The first time I ever heard about taking zinc for skin was back during my first year of college when I had my first-ever encounter with a bad case of acne. (My skin was perpetually blemish-free all through high school—go figure). And even though the campus was only about two and a half hours from where I grew up, I rarely went home. So, when I arrived back in Minnetonka, Minnesota, for a week of R&R during spring break (lame, I know) my parents were slightly taken aback by the seemingly sudden shift in my skin. They didn't say anything to me directly (they already knew how mortified and frustrated I was by the situation), but my dad (ever the perpetual "fixer") sent me an email after I'd gone back to school containing research about the correlation between zinc and skin health. The epic sign-off: 'Thought this was interesting, Mom and I ordered you some from Amazon and it should arrive in a couple of days.' Thanks, dad.
Even though I was slightly offended, I knew the gesture came from a place of love—and their concern for my dwindling confidence. So I read the research and I took the pills, and much to my surprise, my skin did eventually improve. However, whether or not it was directly correlated to the zinc I was never quite sure. So I decided to investigate zinc for skin, and exactly what it does (and doesn't do). For a fully balanced perspective, we consulted several experts from different fields: Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD, at Moy Fincher Chipps Facial Plastics & Dermatology in Beverly Hills; holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman; registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning coach Alissa Rumsey; Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition NYC; Morgan Rabach, MD, of LM Medical in NYC; Ee Ting Ng, hop & cotton founder and formulator; and Danielle Frank, a senior dietitian at Top Balance Nutrition.
Type of ingredient: Anti-acneic
Main benefits: Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, regulates oil
When you can use it: You can generally take it once a day. You should have no more than 40mg max.
Works well with: Zinc can be taken with a range of other supplements and vitamins, including Vitamin C and vitamin B5. As always, consult your doctor before starting any new supplements.
Don't use with: Multivitamins, other sources of zinc that might overload you.
What Is Zinc?
According to Herrmann, "Zinc is an essential mineral that is needed for numerous healthy bodily functions, including boosting the immune system, healing wounds, assisting in DNA/protein synthesis and growth, and the development of children."
She adds that since zinc is not stored for long periods in the body, daily consumption is important for overall maintained health. And without it (or if you're deficient), Goodman points out that it can lead to a variety of conditions like rashes and lesions.
And interestingly, according to Rumsey, the top layer of our skin contains more zinc than any layer underneath, which is why supplementing with the mineral and making sure you have enough can support the growth of new, healthy skin cells.
Benefits of Zinc For Skin
• Treats lesions and acne: As Shapiro explains, zinc works with other vitamins and minerals to help treat skin lesions and when taken orally, it can decrease the severity of acne.
• Aids in wound healing: If applied topically via products containing zinc oxide (like Renée Rouleau's formula, below), the mineral has been shown to protect the skin and aid in wound healing and regeneration.
• Helps protect against harmful UV rays: Zinc's protective properties, Shapiro says, explain why zinc oxide is so often found in high-performing sunscreens, as it can reflect the sun and it creates a barrier between the skin and any damaging UV rays. Ng agrees: "Zinc (oxide) is one of the two physical sun filters capable of deflecting UV rays, protecting skin from sun damage, [from] erythema to premature aging," she says.
• Has antibacterial properties: "Zinc is by nature inert, making it a great sun filter for children, or anyone with extremely sensitive or reactive skins," Ng says. "Zinc is also antibacterial, astringent, and barrier-protective."
• Can be used both internally and externally: And from a dermatologic standpoint, Herrmann offers the following benefit: "Using zinc for skin can help when it's taken both internally and externally. As mentioned earlier, taking zinc orally can help heal wounds, lessen inflammation, and improve inflammatory conditions such as acne."
• Assists in collagen synthesis: "Because zinc acts as an enzyme cofactor, it assists in collagen synthesis and DNA repair, which can help keep skin looking younger and healthier," Herrmann says.
• Available over-the-counter: Unlike some super skincare ingredients, zinc products are available in most beauty and drugstores.
Who Should Use Zinc?
In general, people with acneic skin can benefit from adding zinc to their routine. Zinc can also be used as a spot treatment for breakouts. (More on this later.)
Side Effects of Zinc
If you do your research on quality brands (Twinlab, Solgar, Rainbow Light, Metagenics, Thorne, Pure Encapsulations, and Eidon are expert-approved) and keep your daily dose to the recommendation of up to 8 or 9mg daily, 11mg if pregnant, and 12mg if lactating—although as much as 40mg is the TUL—supplements can also be an option if you're looking to take zinc for skin.
"These daily recommendations of zinc are very small, as our bodies don't require the mineral in large quantities. It should be noted taking extra zinc is not likely to improve your skin, but not getting enough can cause problems like acne, eczema, and dermatitis," says Frank.
"If a person gets too much zinc, they may develop symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and headaches. Too much zinc can also lead to low copper levels and a weakened immune response. Therefore, it is extremely important to be careful when taking supplements, as too much can cause serious problems," she warns. So again, it's always best to talk with your physician, and then begin with a lower dose and work your way up depending on your body's reaction.
According to Herrmann, certain antibiotic medications and a few other prescriptions can inhibit zinc absorption—as does alcohol, says Rumsey.
Rabach echoed the sentiments of Shapiro and Herrmann but has her own more cautious take on the element: "As an oral supplement, zinc may help acne a little bit, but not as effective as more traditional oral medications for acne. There are no standardized or controlled studies for dosing or efficacy of oral zinc compared to other oral medications proven to work for acne. Because of bioavailability, people with low zinc levels should choose food rich in zinc before taking oral supplements, as zinc found in foods is better absorbed. Some foods with zinc are super luxurious like oysters, so that can be fun."
How to Use It
As mentioned before, zinc oxide is a popular sun filter. Ng makes sure to note that it's "also popular in spot treatments by reducing redness/swelling, drying out ‘weeping’ or wet blemishes of any sort, and preventing active spots from further infection by physically separating them from the environment." However, she does say that it's "most sun-protective when it sits on the skin's surface, so the method of application matters. Gently pat/press product into the skin, ensuring that all sun-exposed areas are evenly covered."
Almost every expert we talked to maintained that internally, getting your daily quota of zinc through a healthy and richly diverse diet is the best way to supplement your skin. "The best way to make sure you are consuming the right amount of zinc for healthy skin is to incorporate foods that are known to be good sources of the essential mineral," Frank elaborates. "Your body does a much better job absorbing vitamins and minerals that come from food than from any other form."
Plus, Frank adds, you are also much less likely to exceed the upper limit of zinc from food than you are from a pill form. In fact, according to Herrmann, you need to be careful because amounts of vitamins, minerals, and extracts can ultimately add up to 1000x more or less than what's stated on the bottle.
However, as with any supplement, it's always important to talk to your physician before incorporating it into your routine. And as Frank says, if you struggle with any of the aforementioned skin conditions, struggle with wound healing, or have brittle hair and nails, you should discuss your symptoms first and foremost with your physician.
Below, find a special zinc-rich smoothie recipe, courtesy of Meryl Pritchard, holistic nutritionist and founder of organic meal delivery and cleanse service, Kore Kitchen).
Makes 2 Servings
2 cups of nut milk
2 servings protein powder
3 tbsp. cacao
2 tbsp. maca
1 frozen banana (if you don't have a frozen banana, use a regular one + 1 handful of ice)
2 Medjool dates, pitted
1 tbsp. hemp
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. coconut oil
1/3 cup cashews or any nuts you have on hand (almond, walnut, and hazelnut also work)
Stevia to taste—cacao can be really bitter and sometimes needs extra sweetener
What are some zinc-rich foods?
Oysters, beef, chicken, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashews, beans, and fortified breakfast cereal are a handful of the best sources of zinc if you're looking to naturally improve your skin's glow.
Can zinc help with acne?
Zinc has anti-inflammatory properties, which help the body reduce swelling and redness. Anecdotal evidence has shown it can help with acne but more studies need to be conducted to establish a link.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc fact sheet for health professionals. Updated December 7, 2021.
Dhaliwal S, Nguyen M, Vaughn AR, Notay M, Chambers CJ, Sivamani RK. Effects of zinc supplementation on inflammatory skin diseases: a systematic review of the clinical evidence. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2020;21(1):21-39. doi:10.1007/s40257-019-00484-0
Lin PH, Sermersheim M, Li H, Lee PHU, Steinberg SM, Ma J. Zinc in wound healing modulation. Nutrients. 2017;10(1):16. doi:10.3390/nu10010016
Gupta M, Mahajan VK, Mehta KS, Chauhan PS. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatol Res Pract. 2014;2014:709152. doi:10.1155/2014/709152