Have You Tried Zinc for Acne? Here's What to Know

A pocket guide to what it is and how to use it.

zinc for acne universal: a close up image of a woman with acne
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If you’ve ever dealt with acne, you're probably familiar with certain skincare ingredients that are recommended for treating breakouts like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and retinol. Each of these ingredients serve their own purposes—from killing off pimple-causing bacteria on your skin to increasing cell turnover, so finding the right product will come down to figuring out what’s causing your acne in the first place.

As Dr. Howard Sobel previously told us, “Acne occurs when the hair follicles become clogged by excess sebum (oil), bacteria or dead skin cells, which causes inflammation in the skin.” This can result from an increase in sebum production, from bacteria, or, for many women, a change in hormones, to name a few of the more common reasons.

And just as the causes behind breakouts are varied, treating acne often requires a multi-pronged (and multi-ingredient) approach—which is why we’re always on the lookout for new or lesser-known options. Enter: zinc. While zinc has been used to treat various skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea for years, it’s not as ubiquitous as some of the aforementioned ingredients in the acne world, so we had to do some probing. Is using zinc for acne the breakout-fighting solution we may have been missing from our routines? Read on to find out.

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Meet the expert

Dr. Margarita Lolis is a board-certified and fellowship-trained dermatologist and Mohs surgeon. Dr. Lolis received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and her medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She received her dermatology training at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where she served as chief resident, and completed a laser, cosmetic and Mohs surgery fellowship at Skin and Lasers Surgery Specialists, under the mentorship of Dr. David Goldberg. She is a member of American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and was elected to the prestigious Sigma Xi scientific research society.

First off, what is zinc?

“Zinc is a mineral that’s an essential nutrient for many systems of the body,” explains Lolis. It plays a key role in healing wounds, as well as fighting off viruses and bacteria. “Zinc can be ingested or topically applied,” she adds. Some good sources of zinc can be found in red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy products, pumpkin seeds and fortified cereals.

Does zinc help treat acne?

“Zinc has been linked to decreasing sebum production from the oil glands and has antibacterial effects on P. acnes, the main bacteria found in sebaceous glands, which can decrease the number of inflammatory papules on your skin,” says Lollis. “It also assists in wound healing, which can help with acne scarring,” she adds.  

How should I use zinc to treat acne?

“Some studies have shown that patients with acne have significantly lower levels of zinc in their bodies, which is why when these patients added zinc [to their diet or skincare regimen] they saw an improvement,” she adds. Again, the best way to get more zinc is through your diet, but you could also take an oral supplement (though we advise that you do this through the supervision of a board-certified physician, as exceeding the recommended dosage can come with some side effects, such as nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea or cramps).

More often, dermatologists will go the topical route first, and suggest products with zinc in them like face washes, serums and creams. As is the case with adding anything new to your skincare regimen, you'll need to be consistent with using the product for at least three months before you can fully assess whether something is working for you.

Who should try zinc?

The main pro of zinc is that it generally plays well with other products and is well-tolerated by most skin types. As we discussed earlier, treating acne usually takes a multi-pronged approach, so adding some zinc to the mix can help round out your existing acne regimen.

The only thing to note is that topical zinc can be a bit thick in texture, so it’s generally better to use it as a face wash or mask that can be rinsed off before you apply the rest of your skincare products.

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Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...