Have you ever considered taking zinc for acne? Research over the past four decades have surprisingly shown clear benefits of this supplement.
In this post, we will go over the reasons why you should consider this inexpensive alternative to prescription antibiotics or steroids. Scroll down further for a comprehensive guide on the best forms of zinc, how much to take, and why zinc creams are not worth your time.
Background: Zinc And Acne
A study in Turkey compared zinc levels in 150 patients based on their acne severity. As you can see from the results (shown below), zinc levels trend downwards with increased acne. On average, people with acne have 24% lower zinc levels than those without acne.
Since people with acne have lower levels of zinc in their bodies, it makes sense that supplementing this element can reduce acne. This pattern is similarly seen with vitamin E levels, though not as clearly established with vitamin A levels.
While modern day antibiotics (i.e. minocycline) are now the go-to products for effective acne treatment, considering their side effects, it’s wise to look into alternative solutions. A handful of studies have shown zinc to be as effective as antibiotics that were available in the 70s and 80s. In fact, zinc supplementation has been reported to improve acne by up to 50%.
One of the largest studies included 332 acne patients who received either 100 mg of minocycline or 30 mg of elemental zinc (zinc gluconate) everyday for three months. The treatment success rate, defined by more than 2/3 decrease in inflammatory pimples, was 63.4% with minocycline and 31.2% with zinc.
The total pimple count dropped by 49.8% in the zinc group and 66.6% in the minocycline group. While the antibiotic was 17% more effective at reducing acne, results from the zinc group are nothing to sneeze at. Previous studies have even showed similar effectiveness between these doses.
Some scientists speculate that differences in the formulation of zinc can significantly affect the study results. The consensus is that forms of zinc with better bioavailability yield better results. The same authors published a study in 2010 showing 80% reduction in acne using a zinc methionine, a zinc supplement with high bioavailability.
While these results appear to be a bit too optimistic about zinc, there’s fairly good evidence to show that zinc supplementation can indeed reduce acne. While it may not be a miracle solution, it’s certainly worth a shot.
How Does it Work?
Zinc is one of the most studied natural treatments for acne. With a decent number of available studies, we can better understand how this element can reduce almost all the known causes of acne. Here are some favorable properties that make it useful for acne:
- Antibacterial: Test tube studies show that zinc can eradicate acne-causing bacteria. Though it is not as effective as antibiotics, zinc can be useful in that bacteria won’t develop resistance to it, thereby working on those with antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the skin.
- Anti-inflammatory: When bacteria invades a blocked pore, severe irritation can develop in the area and cause pimples to become red and painful. Studies have shown that acne-prone skin is far more sensitive to bacteria compared to normal skin. Zinc can temper this inflammatory response and reduce the potential effects of bacteria on the skin.
- Keratinocyte-reducing: 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 in the case of acne. By reducing keratin, zinc helps to keep skin pores open.
- DHT-blocking: Zinc, like other DHT blockers, can reduce the amount of oil (sebum) produced by the skin. While not a very strong DHT blocker, zinc can still use this mechanism to regulate hormones that affect the skin.
- Antioxidant: Zinc is a powerful antioxidant. Inflammatory damage to the sebum is one of the root causes of acne, and studies have furthermore concluded that taking antioxidants can reduce acne for this reason.
Guide to Zinc Supplementation
In this next section, we’ll guide you on how to choose the best zinc supplementation for your skin. There are several factors to consider when looking for a zinc product.
Which Form of Zinc Should I Take?
Elemental zinc is usually attached to another molecule (called a chelating agent) to help it better absorb in the body. Most zinc supplements are sold as chelated zinc and available in many different forms, some of which have higher bioavailability than others. In general, higher bioavailability yields better absorption in the body so that you can get the most out of the product.
You should also consider the objective you want to achieve with your product. As mentioned above, zinc has many favorable properties and different formulations can yield unique advantages. While zinc oxide is the most widely used formulation and contains a variety of properties, it is known to have poor solubility in water and poor bioavailability. Below are some facts about other zinc forms you may come across:
- Zinc gluconate: This is one of the most popular forms of zinc and is well-known to heal inflammatory acne. While studies have shown both zinc sulfate and zinc gluconate to be comparable to oral antibiotics for acne treatment, zinc gluconate is better absorbed than zinc sulfate. This form of zinc is also dose-dependent, so higher doses will yield increased side effects like nausea and abdominal pain.
- Zinc picolinate: Picolinate (picolinic acid) is known to be stored in the pancreas and released into the intestines during digestion, which could explain why zinc picolinate is absorbed so well in the body. A study showed that zinc picolinate had a significantly higher bioavailability compared to zinc gluconate and zinc citrate.
- Zinc sulfate: This form of zinc is known to have relatively lower bioavailability. The topical form of zinc sulfate has been observed to help diaper dermatitis and hand eczema. However, studies have shown mixed results whether topical zinc sulfate could be considered comparable to tea lotion.
- Zinc citrate: While zinc citrate is known to be more bioavailable than zinc oxide, it is still considered to be among the formulations with the lowest bioavailability.
- Zinc methionine: This form is known to have higher bioavailability and is best recognized for its anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have stated that zinc methionine can be an appropriate option to use in conjunction with other antioxidants due to this property.
- Zinc pyrithione: Zinc pyrithione is particularly useful against dandruff due to its antifungal effects. A study concluded that a shampoo with zinc pyrithione and cyclopiroxolamine works as rapidly and effectively as that with ketoconazole for itchy and scaly scalp (seborrheic dermatitis).
- Zinc glycinate: Often referred to as zinc glycine complex, this form is powerful in its antioxidant properties and UV/sun protection. In fact, zinc glycinate is known to have the greatest anti-pigmentation potential of all the zinc-containing compounds. This can also be beneficial for anti-aging and anti-odor effects.
What About Zinc Creams?
The only study that compared zinc sulfate cream to placebo cream showed no difference in results. A handful of studies have also explored whether adding zinc to antibiotic creams improves results. While there is slight evidence that topical zinc may reduce sebum production, most of these studies have shown no benefit. In the light of these results, there is limited reason to use topical zinc for acne treatment at this time when plenty of other options are available.
What Dose Should I Take?
The optimal dosage of zinc for acne is yet to be established. However, several studies with good results have used 30 mg of elemental zinc daily.
Be sure to note that the amount of elemental zinc is NOT the same as the amount of bound zinc in the supplement. For example, a supplement containing 200mg of zinc gluconate does not contain 200 mg of elemental zinc.
Most labels will indicate the amount of elemental zinc, so you just have to be careful not to confuse the different amounts. Here is a table of common formulations to guide you on how much zinc you are actually taking:
|Formulation||Pill Size||Elemental Zinc||% Elemental Zinc|
|Zinc sulfate||220 mg||50 mg||22.7%|
|Zinc citrate||146 mg||50 mg||34.2%|
|Zinc gluconate||25 mg||3.5 mg||14%|
|Zinc oxide||100 mg||80 mg||80%|
|Zinc acetate||25 mg||7.5 mg||30%|
How Much is Too Much?
Zinc supplements are overall safe and provide a much more favorable side effect profile compared to antibiotics or steroids used to treat acne. Most of the side effects reported in studies involve the digestive tract, most notably nausea. It is generally not recommended to take more than 50 mg elemental zinc per day, as higher doses may cause stomach cramps and irritate the gut.
Can I Get Adequate Zinc From My Diet?
There are quite a few food products that are rich in zinc. For example, a full serving of oysters may provide 74 mg of zinc, which is more than enough zinc for the day. However, most servings of everyday food (i.e. meat and daily) only provide a few milligrams of zinc. You can check out this fact sheet by the National Institutes of Health for more details regarding dietary zinc.
Zinc For Acne In a Nutshell
Best Zinc Supplement for Acne:
As mentioned previously, different zinc forms may vary in certain characteristics, but as far as effectiveness against acne, it probably does not matter what form you take as long as you get enough elemental zinc.
Zinc formulations also differ in bioavailability, which increases the amount absorbed in the body and thus the effects on acne. We recommend choosing the formulations with the highest bioavailability such as zinc picolinate and zinc methionine. If those forms are not available, zinc gluconate is also a solid option.
Keep in mind that with higher bioavailability the higher potential to cause gastrointestinal problems, especially with dose-dependent formulations like zinc gluconate. Zinc oxide, zinc citrate, and zinc sulfate are known to have lower bioavailability. Avoid supplements that do not indicate or specify the form of zinc as they likely contain cheap, poorly bioavailable zinc.
Frequently asked questions:
Is zinc good for acne? What about hormonal acne or acne scars?
While zinc is not a miracle supplement, a significant amount of research can support its use for acne. Over thirty clinical studies have evaluated the effects of zinc, both alone and in combination with other products. While there were various methods to measure acne in these studies, most have shown at least some positive effects of zinc supplementation on pimple count and acne severity (including hormonal acne and acne scars).
How much zinc should I take for acne?
The general consensus here is 30 mg of elemental zinc daily. We don’t recommend taking more than 50 mg a day because higher doses can cause stomach cramps and irritate the gut.
How long will it take for zinc to clear my acne?
It’s worth noting that most prescription drugs for acne take 2 months at minimum for an adequate response. Studies have evaluated the effects of zinc at various durations, but we generally recommend trying zinc supplements for at least 3 months for any noticeable improvement.
What are the side effects of taking zinc? Could zinc supplements cause acne?
The most common side effect you might come across is nausea. While most studies have not reported any serious side effects with zinc, a small number of people have experienced some form of digestive effects, including nausea and stomach cramps. There has yet to be any reports of zinc causing acne, if used appropriately.
What about zinc creams?
Studies evaluating zinc creams do not give much reason to support this formulation for acne. While some show positive results, the evidence is overall not as promising as the oral formulations.Our advice is to save your bucks for the supplements if you want to invest in zinc for acne.
There is clear evidence that zinc can help acne. Since acne puts more demand on zinc, people with acne have lower zinc levels than those with clear skin. Zinc improves most causes of acne, and consequently, studies have shown that zinc supplementation can reduce acne by 50%. While none of this can hold the assumption that zinc is a miracle pill, it certainly merits consideration, don’t you think?
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