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.
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
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.
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
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 good ones to try. If neither is available for you, you can also try zinc gluconate. Zinc citrate and sulphate have the lowest bioavailability.
Avoid supplements that don’t specify the form of zinc as they likely contain cheap, poorly bioavailable form or zinc.
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.
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.
- Zinc: role in immunity, oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
- Susceptibility of Propionibacterium acnes isolated from patients with acne vulgaris to zinc ascorbate and antibiotics.
- Multicenter Randomized Comparative Double-Blind Controlled Clinical Trial of the Safety and Efficacy of Zinc Gluconate versus Minocycline Hydrochloride in the Treatment of Inflammatory Acne vulgaris.
- Effect of zinc gluconate on propionibacterium acnes resistance to erythromycin in patients with inflammatory acne: in vitro and in vivo study.
- Innate immunity: a crucial target for zinc in the treatment of inflammatory dermatosis.
- The role of zinc in acne and prevention of resistance: have we missed the “base” effect?
- An observational study of methionine-bound zinc with antioxidants for mild to moderate acne vulgaris.
- Evaluation of serum vitamins A and E and zinc levels according to the severity of acne vulgaris.
- The clinical effects of zinc as a topical or oral agent on the clinical response and pathophysiologic mechanisms of acne: a systematic review of the literature.
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