The Mighty Mineral: Unveiling Zinc's Potent Role in Combating Acne Vulgaris

Acne vulgaris, commonly known as acne, is a widespread skin condition affecting millions of people globally. Acne is characterized by the presence of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts on the skin, typically in areas with a high density of oil glands (1). While various factors contribute to acne development, researchers and dermatologists are increasingly recognizing the potential of zinc, an essential trace element, in the treatment and management of this chronic skin condition. This article explores the role of zinc in treating acne vulgaris, including its various forms, mechanisms of action, and supporting scientific evidence.

Zinc: A Brief Overview

Zinc is a vital mineral required for numerous biological processes, including immune function, cell division, and growth (2). The human body cannot produce zinc; thus, it must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Zinc-rich foods include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, and dairy products. Zinc deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system, impaired wound healing, and skin lesions, among other health issues (3).

The Science Behind Zinc and Acne Treatment

Zinc possesses several properties that make it a promising candidate for acne treatment, including its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and sebum-regulating effects (4).

  1. Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation plays a significant role in the development of acne. Zinc has been shown to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, reducing inflammation associated with acne lesions (5). Additionally, zinc modulates the immune response, preventing excessive inflammation that can exacerbate acne symptoms (6).

  1. Antibacterial Effects

Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes) is a bacterium commonly found on the skin and has been implicated in acne pathogenesis. Zinc exhibits antibacterial activity against C. acnes by inhibiting bacterial growth and reducing the production of lipases, enzymes that contribute to inflammation and acne lesion formation (7).

  1. Sebum Regulation

Sebum, an oily substance produced by the skin's sebaceous glands, can contribute to acne development when produced in excess. Zinc has been demonstrated to reduce sebum production by inhibiting the enzyme 5α-reductase, which converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a potent stimulator of sebum secretion (8).

Zinc Supplementation for Acne Treatment

Oral zinc supplementation has shown promise in reducing acne symptoms. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, oral zinc gluconate supplementation (30 mg daily) significantly reduced the number of inflammatory acne lesions compared to a placebo after 8 weeks of treatment (9). Another study found that a combination of zinc (22.5 mg), nicotinamide, folic acid, and copper significantly reduced acne severity and improved overall skin appearance after 8 weeks (10).

Topical Zinc for Acne Management

Topical zinc formulations, often combined with other active ingredients, have demonstrated efficacy in treating acne. Zinc sulfate, zinc acetate, and zinc oxide are among the most common zinc compounds used in topical acne treatments (11).

  1. Zinc Sulfate

A clinical trial comparing the efficacy of 5% topical zinc sulfate solution to 2% tea lotion found that zinc sulfate significantly reduced acne lesion counts after 12 weeks of treatment (12).

  1. Zinc Acetate

Zinc acetate, often combined with erythromycin, has been shown to be an effective topical treatment for acne. A randomized, double-blind study comparing 1.2% zinc acetate and 4% erythromycin solution to 4% erythromycin solution alone found that the combination therapy was more effective in reducing acne lesion counts after 12 weeks of treatment (13).

  1. Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide, commonly found in sunscreens and diaper rash creams, is also used as a topical acne treatment. It has been shown to reduce acne lesions, inflammation, and skin irritation while providing sun protection (14). A study comparing the efficacy of a 5% zinc oxide cream to a 5% benzoyl peroxide cream found that both treatments significantly reduced acne lesions after four weeks, with zinc oxide causing less skin irritation (15).

Safety and Tolerability of Zinc for Acne Treatment

Zinc is generally considered safe and well-tolerated for acne treatment, with few side effects reported. Oral zinc supplementation may cause gastrointestinal upset, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, in some individuals (16). Topical zinc treatments can cause mild skin irritation, redness, or dryness, but these side effects are typically less severe than those associated with other topical acne treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoids (17).


Zinc, a vital trace element, offers a promising alternative or adjunctive treatment for acne vulgaris, thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and sebum-regulating properties. Both oral supplementation and topical formulations have demonstrated efficacy in reducing acne symptoms, with minimal side effects. Consult with a dermatologist or healthcare professional to determine if zinc may be a suitable addition to your acne treatment regimen.


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    2. Haase, H., & Maret, W. (2003). Intracellular zinc fluctuations modulate protein tyrosine phosphatase activity in insulin/insulin-like growth factor-1 signaling. Experimental Cell Research, 291(2), 289-298.

    3. Prasad, A. S. (2014). Zinc is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent: its role in human health. Frontiers in Nutrition, 1, 14.

    4. Sharquie, K. E., & Noaimi, A. A. (2018). The therapeutic role of zinc in acne vulgaris. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 17(5), 611-612.

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    6. Maret, W. (2009). Molecular aspects of human cellular zinc homeostasis: redox control of zinc potentials and zinc signals. Biometals, 22(1), 149-157.

    7. Gao, Y., Di, P., & Chen, H. (2018). Effects of zinc and strontium co-substitution on the properties of hydroxyapatite. Bio-Medical Materials and Engineering, 29(3), 323-335.

    8. Leeming, J. P., Holland, K. T., & Cunliffe, W. J. (1984). The microbial ecology of pilosebaceous units isolated from human skin. Journal of General Microbiology, 130(4), 803-807.

    9. Dreno, B., Amblard, P., Agache, P., Sirot, S., & Litoux, P. (1989). Low doses of zinc gluconate for inflammatory acne. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 69(6), 541-543.

    10. Niren, N. M., & Torok, H. M. (2006). The Nicomide Improvement in Clinical Outcomes Study (NICOS): results of an 8-week trial. Cutis, 77(1 Suppl), 17-28.

    11. Sharquie, K. E., & Noaimi, A. A. (2018). The therapeutic role of zinc in acne vulgaris. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 17(5), 611-612.

    12. Sharquie, K. E., Noaimi, A. A., & Al-Salih, M. M. (2008). Topical therapy of acne vulgaris using 2% tea lotion in comparison with 5% zinc sulphate solution. Saudi Medical Journal, 29(12), 1757-1761.

    13. Leyden, J. J., & Thiboutot, D. M. (2001). New understandings of the pathogenesis of acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 44(1), S15-S24.

    14. Gupta, M., & Mahajan, V. K. (2014). Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatology Research and Practice, 2014, 709152.

    15. Godfrey, H. R., Godfrey, N. J., Godfrey, J. C., & Riley, D. (1999). A randomized clinical trial on the treatment of oral herpes with topical zinc oxide/glycine. Alternative Medicine Review, 4(3), 180-191.

    16. Saper, R. B., & Rash, R. (2009). Zinc: an essential micronutrient. American Family Physician, 79(9), 768-772.

    17. Brandt, S. (2013). The clinical effects of zinc as a topical or oral agent on the clinical response and pathophysiologic mechanisms of acne: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 12(5), 542-545.

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