Zinc supplement for acne

There are doubts about natural products and supplements for treating medical conditions, but evidence shows that supplements like zinc may be one of the most convenient and effective ways to treat acne. If you are curious about how zinc may help with acne treatment, this piece is worth reading.

Black girl with smooth face and no acne

Key takeaways:

  • People with acne tend to have a significantly lower level of zinc than those who don't have acne. And zinc supplements may be effective for treating acne.
  • Zinc is a natural element essential for the growth and development of the body, and one of its vital functions is immune boosting.
  • The body does not produce or store excess zinc; hence, there may be a need to consume zinc-rich diets and zinc supplements.

What is zinc?

Zinc is a natural element and an important micronutrient needed for the body to grow, develop, and work properly. It is an essential nutrient found in plants, animals, and supplements. However, the body needs it in only small amounts.

Zinc has different benefits, including:

  • Fighting infections
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Healing and protecting the skin
  • Treatment of a common cold
  • Treatment of skin conditions, such as warts and eczema

Does zinc help in treating acne?

Antibiotics, retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid are all ingredients that have been shown to help treat acne. 

But for some reasons, like allergies, intolerance of the skin, and resistance to antimicrobials, zinc has been found to work just as well as the popular ingredients in skincare products, and the skin and body systems even tolerate it better.

Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to evade or counteract the actions of medications designed to kill them.

How does zinc work for acne?

Zinc is antibacterial, which means it can kill the bacteria that cause some acne without the risk of the bacteria becoming resistant.

Aestheticians have always used antibiotics to fight acne-causing bacteria, but the good news is that zinc may be a better option. And this is not to downplay the role of antibiotics in the treatment of acne, but when the risk outweighs the benefits, then zinc may be a better alternative.

Recent studies have also shown that zinc makes it easier for erythromycin, an antibiotic that kills bacteria that cause acne, to be absorbed through the skin while reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Additionally, zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation occurs when the body fights off the bacteria. This can result in inflammatory signs such as swelling and redness. Since zinc is an anti-inflammatory agent, it can reduce the swelling and redness. 

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, topical zinc, alone or in combination with other actives, may also be effective in reducing the appearance of papules.

Another way zinc can work to treat acne is by suppressing oil production. When your skin produces excess oil called sebum, it clogs your pores, trapping dirt and triggering a breakout, which causes acne. 

Zinc has antiandrogenic properties, which prevent male hormones from binding to proteins. Because androgens increase oil production, zinc suppresses this action, resulting in a decrease in oil production.

How to use zinc for acne

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There are different ways to incorporate zinc into your routine, depending on its form.

Various forms or sources of zinc include;

  • Dietary zinc
  • Zinc supplements 
  • Topical zinc

Dietary zinc

The food you eat contains many nutrients for enriching and nourishing the body, and zinc is one of those nutrients.

Some dietary sources of zinc include:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Seafood (especially oysters)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts

The recommended amount of dietary zinc for children is 5–10.1 mg and 9.2–13.2 mg daily for adults, which may not be enough to fight acne, especially in adults.

For this reason, it may help to use zinc supplements to augment the zinc diet to get the desired result.

Zinc Supplements

A supplement is a medication intended to add to or augment food. Supplements can come in different forms, including capsules, tablets, powders, soft gels, gel caps, bars, gummies, and liquids.

Zinc supplements are widely available over the counter and come in a variety of strengths for various applications. Still, they should not exceed 50 mg of zinc per day or higher for people with zinc deficiency.

There are different forms of zinc supplements, and they include;

  • Zinc gluconate
  • Zinc sulfate
  • Zinc acetate
  • Zinc picolinate
  • Zinc citrate
  • Zinc methionine

It might be best to talk to a dermatologist about which zinc supplement would be best for your skin.

Topical zinc

For people who don’t like taking medications orally, topical medications come in handy. Zinc can also be applied topically as creams, gels, lotions, face washes, overnight masks, and sunscreen. 

Topical zinc is effective in the treatment of acne and has been shown to be more effective and aid in absorption when combined with other active ingredients.

For people with back acne and body acne, topical zinc is an excellent choice, having direct contact with the acne site when applied to the body. 

You can use zinc cream both during the day and at night. Since zinc has protective properties, there is no need to worry about photosensitivity. However, it would be best to speak with a licensed aesthetician or a dermatologist about the effectiveness, when, and how best to use zinc for acne.

What form of zinc is most effective in treating acne?

Not all forms of zinc may be highly effective for acne treatment. For example, the amount of zinc you can get from food might not be enough to treat skin problems like acne. However, by augmenting with supplements, a person increases the amount of zinc their body takes in. This way, the body has enough zinc to perform different functions, including reducing inflammation and decreasing sebum oil production. 

When it comes to zinc supplements, they have different absorption rates, and their efficacy may vary depending on the forms. 

Researchers have found that zinc methionine is better absorbed, stays in the body longer, and works better than other forms of zinc.

Notably, dermatologists recommend using topical zinc to treat mild to moderate acne and oral zinc to treat moderate to severe acne. This indicates that oral zinc supplements may be more effective for treating acne than other forms.

Is it possible to overdose on zinc?

The chances of a zinc overdose are relatively low, but that does not mean it is not possible. That is why seeking advice from a healthcare professional is essential to making the right choice of zinc supplement and the correct dosage for your condition.

How much zinc a person should consume will depend on different factors, including age, gender, and whether they have medical conditions that affect zinc absorption. Medical conditions, such as acrodermatitis enteropathica, affect how a person's body absorbs zinc, and people with the condition may need to supplement with higher doses of zinc.

Taking dietary zinc is highly recommended for children because foods contain it in minimal amounts and it is nearly impossible to overdose on the dietary source. If a zinc supplement is needed to augment dietary zinc for a child, a doctor will prescribe one. 

For an adult, taking up to 142 mg of zinc per day can interfere with magnesium absorption, disrupt magnesium balance in the body, and also interfere with the absorption of copper in the body, causing anemia.

Symptoms of zinc toxicity rarely become evident until a quantity exceeding 1 to 2 g is ingested.

Some possible signs of zinc toxicity include;

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Sleepiness
  • Copper deficiency
  • Anemia
  • Low levels of neutrophils in the blood
  • Impaired immune function

Possible side-effects of zinc

Although zinc has many good properties, it can cause some side effects, especially when not used properly. 

It is important to note that dietary zinc has no side effects because foods mostly contain nutrients like zinc in adequate amounts.

Side effects of topical zinc include; 

  • Dryness
  • Acne flaring


  • Always finish your skin care routine with a rich-hydrating moisturizer to prevent dryness.  
  • Perform a patch test before using topical zinc by applying it behind your palm for 3 days. If compatible to your skin, you can go ahead and apply on the face.

Oral zinc supplements can also cause side effects, such as;

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain


  • Always stick to the recommended dosage.
  • If the side effects persist, stop the medication and consult your dermatologist for an alternative.


Zinc may be a skin holy grail, but it might not be your skin's savior, which is okay too. 

Do not overlook the role of other acne treatments. Be open to other alternatives, and if zinc is not the right product for you, speak with your dermatologist about other options.


  1. Jessica C., et al. (2017). The role of zinc in the treatment of acne; A review of the literature.
  2. Debjit B., et al. (2010). A potential medicinal importance of zinc in health and chronic disease.
  3. Centers for disease control and prevention. (2022). Antimicrobial resistance.
  4. Mrinal G., et al. (2014). Zinc therapy in dermatology: A review.
  5. National Institute of Health. (2022). Zinc - Health Professional fact sheet.
  6. Food and Drug Administration. (2022). FDA 101: Dietary supplements.
  7. National Institute of Health. (2022). Zinc toxicity.
  8. Brittany E. Yee. (2020). Serum zinc level and efficacy of zinc treatment in acne vulgaris: A systemic review and meta-analysis.
  9. Jagadeesan, S. and Kaliyadan, F. (2022). Acrodermatitis Enteropathica