatment that calms redness, soothes inflammation, and reduces the size of breakouts, turn to this pick from Bliss. The all-star formula works thanks to a winning acne combination of salicylic acid, witch hazel, zinc, and niacinamide.

Replenishing Facial Essence
Phyto Replenishing Facial Essence $47.00

Acne treatments can be drying, but this essence from Plantkos proves they don't have to be. It still balances the skin and calms inflammation with zinc, but a medley of rose water, chamomile, licorice root, and probiotic ferment hydrates at the same time

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc fact sheet for health professionals. Updated July 15, 2020.

  2. 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 literatureDermatol Ther. 2018;31(1):10.1111/dth.12576. doi:10.1111/dth.12576

  3. Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgarisPostepy Dermatol Alergol. 2016;33(2):81-86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146

  4. Leyden JJ, Del Rosso JQ. Oral antibiotic therapy for acne vulgaris: pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic perspectivesJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011;4(2):40-47.

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