Can You Use Zinc To Treat Acne Spots And Scars?

Written by Swathi Handoo

It’s official: zinc is a promising alternative acne treatment (1). If you are done using gels, washes, ointments, and peels to treat acne, maybe you should give zinc a shot.

Zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, and several zinc salts have anti-acne properties (2). Their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects can calm acne lesions. While experts are divided over using zinc as first-line therapy for acne, many prefer it as an add-on to traditional treatments. What’s the verdict? Can you use zinc to treat acne or not? If yes, does it have any side effects? Find out more in this brief read.

How Does Zinc Benefit Your Skin?

Research demonstrates the critical role of zinc in skin and tissue development. Zinc deficiency may manifest as several skin disorders like pellagra, alopecia, atopic dermatitis, and so on (2). This mineral supports the following functions (3), (4):

  • Proliferation and development of epidermal (skin) cells.
  • Differentiation of skin cells into specific cell types.
  • Growth and maintenance of keratinocytes (type of cells found in the outermost layer of skin).
  • Fighting infectious agents entering through cuts, bruises, zits, etc. on the skin.
  • Controlling the growth and spread of cancerous skin cells.
  • Proper formation and functioning of all the skin layers.
  • Suppression of inflammation (allergies, ulcers, acne, etc.).

There is enough evidence to prove zinc’s efficacy in treating multiple types of acne.

Is Zinc Good For Acne?

A study involving 47 patients with mild acne compared the efficacy of topical 5% zinc sulfate and 2% tea lotion. It found zinc sulfate to be more effective in reducing the severity of the lesions than the latter (2).

A path-breaking study in 1977 compared the effects of oral zinc sulfate and a combination dose of zinc sulfate and vitamin A on comedones, papules, and pustules. It found that zinc sulfate alone showed a significant decrease in the lesions (5).

When used alone and in combination with other agents, zinc ions have excellent anti-inflammatory activity. They suppress the growth and spread of acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) by interfering in their key metabolic activities. Zinc may also control sebum secretion in the skin layers by restoring hormonal balance (2).

Healthcare professionals are divided over the use of zinc over traditional treatments and antibiotics.

Which Works Better On Acne: Zinc Or Antibiotics?

This is an ongoing debate and needs further in-depth research. A large body of research demonstrates how zinc is as beneficial as antibiotics, if not better, on acne. A 12-week study reports no difference in effect between zinc and antibiotic treatments (6).

Although antibiotics have been used to treat acne for over two decades, the causative bacterium P. acnes is growing resistant to them since 1992. When 30 patients with inflammatory acne were given 30 mg/day of zinc salts for two months, the number of lesions reduced significantly. This study reported that zinc salts could make the P.acnes bacteria less resistant to antibiotics (7). In other words, zinc therapy amplifies the effect of antibiotics for better acne management.

The exact mechanism of zinc in acne treatment is not well explained. This uncertainty, perhaps, makes antibiotics the preferred and prevalent choice of anti-acne treatment over zinc therapy (2). If you want to try zinc therapy, you can do it after consulting your dermatologist.

How To Use Zinc For Acne

You can use zinc in three ways: topical, oral, and via diet.

1. Topical Zinc

This is the safest and most vetted form of zinc therapy. Topical zinc is commonly available in the form of gels, ointments, lotions, pastes, washes, etc. (1).

You may use zinc in the forms of (2), (5):

  • Zinc sulfate
  • Zinc acetate
  • Zinc octoate

2. Oral Zinc (Systemic Therapy)

Oral zinc is best when the treatment area is large, or the lesions have spread throughout the body.

Tablets, capsules, lozenges, or gummies of zinc salts are the preferred forms. They mainly contain (2):

  • Zinc gluconate
  • Zinc sulfate and other complex zinc salts

Another option is multivitamin or mineral supplements. Zinc is present in almost all such supplements. Zinc is also found in some oral over-the-counter products, like flu medication, denture adhesive creams, and lozenges (9).

However, avoid taking oral zinc supplements without consulting a dermatologist and unless you have a zinc deficiency. Excessive zinc intake can cause toxicity (discussed later in the article).

3. Dietary Zinc

Diets rich in zinc and vitamin-A-containing foods have been shown to control acne-related inflammation and skin lesions (8). Having zinc-rich foods is one of the easiest ways to ensure skin health. You can choose from the following to get your daily quota of zinc (9):

  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood (crabs, lobsters, etc.)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products

Taking zinc via diet does not cause toxicity. However, if you are using oral or topical forms, you have to be careful about the dosage. It is better to consult the dermatologist for your recommended dosage or check the section below.

How Much Zinc Should You Take for Acne?

The amount of zinc you need each day depends on your age. The average daily recommended dosage for zinc is (9):

Life StageRecommended Dosage
Adults (Men)11 mg
Adults (Women)8 mg
Pregnant and Lactating Women11-12 mg
Teens (Boys)11 mg
Teens (Girls)9 mg
Children5-8 mg

For oral or other systemic modes, the recommended zinc (in elemental or pure state) intake in the form of salts is:

Zinc SaltsRecommended Dosage
Zinc Sulfate22.5 mg/ 100 mg
Zinc Acetate30 mg/100 mg
Zinc Oxide80 mg/100 mg

Overall, adults should be taking 15-30 mg/day of zinc. The upper limit for zinc from all sources— food, beverages, and supplements is (9):

Life StageMaximum Upper Limit
Adults40 mg
Teens34 mg
Children (pre-teens)23 mg

It is important to stick to the recommended dosage to avoid side effects and complications.

Risks Associated With Using Zinc For Acne

Zinc does not cause any major side effects unless taken in excess. Consuming zinc (elemental or as salts) beyond the recommended doses can lead to zinc toxicity and cause symptoms like (2), (9):

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches

Zinc supplements may interfere with other dietary supplements, certain antibiotics, and diuretics (9). Therefore, it is critical to inform your healthcare provider of the dietary supplements you consume – especially if they contain zinc and copper.

The Bottom Line

Zinc is a mineral that manages mild to severe forms of acne. Its role in anti-acne treatment is perhaps the most studied and explored domain in dermatology. However, zinc-based therapy is not the recommended substitute for traditional antibiotic-based therapies.

Some may recommend it alongside prescription medicine for acne. This does not mean you should avoid zinc for acne treatment. Be careful not to self-medicate and always consult a dermatologist before using zinc.

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Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.