What Does Zinc Do for Skin?

Woman with zinc cream on her face

If you’re a fan of mineral sunscreen, you probably know that zinc can help prevent UV rays from damaging your healthy skin. But zinc plays a much bigger role in skin health than simply serving as your skin’s solar protection—in fact, it’s believed to have been used in skincare for thousands of years.1

So, what does zinc do for skin? Probably more than you think. Zinc can help with everything from reducing irritation and redness to supporting wound healing, collagen production, and fighting infections. 

Keep reading as we dive into everything this amazing mineral does and how you can use zinc for skin health and healing.

How Does Zinc Help Skin Health?

Zinc is involved in hundreds of processes throughout your body, especially those involving cell growth and regeneration.2 In the skin, zinc has several special roles to play:

  • Collagen production – Because of its key role in protein synthesis, zinc is integral to your body’s ability to produce collagen—the strong, stretchy protein fiber that gives skin its youthful elasticity and resilience.
  • Cell renewal – Zinc is instrumental in DNA and protein synthesis, meaning it supports the creation of new, healthy skin cells.3
  • Reducing inflammation – Looking for how to soothe irritated skin? Research suggests that topical application of zinc can be helpful for inflammatory skin conditions, scar reduction, wound healing, and anti-aging.2 Moreover, it also helps your immune system fight illness, which may help improve bacterial imbalances in the skin (often one of the root causes of severe acne).3

Which Skin Conditions Can Zinc Treat?

Given zinc’s importance in a host of cellular functions, incorporating it into your skincare lineup can help foster resiliency, a more even skin tone, and a smoother complexion. 

There’s just one caveat: the body can’t produce zinc on its own. This means that you’ll need to obtain it either through your diet, supplements, or topical solutions.

Fortunately, dermatologists have been using this mineral for decades to treat a host of common skin complaints, among them:

  • Acne – Zinc may not be one of the first treatments you think of for severe acne relief, but it’s one of the most widely researched acne treatments today.3 Topical application of zinc may help fight acne by fending off bacterial infections of the skin. As an anti-inflammatory mineral, it may also calm redness from skin irritation and inflammation.3
  • Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) – Atopic dermatitis is a common skin condition that causes inflamed breakouts of red, flaky, itchy skin. Several studies have found low levels of zinc are common among people with atopic dermatitis. Zinc supplements and topical application of zinc oxide both appear to assist in reducing visible signs of eczema like redness and irritation.2
  • Rosacea – Another common form of dermatitis, rosacea is a skin condition that causes red, flushed, and swollen skin, typically on the face. Rosacea is a difficult condition to treat, but one study found that oral supplementation of zinc helped reduce inflammation with a few months of treatment.2 Dermatologists theorize that zinc’s anti-inflammatory capabilities have a soothing effect on inflammation caused by rosacea.2
  • Warts – Dermatology research has also found that the topical application of zinc oxide can help treat viral warts. Zinc is known to have antiviral properties, which may be why it appears to help treat warts brought on by viruses.2

Is Zinc Right For Your Skin?

If you have skin concerns related to an inflammatory condition such as acne, atopic dermatitis, or rosacea, topical zinc treatment may help reduce redness and inflammation. It may also be beneficial for helping acne breakout sores to heal faster or could reduce scarring from former blemishes.2

If you use topical zinc for an acne breakout, it may take up to 12 weeks of consistent use to see a visible improvement in your skin. Bear in mind that you should always work with a healthcare provider if you’re considering trying a zinc supplement.3

Other Skin Health Benefits of Zinc

Zinc may also provide some anti-aging benefits and a boost to general skin health in three key ways:

  • Promotes skin elasticity – Collagen production naturally slows as the skin ages.1 One 8-week study found that participants who used a copper and zinc topical cream showed significant regeneration of collagen and elastin in the skin, as well as a visible reduction in facial wrinkles.2
  • Supports Keratin Production – Zinc is vital for building keratin, another structural substance found in the skin, hair, and nails. Keratin loss can contribute to dry skin as well as brittle, damage-prone hair and nails.4
  • Supports Moisture Retention – Your skin barrier is crucial for retaining moisture in the upper layers of your skin, but skin naturally loses some of its ability to prevent moisture loss as we age. Research shows that the topical use of zinc oxide can help prevent this.1 Why? Because topical applications of zinc oxide collect on the topmost layers of the epidermis (your skin), which may help reinforce the skin’s natural protective barrier.

How To Harness the Power of Zinc For Your Skin

Zinc can benefit skin health when it’s taken internally as a supplement, or you can apply it as a topical treatment. The mineral is chiefly available in three forms:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Zinc sulfate
  • Zinc pyrithione

Zinc oxide is the most ubiquitous form you’ll find in cosmetics like moisturizers, makeup, and masks, while zinc pyrithione and zinc sulfate are typically found in treatments for specific skin conditions like psoriasis or fungal infections.2

Whether you want to use zinc to boost your skin’s collagen content or treat inflammatory conditions like acne, let’s explore three common products you can use to incorporate zinc into your natural skincare routine.

Mineral Sunscreen 

Most sunscreens help to protect the skin in one of two ways:5

  • Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide create a physical barrier that deflects UV-A and UV-B rays away from your skin
  • Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation so that your skin cells don’t

Both methods can be effective for sun protection, but recent studies have found that chemical sunscreens enter the bloodstream at rates that exceed FDA guidelines, meaning further safety testing may be required.6 

Additional research will be needed to determine if this poses a health risk, but mineral sunscreens with zinc are an excellent option for UV protection if you’re concerned about the effects of chemical sunscreen on your sensitive skin.

Moisturizers, Masks, and Toners

Many skincare products use zinc oxide not only for of its wide-ranging benefits, but also because the mineral isn’t water soluble and carries well in shelf-stable formulas.1 You can find zinc oxide in the form of:

  • Toners
  • Cleansers
  • Moisturizers
  • Masks

Types of Face masks containing zinc are a particularly efficient way of including this powerhouse mineral into your skincare toolkit. Because your skin will be exposed to zinc for longer, active ingredients can more readily penetrate the skin and soothe inflammation.7

Mineral-based makeup

Zinc is often included in mineral makeup powders, both for UV protection and because can help cultivate a smoother, even skin base. Zinc is also generally non-allergenic and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores or cause skin irritation in most people.1

Other Ingredients To Pair With Zinc

If you want to amp up zinc’s effectiveness, there are three other ingredients to look for in your skincare product formulas. Some top picks to pair with zinc include:

  • Niacinamide – Niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) is an essential nutrient that supports the skin barrier, evens skin tone, and can help treat skin inflammation. It’s also known to work well when formulated with zinc.8
  • Vitamin E – Vitamin E is an antioxidant that provides support for the lipid barrier, fights inflammation, and boosts skin healing. Vitamin E is a stable, safe ingredient for skincare products that mixes well with zinc.9
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is another important antioxidant that supports the production of collagen and protects against UV damage. Like zinc, topical vitamin C may help reduce uneven skin tone and inflammation,10 and it works even better in formulations that also include vitamin E.11

How to Load Up On Zinc Through Diet

Since your body can’t produce zinc on its own, it’s vital to pad your diet with plenty of food sources containing the nutrient.

Zinc deficiencies are common—in fact, the World Health Organization believes up to 30% of the population worldwide may be suffering from zinc deficiency.2 Numerous studies have found that even small deficiencies in zinc may contribute to lowered skin resilience.2

Fortunately, your body doesn’t require much dietary zinc in order to replenish its supply. Foods that are a rich source of zinc include:3

  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Cereals
  • Nuts
  • Poultry
  • Red meat
  • Whole grains
  • Oysters

Giving your sensitive skin its fair share of zinc comes down to creating as much diversity on your plate as in your skincare regimen. The more vibrant your diet and your skincare routine, the more easily you’ll be able to reap the benefits zinc has to offer.

Zinc Up Your Skincare Routine With HPPY

Whether you’re looking for relief from acne scars or just want to keep your skin’s natural barrier healthy and hydrated, skincare products containing zinc oxide are a wonderful, natural option. 

HPPY Skin’s Detox Face Mask pairs zinc oxide along with 11 simple, fresh, and pure ingredients that you’d find in your own kitchen—but without the preservatives, you’d normally find in skincare. Bring on the good stuff and keep harsh chemicals out of your skincare equation by shopping HPPY Skin’s nourishing, skin-kind, non-toxic collection today.


Sources: 

  1. Derm Review. How Does Zinc Oxide Benefit Your Skin? https://thedermreview.com/zinc-oxide/ 
  2. Dermatology Research and Practice. Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4120804/ 
  3. Healthline. Can You Use Zinc for Acne Spots and Scars?  https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/zinc-for-acne 
  4. SF Gate. Nutrients Affecting Keratin Production. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/nutrients-affecting-keratin-production-10393.html 
  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/shade-clothing-sunscreen/sunscreen-faqs 
  6. American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology comments on follow-up study on absorption of sunscreen ingredients. https://www.aad.org/news/2020-01-21-study-on-absorption-of-sunscreen-ingredients 
  7. Healthline. Do Face Masks Actually Do Anything for Your Skin? https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/do-face-masks-work 
  8. Healthline. Everything You Should Know About Niacinamide. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/niacinamide 
  9. Byrdie. Vitamin E Is the Intensely Moisturizing, Formula-Stabilizing Ingredient Derms Love. https://www.byrdie.com/vitamin-e-oil-uses 
  10. Food Insight. Four Nutrients for Hair, Nails and Skin Health. https://foodinsight.org/4-nutrients-to-eat-for-better-skin-hair/ 
  11. Healthline. 5 Skin Care Ingredients That Should Always Be Paired Together. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/ingredients-that-work-well-together 
  12. Aesthetic Medicine. The Effect of Zinc on Skin. https://aestheticmed.co.uk/site/featuresdetails/the-effect-of-zinc-on-skin

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