Some research has linked eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, to zinc deficiency. Zinc creams and ointments may help soothe skin and reduce itching, though they are not a first-line treatment for eczema. A person can use zinc oxide creams and ointments to apply directly to the skin.

However, this research is ongoing, so atopic dermatitis does not necessarily result from zinc deficiency.

Zinc is a trace mineral that the body needs to perform essential functions, such as healing wounds — which can result from the cracking that eczema causes. Zinc oxide has strong antioxidant and antibacterial properties that could help heal the skin of people with the condition.

Because zinc has anti-inflammatory properties, it may help calm irritated skin. This is why it has long been a popular choice for treating diaper rash.

Read on to learn about how zinc may help eczema, zinc oxide creams, how to use them, and more.

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Zinc is a trace mineral that the human body needs to perform a range of essential functions and processes. Although the body only needs small amounts, it is necessary to carry out essential bodily functions.

These include:

  • supporting immune function
  • making protein and DNA
  • healing wounds
  • allowing cell division and communication between cells
  • aiding growth and development during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adolescence
  • supporting the sense of taste

Zinc helps the immune system function properly, assisting a person’s body in fighting off infections. The body also needs zinc to protect the integrity of the skin, which provides a barrier from the environment and acts as part of the immune system.

The authors of a 2018 study noted that the skin is the bodily tissue that is the third richest in zinc. They also highlighted the link between abnormalities in a person’s zinc transporters — proteins that help substances enter or exit cells — and zinc deficiency and skin problems.

Some ways that zinc oxide ointment may help treat the skin include:

  • treating and preventing diaper rash
  • protecting the skin from wetness
  • protecting and drying oozing and weeping areas of skin that have come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac
  • preventing and temporarily protecting against chafed, chapped, cracked, or windburned skin and lips

A 2016 controlled study explains that researchers have not yet fully identified the disease process in eczema. However, the relationship between immune system abnormalities, genetics, and environment seems to play a role.

The body needs zinc for a fully functioning immune system.

In the above study, the people with eczema had significantly lower levels of zinc in their blood compared with those without the condition. The researchers also found that the milder a person’s eczema, the higher the levels of zinc they had in their blood.

They said this might suggest a link between the disease progression in eczema and zinc metabolism within cells.

Additionally, the authors of a 2019 systematic review examined the potential link between zinc levels and eczema and the efficacy of zinc supplements in treating the condition.

The data from the 16 included studies showed significantly lower levels of zinc in the blood and hair of people with eczema compared with those without it. However, the researchers said they would need more high quality studies to confirm the connection between low zinc levels and eczema.

A 2020 retrospective study on children under 14 years found that 25% of them with eczema had zinc deficiency. Additionally, only children with severe eczema and raised levels of IgE — antibodies the immune system produces — were zinc deficient.

Additionally, a person with zinc deficiency has a higher risk of infections, allergies, and autoimmunity. This is when the immune system becomes overactive and attacks the body’s healthy cells.

A person can apply topical zinc oxide products to the skin. For instance, manufacturers commonly use the substance as an ingredient in sunscreen.

Zinc has anti-inflammatory properties and increases reepithelialization, which refers to skin healing over a wound, supporting its use for treating eczemas. Although it is less effective than other treatment methods, such as topical corticosteroids, it is a useful soothing and antipruritic (anti-itch) agent.

Zinc oxide typically comes in the form of an ointment or paste. A person can choose from a range of brands and products, including:

  • Aftate
  • Ancalima
  • Careall
  • Lil Goats

Additionally, people who are deficient in zinc can take oral zinc supplements or eat food sources of zinc, such as seafood, lean meats, and soy, in their diet. If a person suspects they have a zinc deficiency, they should contact a doctor.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that adults aged 19 years and older take in a recommended daily allowance of zinc of 11 milligrams (mg) for males and 8 mg for females. The recommendations change to 11–12 mg during pregnancy and 12–13 mg when breastfeeding.

Health experts have also suggested zinc oxide-impregnated fabric as a possible therapy for eczema. However, researchers are undecided on how useful it is.

Research has shown that a person’s eczema can significantly improve when they wear fabric saturated with zinc oxide. However, a 2020 study reported a lack of data for using zinc oxide-coated fabrics to treat atopic dermatitis.

The authors said they required more evidence before they could draw any conclusions.

While not a first-line treatment, some suggest that zinc oxide may also help treat eczema in infants and children.

A 2019 study explained that the condition usually starts to show in susceptible children between the ages of 3 and 6 months. Most children who will have atopic dermatitis develop it by the age of 5 years.

Additionally, a 2016 study from Thailand found that applying zinc oxide to the skin of infants aged 6–12 months prevented irritant contact diaper dermatitis better than talcum powder.

The authors of a 2017 study noted the side effects relating to long-term steroid use to treat eczema. They set out to test the efficacy and safety of a steroid-free diaper rash cream as a treatment.

The researchers used a cream containing zinc oxide along with starch, glycyrrhetinic acid, and bisabolol. Children with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis received the treatment for 6 weeks.

The researchers found a 51% reduction in total eczema severity scores after 3 weeks, with the reduction increasing to 74% at the end of the 6-week trial period. However, it is important to note that despite these positive results, the study had a small sample size of participants.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that the body needs for a healthy functioning immune system, including the skin barrier. Research shows a connection between a person’s zinc transporters, zinc deficiency, and skin problems.

Topical zinc oxide may help soothe the skin of people with eczema, including babies and children. If a person has eczema, they can speak with a doctor about using zinc oxide creams and ointments.