3 Scientific Reasons Why Everyone With Acne Should Try Zinc

By Seppo | Supplements

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If you have acne, you should try taking zinc. That much is clear from the research done over the past 4 decades.

Research shows people with acne have lower levels of zinc than people with clear skin, and that supplementing can reduce acne by 50%. In this post I’ll go over these, and other, reasons why anyone with acne should consider zinc.

We’ll also talk about the best form to supplement with, how much to take, and why zinc creams are best used for trashcan basketball practice.

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Acne patients are low on zinc

Turkish researchers compared zinc levels in acne patients and people without acne. Their study included 56 people with clear skin and 94 acne patients, who were further divided into two groups based on acne severity: mild/moderate and severe.

This graph shows the results

Acne patients have 24% lower zinc levels than people with clear skin

Data from: Ozuguz et al. Evaluation of serum vitamins A and E and zinc levels according to the severity of acne vulgaris. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2013 Jul 5

As you can see, zinc levels go down as acne severity goes up. On average people with acne have 24% lower zinc levels than those without acne. Vitamin E levels follow a similar pattern whereas acne has no effect on vitamin A levels.

Does zinc help acne? Let’s see what the science says

To date 12 studies have looked at the effect of zinc supplements on acne. Most, but not all, studies show at least some positive effects from zinc supplementation. A handful of studies showed that zinc is more or less as effective as antibiotics available in the 70s and 80s. More recent studies show that modern day antibiotics are more effective than zinc.

One of the best studies was done by Dr. Breno and colleagues. They gave 332 acne patients either zinc gluconate (equivalent to 30mg of elemental zinc) or 100mg of minocycline.

Study shows zinc was almost as effective as minocycline in acne

Over 3 months the total pimple count dropped 49.8% in the zinc group and 66.6% in the minocycline group. The authors concluded that minocycline was 17% more effective.

Treatment success rate (as defined by more than 2/3 decrease in inflammatory pimples) was 63.4% for minocycline and 31.2% for zinc. Clearly, the antibiotic was more effective, but the results in the zinc group are nothing to sneeze at.

A French study published in the 1990 showed that zinc gluconate (200mg/day) was as effective as minocycline (100 mg/day).

Some scientists speculate that the form of zinc used in studies explains the difference in results. They showed that studies using forms of zinc with better bioavailability yielded better results.

The same authors published a study in 2010 showing 80% reduction in acne using zinc supplement with high bioavailability (zinc methionine). However, it seems to me that the authors are a bit too much in love with a zinc, and I remain skeptical of their speculation and results.

Regardless, there’s fairly good evidence to show zinc supplementation indeed reduces acne. It’s not a miracle solution but certainly worth trying out.

How zinc help acne

Zinc is one of the most studied natural treatments for acne. With a good number of studies available, we know how zinc reduces acne. Zinc has been shown to reduce almost all the known causes of acne:

  • Test tube studies show zinc kills acne causing bacteria. It’s not as effective as antibiotics, but it can still be useful. Furthermore, bacteria won’t develop resistance to zinc, so it works even for people who have antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the skin.
  • Zinc reduces inflammatory response to bacteria. When bacteria invade a blocked pore they can cause severe irritation in the area, this is one reason pimples turn red and painful. Studies have shown that acne-prone skin reacts far more strongly to bacteria than normal skin. Zinc can temper this inflammatory response and reduce the effect bacteria have on the skin.
  • Zinc reduces keratinocyte activation. Keratinocytes are cells that produce keratin, a tough protein that binds skin cells together. Too much keratin prevents cells from separating and leads to blocked pores, as is the case in acne. By reducing keratin zinc helps to keep skin pores open.
  • Zinc is a DHT blocker, meaning it reduces the effect hormones have on the skin. Other DHT blockers have been shown to reduce the amount of oil (sebum) the skin produces. Unfortunately, zinc is not a very strong DHT blocker, but every little bit helps – right?.
  • Zinc is a powerful antioxidant. Inflammatory damage to sebum is one of the root causes of acne and some studies show taking antioxidants can reduce acne.

The best form of zinc to take

Studies show that zinc pilocinate and zinc methionine are the best forms to supplement with

Zinc is available in many forms, some of which have higher bioavailability than others. Studies have shown that zinc picolinate and zinc methionine have better bioavailability than other forms of zinc, so those would be the best forms to take. If neither is available for you, you can also try zinc gluconate. Zinc citrate and sulphate have the lowest bioavailability.

Here are a few supplements to consider:

Please don’t ask me what’s the best zinc supplement. I really have no way to answer that.

Avoid supplements that don’t specify the form of zinc as they likely contain cheap, poorly bioavailable form or zinc.

Dosage

The optimal dosage of zinc for acne is yet to be established. However, several studies showing good results have used 30mg/day of elemental zinc.

Please note that the amount of elemental zinc in a supplement is not the same as the amount of bound zinc. For example, a supplement may contain 200mg of zinc gluconate, but this doesn’t mean all the 200mg are zinc.

Most labels also list the amount of elemental zinc, you just have to be careful not to confuse the different amounts. The amounts I listed in the above bullets refer to elemental zinc.

I wouldn’t take more than 50mg elemental zinc per day. Higher doses can cause stomach cramps and irritate the gut.

Don’t bother with zinc creams

Studies evaluating zinc creams on acne don’t give much reason to celebrate. While some show positive results, the evidence overall is not promising. The only study where zinc sulfate cream was compared to placebo cream showed no difference in results.

A handful of studies have tested whether adding zinc to antibiotic creams improves results, most show no improvements.

In the light of these results, I don’t see any point on using topical zinc to treat acne. You have much better options available.

Conclusion

Science clearly shows that zinc can help acne. People with acne have lower zinc levels than people with clear skin, perhaps because acne puts more demand on zinc.

Zinc improves most causes of acne. Consequently, studies show zinc supplementation can reduce acne by 50%.

None of this makes it a miracle pill, but it certainly merits consideration.

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About the Author

Seppo Puusa, a.k.a. AcneEinstein shares rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatments. Read more about me and my acne struggles at the page.

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(29) comments

Liora A February 21, 2014

hi Seppo! its been a while since i’ve been here bugging you with all my questions.. well thats cause my face is doing pretty well :) I had a few questions i’ve been meaning to ask you…
I am still taking NAC that you reccemonded in your book but it bothers me that I dont exactly understand what it is good for and the reason for taking it.. when people ask me why do you take this I dont really know what to say. I would appreciate if you can explain to me why NAC is good in helping for acne. I’m almost done with my ‘ Now’ bottle of nac and debating weather or not I should order more.. just because i take so many supplments not sure if this had a major effect on my acne getting better. kind of afraid to stop anything just cause my skin has thank g-d been good.

As far as Zinc.. the one I am taking is called Zinc fo acne by good n natural its, zinc gluconate.. do you think I should switch to one of the ones you’ve recommended?

Reply
    Seppo February 21, 2014

    I think this post should answer your question: http://www.acneeinstein.com/studies-reveal-almost-irrefutable-evidence-for-the-root-cause-of-acne/

    The short answer is that acne-prone skin produces too much oil that’s prone to oxidative damage (from sun light, air pollution, bacteria, etc.). The antioxidant system has difficulties in coping with the load and acne patients show higher levels of oxidative damage and lower levels of antioxidants. Taking antioxidants supplies your body with antioxidant that can be used to protect sebum.

    Anyway, really glad to hear your skin is doing better.

    Re switching zinc supplements. There’s no definitive answer to which form of zinc is the best. As I mentioned in this post, there is evidence to show that picolinate and methionine forms are absorbed better. Does this make a difference in acne? I can’t say. A group of Indian researchers speculates that it does, but they don’t have solid data to back it up. And I remain skeptical of their study that showed 80% reduction in acne with zinc methionine supplement (that’s why I didn’t show a graph of the results or emphasize it more).

    Long story short, we are guessing, but the next zinc supplement I will buy is either picolinate and methionine. Probably one of the 3 I linked to, since they have the right dosage and are good value for money. Take it for what it’s worth :)

    Reply
Evan Salcido February 21, 2014

What foods do you recommend that i should eat to get zinc?

Reply
    Seppo February 24, 2014

    You have to Google this one. Meat and animal foods should be high on zinc. I wouldn’t rely on grains or legumes for zinc as the phytate found in those foods reduces mineral absorption. Though this shouldn’t be a problem unless such foods constitute a huge part of your diet.

    Reply
Seppo February 22, 2014

Hi Seppo,

Just one question. Is there any reason why you would choose to take a zinc supplement instead of the antioxidant pills you recommend in your book? They also have zinc although I think is only 20 mg.

I’m just wondering, I have a very good diet so I do not want to take too much of certain vitamin/minerals. I might be having too much selenium and vitamin A.

Thanks!

Reply
    Seppo February 24, 2014

    I don’t think it matters where you get zinc. If the antioxidant supplement already contains zinc, then I don’t think there’s any need for another zinc supplement. Since writing the book I’ve changed my antioxidant recommendation to NAC or sillymarin as they have better evidence to support them.

    Reply
Seppo February 24, 2014

Thanks for your reply Seppo.

Are there any NAC or sillymarin products/dosage you recommend specifically? I know you have a post about NAC/sillymarin and other antioxidants, but I do not recall products/dosage are mentioned there.

Thanks!!!

Reply
    Seppo February 24, 2014

    I’m taking these ones: Now Foods, NAC, 600 mg. I don’t know if those are better than competing NAC supplements, with such lax regulation there’s really no way to tell. I chose these because they seem to offer good value for money.

    The study that showed NAC supplementation helps acne used dose of 1200 mg per day. Since I have only minimal acne anymore I take 600 mg maybe 2 to 3 times a week.

    Reply
Ronnie February 27, 2014

Zinc always made my acne way worse! It usually seemed to help only the first few days to a week and then BAM suddenly its like my system would go into overdrive and I would start to develop lots of cysts and pustules–and it didn’t stop! I would know, as I suffered through about a month and a half of painful acne before I finally came to the conclusion that zinc did not help me. I tried it more than once and as soon as I stopped taking it my acne would get better. I used to theorize that it was because it was making my immune system work too well (inflammation and pus are, after all, an immune system response) but I know from blood tests that it was definitely not helping my immune system as my wbc was really really low (like 2.4) while I was taking it at one point.

Zinc usually comes with mega doses of b6–and b6 is known to acne in excess amounts! I think supplementing is usually a bad idea because it causes even more imbalances in the body. Alls you need is a multi and a good diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants. I admit though, that I do like to supplement with magnesium and sometimes vitamin D (I think vitamin d could totally kick zinc’s ass in the acne department btw).

Reply
    Seppo February 27, 2014

    Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. I don’t think any of the papers I read mentioned anything about this. So I don’t think yours is a common experience.

    Reply
      Hipchick July 15, 2014

      I can vouch for what Ronnie has experienced because I have experienced it too. I have heard and read so many stories about how Zinc is supposed to be helpful for treatment of acne and that simply was not my experience. When I began taking Zinc my face broke out into cyst like bumps that I have never had before. It takes a very long time for them to go away and for my skin to heal. On top of that I suffer from hyper pigmentation so each pimple I get leaves a dark spot as a reminder. I have decided that Zinc is not for me. This is one of those cases where every person’s body does not work the same and what works for some may not work for all. You have to find what triggers your breakouts. Some of my triggers are refined sugars and chocolate. For this reason I stay away from products containing any forms of processed sugars, liquor and chocolate. I am continuing to eat a healthy diet, exercise to keep my hormones balanced and use other methods to help end this cycle of hormonal acne that I struggle with. BTW I tried the Now Vitamins 50 mg of Zinc Picolinate and I have also tried the Puritan’s Pride Zinc for Acne which contains Zinc Gluconate. I can say that I had much better results with the Puritan’s Pride Zinc for Acne. This could be due to the different form of Zinc (Gluconate) as well as the other vitamins and nutrients that are added. Maybe different forms of Zinc work better for some people.

      Reply
        Seppo Puusa July 15, 2014

        Thanks for sharing your experience! This is one of the frustrating things with acne. No matter what a study shows there are always some people who react differently.

        Reply
Robi March 1, 2014

Thanks for the infos, I might start supplementing Zinc again.
I’m a bit scared about interferences though, seems like it might be problematic for Copper, Iron and Manganese. (for example: “Supplemental zinc caused decreased levels of iron, manganese and copper in the liver.”).
About copper: from what I’ve read, you should try to keep a ratio Zn:Cu < 16. So one should be careful about having enough Copper when adding Zinc. However, Zinc seems to be problematic for Copper absorption, so you should maybe not eat them together (and it's weird that some supplements offer both Zinc and Copper together).

Reply
    Seppo March 3, 2014

    Thanks for posting this. I did some reading on PubMed and seems what you’ve read is correct. Excess zinc intake can indeed lead to copper deficiency. Here’s a good paper that touched on the topic:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872358/

    That paper also referred to another study that recommended dietary Zn : Cu of 16 or less. So it might be a good idea to combine with zinc with a copper supplement.

    Let’s assume one gets 50mg of zinc a day; 30mg from a supplement and 20mg from diet. That means you would beed 3mg or more of copper per day to maintain ratio of 16 or less. 3mg is actually quite a bit since the RDA for adult men is 0.9mg. So you probably can’t get so much from diet alone.

    Reply
Nav March 2, 2014

Hi Seppo,

I bought your book over a year ago and have been reaping the great results of it ever since I bought it. After reading it I started dosing with Zinc Picolinate (30mg everyday) and after about 3 months I started noticing my acne diminishing (mainly the cystic ones). This was great! for the first time my acne was controlled. Unfortunately, after time I noticed that my strength in the gym and libido were declining. I constantly felt weak and had no motivation to exercise.

After experimenting by removing different items, I had found that Zinc was in fact the cause of this. I researched further and found that Zinc is a 5-alpha-reductase II inhibitor which reduces DHT levels. DHT is also 100x more potent than testosterone and responsible for much of the male secondary characteristics.

After removing Zinc, my libido had returned and I had gained my strength again in the gym. While my acne did come a bit worse I felt that It was not worth the side effects. I also am taking NAC, and upped my dosage to 2g a day and it seems to be controlled again. It seems, for males, reducing DHT (systemically) doesn’t seem to be the best option. It seems to me that targeting either the bacterial aspect or the inflammation aspect of acne seems to have less side-effects.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

P.S. Keep up the great work!

Reply
    Seppo March 3, 2014

    Thanks for posting this!

    None of the papers mentioned anything about this. I knew that zinc indeed inhibits DHT, but it seemed very weak compared to EGCG or other inhibitors.

    I agree that systemic inhibition of DHT is not a good way to control acne. The inhibition has to happen in the skin because that’s where the excess conversion of T to DHT happens. Most people with acne don’t have abnormal T or DHT levels. My assumption was that zinc worked for acne because it’s 1) antioxidant, 2) reduces the immune system response to bacteria in the skin, 3) inhibits bacterial growth in the skin.

    I don’t know how common it is to react to zinc like you did. This is the first time I’ve heard of this, but thanks for posting the warning.

    Just out of curiosity I typed ‘zinc libido’ into PubMed to see what comes up. Unfortunately very little. One study in rats showed dose-dependent response. At 5mg zinc increased libido, at 10mg it decreased, and 1mg had no effect. But you have to keep in mind that 5mg and 10mg are massive doses when compared to body weight. The dose per kg of body weight is orders of magnitude higher than anything humans could safely ingest.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19881149

    Reply
Amanda April 2, 2014

I have never gotten far with taking zinc because I have found that it makes me nauseous. Is that a common side effect? Is it something you think I should just push through in hopes that my body gets used to it? It was never extreme nausea, but any thoughts or similar experiences would be appreciated. Thanks :)

Reply
    Seppo April 4, 2014

    Nausea and GI problems are common side effects of taking too much zinc. Most people can tolerate about 30mg a day and start getting some side effects if they take more than that. I don’t think it’s something your body gets used to.

    Reply
    Paul McCarthy December 9, 2014

    I took zinc yesterday on an empty stomach – big mistake. That was a one way ticket to nausea city!

    Within half an hour I was sick in the toilet.

    I’ve noticed that, for me, I have to take it with food.

    Reply
      Seppo Puusa December 10, 2014

      Yep, some people seem to have problems with taking zinc on an empty stomach. Doesn’t cause problems for me, but I know it’s an issue for some people.

      Reply
Alan Ng April 6, 2014

“On average people with acne have 24% lower zinc levels than those without acne. Vitamin E levels follow a similar pattern whereas acne has no effect on vitamin A levels.”

Hi Seppo, does this mean people with acne should supplement with vitamin E also?

Thanks.

Reply
    Seppo Puusa April 7, 2014

    Not necessarily. I think any antioxidant supplement with do, I usually recommend N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for that. Other studies show that there are no real differences in antioxidant levels between people with mild acne and no acne. So if you have very mild or occasional acne then there’s probably no need to supplement. Unfortunately the zinc study I talked in this post lumped mild and moderate acne patients to the same group, so I can’t say how much difference there is in zinc levels between mild acne patients and those with no acne.

    Reply
Haidi August 17, 2014

Hey seppo, I’m really glad that i found your website. Altough I’m usually a person who believes in science, I’ve tried and believed a lot of nonsense when it comes to acne. But now i have decided that i will only try things with scientific proof. I take zinc (30 mg elemental) for 1 month now and my supply will last for another month. I also use topical antioxidants and started to drink green tea. On my zinc supplement it says that you should not use it longer than 2 month. How long have you taken zinc and what do recommend? Going on a lower dose after sometime or stopping after a certain amount of time?
Best wishes and a big thanks!

Reply
    Seppo Puusa August 20, 2014

    Yep, acne can do that for you. I know I tried many weird things in desperate attempts to get over it.

    I don’t know why the supplement says you shouldn’t take it for longer than 2 months. As far as I understand, zinc is fairly safe. That said, it’s generally a good idea not to take supplements you don’t need. In your shoes I would try it for 2 months to see what happens. If you don’t get any results then by all means stop taking it. If it helps, then I would keep taking it.

    I don’t take zinc anymore since I didn’t notice any effect from taking it.

    Reply
      Doctor September 19, 2014

      you said “u don’t take zinc anymore since u didn’t notice any effect from taking it.”
      you mean after you’ve been better ????
      or you take it to fight acne but it was not that effective ?????

      Reply
        Seppo Puusa September 20, 2014

        I started taking it after I had largely gotten acne under control already. I tested to see if it would have any additional effect and didn’t notice any.

        Reply
marcie October 28, 2014

I am 28 year old female and still used to get weekly ance. I do get deep cystic acne every once in a while. I started a new regiment 4 weeks (Listed Below) ago and by the looks of it I finally have clear skin with no signs of new pimples or cysts emerging:

Took me years to find the right products for me – I have very sensitive skin

My Skin Regiment:
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (AM/PM)
Citrus Clear Sensitive Moisturizer
Citrus Clear Grapefruit Spot Treatment
Fish Oil – pills (AM only)

Other Things to Consider when trying to achieve great skin – Probably the most important too
64 – 128 oz of Water Daily
6 – 8 Hrs of Sleep a Night
1 Hr of Exercise per day (5 per/week)

Reply
Kevin from germany November 26, 2014

Thx mate! Ima buy zinc today and Ima test how it will work! Greetings from ger

Reply
Jitu November 30, 2014

Thanks Seppo for the article. It answered a lot of curious doubts about zinc and acne. I have tried zinc supplement to help me with acne. It has certainly helped me.

Thanks again for the article.

Reply
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