What is Zinc?
Zinc is a metallic mineral and an essential micronutrient . Your body requires zinc daily, but can’t produce or store a supply of it’s own.
Zinc is found in abundance in oysters, beef, nuts and beans. The National Institute of Health has put together a list of foods and their zinc content [Table 2]. You can also search for any food’s nutrient content through the Nutrient Data Laboratory provided by the National Agricultural Library.
Zinc is associated with sexual function (possibly why oysters are considered an aphrodiasic), development, enzyme function, immune function and for the skin – control of inflammation.
Zinc and People with Acne
Acne vulgaris may correlate with a zinc deficiency
There is some evidence that shows that people who have inflammatory skin diseases have lower levels of zinc in their body. Whether this deficiency arises from zinc being used to combat inflammation or that low zinc from the diet is one of the causes of inflammatory skin diseases is not yet known.
One study from India found that a study population with acne vulgaris showed a significantly lower level of zinc compared to a population of people who did not have acne.
The study also found that people who had psoriasis exhibited lower levels as well – those with larger areas of the body affected had lower levels of zinc.
This study isn’t definitive though, but there is some evidence showing that those with acne, who don’t have low levels of serum zinc, may have lower levels of zinc in their skin.
Studies have shown zinc supplementation improves acne
The majority of studies examining the effect of zinc on acne have focused on zinc sulphate. Results are mixed, some experiments showed statistically significant improvement in lesions - specifically pustules with a smaller effect on infiltrates, papules and cysts. Other studies showed that zinc sulphate treatments were no better than a placebo , however there is the confound of seasonal changes in the severity of acne, which the researchers mentioned.
A newer form of zinc, zinc gluconate, has less research behind it, but is better assimilated by the body. It also causes less side-effects, such as nausea and stomach upset, than zinc sulphate. Zinc gluconate has been shown to reduce or reverse chemical changes in the skin caused by acne. Specifically, studies have shown that zinc gluconate was able to increase immune cell functioning in the skin, reduce inflammatory markers in the skin and also reduce the increase in growth hormones which occurs in acne lesions.
One study recommends a dose of 200 mg zinc gluconate per day, this study also showed that there was no benefit in “front-loading” zinc. Patients who were on a constant dose had the same benefits as those that started on a higher dose tapering to a smaller dose.
Zinc gluconate was shown to be 17% less effective as a common antibiotic, minocycline. However a double-blind study showed it was as effective as oxytetracycline. Another study showed that zinc gluconate supplementation was able to reduce bacterial adaptation to erythromycin, making the antibiotic more effective. The researchers recommended a daily 30 mg elemental zinc (in the form of zinc gluconate) supplement be combined with a topical erythromycin cream for best results.
And unlike some antibiotics commonly used to treat acne, such as doxycycline and tetracycline , zinc gluconate was shown to not increase photosensitivity, so it’s safe to use during the summer and times of sun exposure.
Should I Supplement?
If you’ve tried things like antibiotics or don’t want to – zinc supplementation may help improve your skin.
The extra “boost” of anti-inflammatory benefits and other skin chemistry changes could just be the push that allows your topical products to start working. If you’re not using anything on your skin, I would recommend you begin using a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid product.
A convenient benefit of zinc supplementation is that it affects all of your skin, this is especially beneficial for those who suffer from acne on harder to reach areas of the body, such as the back.
Zinc salts have been shown to be safe for pregnant women at doses below 75 mg a day, as well they found no issues with women who were breastfeeding while taking zinc.
Again it’s important to keep in mind that there is no 100% guaranteed cure for acne. Zinc may clear your skin completely, or it may just become a part of your acne regime. It may do nothing at all for you.
Am I deficient?
It’s likely that you aren’t. The average American man consumes about 14 mg of zinc a day, and the average American woman 9 mg. The US RDA recommends a daily intake of 11 mg for men and 8 for women, and sets the upper limit of safety at 40 mg of zinc a day (20 mg daily is the recommended maximum though).
A blood test can be performed which will assess the levels of zinc in your blood.
How much zinc?
First off, speak with your doctor and ask for their advice and assurance that it’s OK for you to supplement with zinc.
Start off with a 200 mg zinc gluconate supplement (providing 30 mg zinc mineral) and assess your skin at the 1, 2 and 3 month mark.
Take a photo in the morning, before you’ve showered (the heat from the shower can make your lesions look worse than they are) to document your progress.
If there’s no improvement after 90 days – unfortunately – zinc supplements aren’t an effective method to treat your acne.
Zinc glycinate, zinc oxide, zinc picolate? Which one should I take?
Zinc comes in a multitude of forms and studies have shown that some of these are better absorbed than other. One study (with possible ties to the manufacturer) found that of the commonly available zincs; zinc sulfate, zinc glycinate, zinc lactate, zinc gluconate – zinc glycinate and zinc gluconate were best absorbed.
I would recommend using zinc gluconate as it has more research on its use for acne treatment.
Side-effects? Copper deficiency?
Zinc on an empty stomach can cause queasiness or dizziness, if you find this happening just take it with a meal.
Zinc can block the absorption of copper, so if you find yourself having success with treating your acne with zinc and are considering it longterm, it’d be wise to use a copper supplement at the opposite time of day you take your zinc. A recommended ratio of zinc to copper is 15 to 1.