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Some healthcare professionals recommend zinc-based medications as treatment options for acne.

Acne is a common condition that affects the surface of the skin. Acne often occurs during puberty, although people of all ages can develop it.

Zinc is a common mineral, which the body uses for many important processes.

In this article, we will look at the role of zinc in treating acne. We will also look at the risks and benefits of using zinc for this purpose.

a teenage girl applying a cream that contains Zinc to the  acne on the her faceShare on Pinterest
Many topical treatments for acne contain zinc.

Zinc is an essential mineral that the body needs to perform some important functions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) note that zinc is essential for the following bodily processes:

  • growth during childhood and adolescence
  • wound healing
  • enzyme activity
  • immune system functioning
  • cell division
  • DNA and protein synthesis

Zinc can also treat acne, a common skin condition.

Acne occurs as a result of the overproduction of sebum, an oily secretion of the skin. As one article explains, the overproduction of sebum can lead to inflammation and clogged pores, causing lesions to form on the skin.

Common symptoms of acne include:

  • Papules: Small red bumps.
  • Pustules: Small red bumps with a white, pus-filled tip.
  • Nodules: Large lumps that build up under the surface of the skin.
  • Blackheads: Black marks at the surface of the skin.
  • Whiteheads: Small white bumps at the surface of the skin.

You can find out more about acne and its symptoms here.

A 2014 review notes that zinc’s anti-inflammatory properties make it well-suited to treating inflammatory skin conditions. The type of acne that causes pustules, nodules, and cysts is inflammatory.

Researchers also believe that zinc might help treat acne by suppressing the production of sebum and fighting acne-causing bacteria. These effects would allow it to treat noninflammatory acne, too.

Doctors can prescribe medication that contains zinc to treat acne. A person can take this orally or apply it topically.

A person can also increase their intake of zinc by altering or supplementing their diet. Learn about foods high in zinc here.

Topical medication

Topical treatments often take the form of pastes, gels, or creams. A person can apply them directly to the parts of the skin that acne affects.

Some common topical zinc-based medications include:

  • zinc sulfate
  • zinc acetate
  • zinc octoate

Oral medication

Acne can sometimes affect large areas of the skin or parts of the body that are hard to reach. In these cases, topical treatments can be impractical.

Oral medication is much easier to administer. It often takes the form of a tablet or capsule.

Some common oral zinc-based medications include:

  • zinc sulfate
  • zinc gluconate
  • zinc salts

Dietary changes

A person can increase their intake of zinc by making specific dietary changes. The NIH note that oysters are the food with the highest zinc content per serving.

Other foods that are good sources of zinc include:

  • red meat and poultry
  • dairy products
  • nuts
  • beans
  • whole grains and fortified breakfast cereals
  • some seafood, such as crab and lobster

The body finds it easier to absorb zinc from animal-based foods than from certain plant-based foods. Some plants and grains contain phytates, which inhibit zinc absorption.

Dietary supplements can also help people boost their zinc intake. Certain supplements include zinc as part of a multivitamin, while others contain only zinc.

A range of zinc supplements is available for purchase online.

There is some evidence that zinc-based medication can be effective in treating acne.

For example, one study reports that oral zinc gluconate can alleviate symptoms of acne.

The authors also note that compared with some acne medications that do not contain zinc, oral zinc-based medications might be a safer treatment option for pregnant women.

A different study notes that oral zinc sulfate is particularly effective in treating severe acne, although there is debate about how well the topical form of zinc sulfate works. Some research indicates no improvement in acne symptoms, though other researchers have observed some improvements.

There has also been some interest in combining topical antibiotics with topical zinc-based medication. However, researchers have found that the addition of zinc-based medication does not improve the effects of topical antibiotics.

Study findings have shown that people with acne have significantly lower levels of zinc in their blood than people without any acne. Therefore, a person may be able to treat their acne by increasing their dietary intake of zinc. Learn about zinc deficiency here.

As zinc is toxic in higher doses, it can be dangerous to ingest too much of it. Symptoms of zinc toxicity include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle cramps
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • hematemesis, which is vomiting blood

As one study reports, the overuse of dietary supplements can lead to zinc toxicity. Learn more about the risks of too much zinc here.

Oral zinc sulfates are associated with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Researchers have observed that zinc salts can induce nausea and vomiting, too.

People with sensitive skin should practice caution when using topical zinc-based treatments. For example, topical zinc sulfate can cause skin irritation.

Some research suggests that zinc can be effective in treating acne. However, researchers know that using zinc in this way has associated risks.

Anyone who wishes to use zinc-based medication or increase their dietary intake of zinc should first consult a healthcare professional.

Although acne rarely leads to serious physical complications, researchers know that it can affect a person’s mental health.

If an individual finds that acne is having psychosocial effects on them, they should speak to a doctor about treatment options. They may also find it helpful to speak to a counselor.