Zinc supplements have been touted as an acne treatment for years. Low doses are typically considered safe for most people, but can zinc really help you get rid of your pimples? If so, what’s the evidence and how much should you take?
The latest edition of the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology reported the results of a survey that looked back at all the past medical studies of zinc treatment for acne. The author assessed which studies were of good quality and what the results showed. The conclusion is that there is pretty good evidence that zinc helps acne.
Why zinc works for acne is still unclear but zinc may have the power to:
- Help kill the acne-causing bacteria P. acnes
- Reduce the redness and inflammation of acne lesions
- Decrease skin oil production
The amount of zinc needed to do this job was relatively low. About 30mg of elemental zinc seems to work. Zinc supplements that you buy are a combination of elemental zinc and other things (the elemental zinc content appears in the supplement facts panel on the supplement container). Most of the medical studies used zinc gluconate at a dose of 200mg per day, which gives 30mg of elemental zinc. At this dose, zinc is pretty well tolerated but there can be side effects, which are most commonly stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting.
But, should you go out and start taking zinc supplements to treat your acne? There are a few questions you need to consider first.
Are you getting enough zinc in your diet to help fight acne already?
Maybe, but maybe not.
According to WebMD, the typical North American male consumes about 13 mg/day of dietary zinc and the average female consumes approximately 9 mg/day. This meets the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) according to the US Government’s recommendation of 9-13mg per day depending on your age. However, many people consider the RDA range low. Regardless, the daily dietary consumption is below the 30mg per day shown beneficial in the studies.
Are supplements the best way to treat your acne with zinc?
My patients will tell you that I always prefer they eat a healthy diet before they turn to dietary supplements. I believe that whole foods are safer and they have many other health benefits that we are just starting to understand. We know this is true for acne. (To learn what diet is best to treat your acne click here.)
- Beans, nuts, whole grains (but don’t overdo the grains because there is something in grains that can actually reduce zinc absorption from foods or supplements),
- Seafood (especially oysters!),
- Lean red meat, and poultry.
- Many fruits and veggies also contain zinc.
Milk also contains zinc, but evidence is mounting that milk increases acne (click here to see information on the milk and acne connection).
Can pregnant and breast-feeding women use zinc to treat their acne?
Probably. The French have two studies looking at the safety and success of using zinc to treat acne. So far, it appears safe and effective for pregnant and breast-feeding women. Of course, you need to discuss this with your treating obstetrician and pediatrician to see if it’s safe for you and your baby.
What are the other dangers of using zinc supplements to treat acne?
Zinc can interact with some drugs including some of the acne treatment medicines like the tetracycline family of antibiotics. High doses of zinc may also increase the risk of prostate cancer and lower your immunity and your levels of good HDL cholesterol.
What is the safe level of zinc supplements for acne treatment?
Everyone is different and this question needs to be asked of your treating physician. According to the US Government, the upper safe limits of elemental zinc supplementation ranges from 23 mg per day for young adolescents age 9-13 years to 40mg per day in adults. This range is the level recommended by many of the medical studies for acne treatment, so I think it’s the “sweet spot” .
What’s the bottom line for zinc and acne in my opinion?
- Ask your doctor before you experiment with high dose zinc supplements to treat your acne. Levels around 30mg seem safe according to the US government and effective according to medical studies - unless your doctor says otherwise.
- Eat a well-balanced diet rich in beans, nuts, fresh fruits, and veggies and moderate amounts of whole grains, lean meats, and seafood. Minimize dairy consumption because it's becoming the dietary equivalent of the "perfect storm" for acne.
Remember, using the right acne skin care routine is a critical step in treating your acne. Click here to get my Dermatologist's Acne Skin Care Advice and to see my Acne Treatment Tips to find the treatment that's right for you.
See my most popular products for acne:
For more information on my diet recommendations for healthy skin read my post The Best Diet for Healthy Skin.
Brandt S. 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. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013;12(5):542-545.
Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institute of Health http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
Dréno B, Blouin E. Acne, pregnant women and zinc salts: a literature review. Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2008 Jan;135(1):27-33.
Stéphan F, Revuz J. Zinc salts in dermatology. Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2004 May;131(5):455-60.