Zinc and Acne: Does Zinc Help With Acne?

Zinc and acne

Zinc won’t cure acne – fixing your diet is much more important – but it can help acne if you’re deficient.

Let’s get right down to it.

While zinc isn’t a magical cure-all for acne (a comprehensive diet plan is much more effective), it turns out that many acne sufferers are deficient in zinc. And their acne often improves when they start supplementing it!

Zinc is a trace mineral essential to all forms of life because of its fundamental role in gene expression, cell growth and cell replication. And it’s especially important for clear skin.[1]

In fact, taking zinc or eating zinc-rich foods is a simple way to cover your bases for clear skin… and there’s a good chance that you’re deficient! Turns out zinc deficiency is much more common than previously thought.

Here are some symptoms of zinc deficiency:

  • White spots on your fingernails
  • Dry skin
  • Hangnails
  • Frequent colds
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Low sex drive
  • Acne

As I just mentioned, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough zinc in your diet. (In fact, according to the World Health Organization, a whole 31.7% of the world’s population is zinc deficient.[2] That’s over two billion people!)

Do you eat a lot of whole grains and beans? If so, you’re doubly at risk for zinc deficiency, because these foods contain phytates, which bind up minerals (including zinc) and prevent you from absorbing them. So even though whole grains contain more minerals than refined grains, you can’t really absorb them at all unless you ferment / soak your grains first (which neutralizes the phytates, to some extent). Furthermore, vegetarians and vegans are at an even greater risk for zinc deficiency, because the zinc from plant foods is four times more difficult to absorb than zinc from meat.[3]

How do I know if I’m zinc deficient?

Well, unfortunately, zinc blood tests are notoriously unreliable because zinc isn’t found as much in blood – it’s mostly inside the cells.

What can you do about this? First take a look at your diet. Are you vegetarian, vegan, or an infrequent meat-eater? Do you eat whole grains and/or beans with most meals? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then there’s a good chance you’re deficient. And of course, if you experience some of the symptoms of zinc deficiency, that’s a good sign as well.

If you begin taking zinc and your acne doesn’t improve within a few weeks (see below for the recommended daily dosage), does that mean you weren’t deficient? Not necessarily. For some very lucky people, a zinc deficiency is the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” when it comes to their acne, and so taking zinc improves their skin right away!

For the vast majority of zinc-deficient people, however, this is just one piece in the greater acne puzzle, which includes a variety of other diet and lifestyle factors. So if you fall into this majority, take heart, and don’t give up! Explore our other recommendations for improving your diet and lifestyle around the blog and in our book.

So… what’s zinc good for anyway? Zinc is crucial for proper immune system function, triggering the birth of white blood cells. Zinc plays a role in over 300 enzymes in the body, and helps form cellular DNA. It also plays a key role in the proper functioning of insulin, and you’ve got to have a healthy, functioning insulin system if you want clear skin.

Why is zinc important for clear skin?

While the exact mechanisms are unknown, zinc most likely promotes healthy skin by carrying vitamin A to your skin and by regulating your body’s hormonal balance.[4]

Also, a recent study found that zinc facilitates apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which is a natural part of your skin renewing itself. If apoptosis is delayed, as in the case of zinc deficiency, skin cells stick together instead of dying and sloughing off like they should, which leads to clogged pores. (Interesting fact: isotretinoin, the active ingredient in Accutane, also uses this mechanism of cell apoptosis to treat acne.[5] )

So, along with other important dietary changes (such as eliminating dairy), also make sure you’re getting enough zinc.

What’s the best type of zinc supplement for acne?

There’s a clear winner: zinc picolinate. Studies suggest that zinc picolinate is the most easily absorbed form – much more so than zinc gluconate or zinc citrate. Anecdotal reports from acne sufferers also confirm this. This is because your body forms zinc picolinate naturally from the zinc in real food – your body combines zinc in the intestines with picolinic acid, which is secreted by the pancreas.

If you can’t find zinc picolinate in your local health food or supplement store, just grab it off Amazon. We suggest this one, since it also includes copper, which needs to be in balance with zinc for optimal health.

Update: zinc monomethionine is another great option, comparable to zinc picolinate in absorbability.

How much zinc for acne?

If you suspect you’re deficient, I recommend taking 25-40mg per day for the maximum benefit. Make sure you don’t exceed 50mg per day, as you’ll risk copper deficiency.[6]

WARNING: do not take zinc on an empty stomach! It could make you throw up. I become very nauseated when I take zinc without eating anything. So take zinc halfway through a meal or right after eating to prevent nausea. Zinc picolinate, in comparison to other forms, is also the easiest on the stomach – another reason to go with this form of zinc as a step toward getting clear skin.

And just in case you’re not too hot on taking supplements, here are some whole foods you can use to boost your zinc intake:

  • Spirulina
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Nuts
  • Chicken
  • Grass-fed beef and lamb
  • Oysters
  • Beef liver

Like most vitamins and minerals, zinc from real food is generally easier to absorb than from supplements.

Plus, except for a lucky few people, no supplement or combination of supplements by themselves are going to cure acne. It’s by choosing to eat nutrient-dense whole foods like these – and knowing which acne-causing foods to avoid – that people are healing their acne every day.

Key Takeaways

  • Increasing zinc intake can improve your acne if you’re deficient.
  • You might be deficient if you don’t eat much red meat or seafood, and/or you eat lots of whole grains.
  • The best source of zinc is whole foods, but supplements are a good compromise if you can’t or won’t eat zinc-rich foods.
  • DO NOT take zinc supplements on an empty stomach! Take with food to avoid nausea.
  • Zinc is not a complete treatment for acne, because it doesn’t fix the root causes of acne.
  • Zinc can be a helpful addition to a holistic diet- and lifestyle-based treatment for acne.
  • You need to fix your diet and lifestyle to really cure the root causes of acne (that’s what our book is all about!).

Also, if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out the article on Vitamin D for Acne. Vitamin D is another one of my Top 3 Clear Skin Tips, i.e. one of the most little-known, important, and easy things you can do right now to start clearing up your skin.

If you’re the get-up-and-go type, and you’d like to be walked through a complete diet and lifestyle base program for clearing up your skin fast (and keeping it clear), we (Devin and Sonia) have written an ebook that does just that! It’s called Clear Skin Forever. For this complete guide to taking an all-natural, diet-based approach to getting rid of acne and having clear skin for life (not exaggerating!), grab the e-book here.

Sources (click to expand)

  1. Hambidge M. Human zinc deficiency. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5S Suppl): 1344S-9S. Review. ^
  2. Caulfield L, Black, RE. Zinc deficiency. In: Ezzati M, Lopez AD, Rodgers A, Murray CJL, eds. Comparative quantification of health risks: global and regional burden of disease attributable to selected major risk factors. Vol 1. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2004:257–79. http://www.who.int/publications/cra/chapters/volume1/0257-0280.pdf ^
  3. http://www.aminoz.com.au/importance-zinc-zinc-deficiency-a-375.html ^
  4. Truong-Tran AQ, Ho LH, Chai F, Zalewski PD. Cellular zinc fluxes and the regulation of apoptosis/gene-directed cell death. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5S Suppl):1459S-66S. Review. ^
  5. Nelson AM, Zhao W, Gilliland KL, Zaenglein AL, Liu W, Thiboutot DM. Neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin mediates 13-cis retinoic acid-induced apoptosis of human sebaceous gland cells. J Clin Invest. 2008 Apr;118(4): 1468-78. ^
  6. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/zinc/ ^

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  1. re_stars_2 says

    Since I was a teen age I had acne and when I got to 30 stopped a little bit, still got some coming out once in a while but not the painful one that infects the sebaceous glands, but since I was 23 I have had fulliculatis in my scalp..

    The only thing that would clear me up from folliculatis was Amoxicilin and that I took it since the appearance of folliculatis, and I grow weaker and then all of the sudden at 36 years old, acne attacked me hard with infected sebaceous glands.

    And same time my scalp of full of pus filled pimples and reds and itchy then the infection got to my bear and all at the same time.. My face was really bad along with my scalp, and doctors would only prescribe antibiotics.

    I now realize after a month taking Bitamins , A , D , E and turmeric pills, I have stopped the antibiotics and folliculites returned but continued with vitamins and my scalp started to clear again and my acne at least the cysts infected one that has no way out stopped too..

    I am taking at min 10k iu of vitamin A and D3 everyday about already a month and I have seen changes, first my folliculatis since I was 23 years old till 36 now..

    I still afraid and I don’t want to wake up if this is a dream, but I wished I had read your post about vitamin D and A, at acne.org I would have started younger , now I have scars and mazes in my face that cannot be remedied and I just hope the new scars I have stop being red and fade out a little bit more.. and is being a month since I started..

    I am happier than before..

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Really happy to hear that you’re having some success! Bacterial infection is almost never the whole story when it comes to acne (and I presume with folliculitis too), so antibiotics are never totally effective, and they completely wreck your gut flora. That’s great that you’re taking D – if you haven’t already, I encourage you to read some of the other blog posts too, such as the one on dairy. That one has a big impact on many people’s acne!
      Also, I haven’t tried it personally, but I’ve read that cleansing your face with Manuka honey can help with scarring if you want to do something about them. Scars will fade with time, too!

  2. cynthia says

    Dear Devin,
    I apologize for me previous rambling post! I will try again.

    My diet was : vegetables, bread & dairy products ( lots of Cheese! ) After I found your site I eliminated all dairy, revamped everything to your recommendations.
    I started with B5. It was excellent but after a few weeks my hair began to fall out when I stopped B5, my hair stopped falling out No problem.

    Next it tried:
    -Zinc 25mgs
    -D3 5,000 units

    Since I eliminated dairy I have been eatting lentils, hummus, every sort of bean except soy as my main protein source. I read about it beans & grains decreasing zinc absorption up ( one site said up to 50%) . How much zinc should I take to compensate now that my diet now is mostly beans?
    Thank you so much for your help.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Cynthia,
      Thanks for all your input! (We did receive and read your other two comments, but took them off the blog in the interest of saving space, hope you don’t mind :)!) That’s so great that you cut out dairy; it’s a BIG step in a good direction for acne… and for overall health! As for zinc, we don’t recommend taking more than 50mg per day, but you could take more than 25. An even better solution would be to cut out grains and beans from your diet! Are you a vegetarian – and if so, are you pretty committed to your vegetarianism?

  3. Amarae says

    Besides inflammatory acne, I have a problem with whiteheads, a occasional blackhead. They sometimes bother me more than the inflammatory stuff, just because they seem permanent!! :'( Would zinc decrease those as well in theory? Or is that unrelated? I’ve been taking 30mg 1x a day for a few weeks now (as well as fish oil and D3), and have no improvement as far as I can tell. Trying to drink more water as well.

    Also, any thoughts on topical zinc? Zinc oxide cream?

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Amarae, I definitely think zinc could decrease the incidence of whiteheads and blackheads – but only if you’re zinc deficient. If you’ve been taking zinc for awhile without seeing any improvement, it means that something else is going on, too, and probably just taking supplements isn’t going to be enough. Have you checked out the dairy blog post? That’s a really good next step for a lot of people.

      As far as something like zinc oxide cream, my sense is that if ingesting supplemental zinc isn’t cutting it for you, topical zinc isn’t going to help much either. Zinc oxide cream is often used for diaper rash, and so you could expect it to have a temporary inflammation-cooling effect. It doesn’t seem to have any major side effects, so if this appeals to you, go for it! But for longer-term curing of your acne, you might consider taking a closer look at some of the things you’re eating (or feeling) that are causing that inflammation / pore clogging to begin with.

  4. MaherH says

    Thank you so much for clearing that up, I recently tried to take a 50gm serving size of zinc on an empty stomach and I experienced multiple unpleasant symptoms. Today, I am taking a 25gm serving size in addition to vitamin D3 and omega-3. Your website is such a great resource, thank you!

  5. LeahB of Manila says

    How come other people can have 3 cups of coffee or Starbucks in a day and not even have a single zist??? They can even smoke and drink coffee and still have a clear skin. In my case, coffee is just really bad for me. Not only it worsens my acne, it also worsens my dry eye condition. I get bloodshot eyes and super inflamed bumps drinking from it. But I miss drinking my coffee though.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Awesome question! The short answer is genetics – your genes predispose you to make a little more sebum, get a little more insulin resistant, produce a little too much in the way of androgens, etc., given the same dietary / lifestyle triggers. The long answer (which deserves a book unto itself) is epigenetics, or how your genes are expressed. There’s an insanely complex epigenetic regulatory system on top of your genes, governing which genes actually get expressed – in other words, how to interpret your unique genetic map. There are MANY ways to interpret it, and your epigenetic system is heavily influenced by these same dietary and lifestyle triggers. Basically, while you can’t actually rewrite your genes, you CAN change the way they function by optimizing your diet, lifestyle, and daily environment. So you can tell them to create clear skin – just takes a little more attention! (Also, there are pretty strong individual variations in how strongly caffeine triggers negative effects like cortisol/stress hormone boosting. For some people, the effect isn’t as big – these folks are the ones that tolerate cups a day with no problems.) Gotta give your body what it wants, and work with what you’ve got!

      • Leah of Manila says

        Big thanks for clearing that up, big words to ponder though! I guess I’m one of the lucky ones with these kind of messed up genes. But your explanation really makes sense. PS, this post should be on your article about coffee. Sorry.

        • Devin Mooers says

          No worries about posting it here! Happy to help out – I’m in the same boat, SUPER sensitive genes, so really have to pay attention and treat my body well to look my best, but it’s worth it for me, definitely.

  6. LeahB of Manila says

    Hi Devin and Sonia! First off, I thank you so much for all your articles. It really helped me alot with my existing acne problem. I have read your Dairy, Coffee, and Fish Oil articles. Ive now faithfully eliminated dairy and coffee for over a month now and Im really seeing results, good results. Although not sudden and drastic results but I know I’ll be getting there. Im now on my second day with the zinc picolanate, 35mg. Im hoping it will work on me. I dont have questions to come up at this time. But big kudos to you Devin! Keep doing what youre doing!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Leah! Mucho thanks for the kind words! I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed the articles. The approach on this blog is generally not an overnight cure, since it involves majorly re-balancing hormones, curing insulin resistance, reducing inflammation from the source, etc. – those are huge health improvements that take a while to happen, but when they do, skin is generally not the only thing that improves! :) Stick with it, and let us know if you have any questions!

  7. Gwen says

    Hi Devin !
    I’m French and I found your blog, which is very interesting !!
    Actually, I have suffered from acne for 1 year now. It started in my last year of studies. I was, since my teenage years, with a prone-blackheads skin, but had one or two pimples very occasionnally. Since my 2 last years of studies, I started having pimples more frequently. Since last november, I suffer from a real acne, but only located in my chin.

    I think my acne has two main reasons :
    – A poor diet (I didn’t eat very well when I had a lot of homework to do)
    – Lots of stress !!

    Since I’m not stressed (end of studies) and I eat better (for 2 months now), my skin looks better, but it’s not clear. I think my body will need time to recover from this hard year!

    I had blood exams (I asked) , they revealed I had very high cortisol level (in august), which was going down finally (in november). I’m still a little higher, but maybe because I take the birth control pill (oestrogen impact on cortisol?).
    I also asked for vitamin D exam. In May I was in insufficiency (20ng/ml), this month I was only in 24ng. I tried to avoid the sun this summer because I had to put a harsh cream for acne…
    My doctor gave me a 200.000 UI dose of vitamin D to increase my level last week, but a few days after I took it I started breaking out a lot ! I had 4 microkysts, they all inflammed at a sudden.

    Do you think this is because of the vitamin D ? I have dermatitis under my hair and I noticed it is much better since I took the vitamin D dose.

    I regularly take supplements, and at the moment I take :
    – Royal gelly from a local french producer (I bought it where he produces it! excellent quality)
    – 500mg of MSM and 15mg of zinc
    – 900mg of Fish Oil (omega 3)
    – Probiotics

    I love the way you deal with acne, taking into account the whole environment and lifestyle. I don’t understand why dermatologists still consider acne needs an only treatment, which is supposed to be universal ! I think acne has different reasons and every people needs to find out what is messed up in their body. For my part, this is gut problems, poor diet for 2 years which created vitamin deficiencies (I lost hair too) and STRESS (I was sooo anxious, almost in a depression, because of my studies, my relationship, I was tired, and my skin problems made it worse) !!!

    Your advices are very useful, thank you very much ! Most of all, the mind impact and the positive thoughts, I worked it with my psychologist. She told me the same thing than you : if you think negatively, the body will act as in crisis situation and not take care of the “secondary” organs such as skin, hair etc.

    Take care! I’ll continue reading your blog. Hope my message is not too long and you could help me! :)

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Gwen!!

      Thanks for your comment – it sounds like you are very much on the right track with your thinking. Stress can have a HUGE impact on acne – our blog talks a lot about diet, but stress is probably equally as important in many people – and so working on these two things is probably the best approach for you. And like you say, for everyone, it’s about finding out what their own body needs, what it’s asking for through the acne!

      It’s great that you took the initiative to get those blood tests so you can work on addressing any deficiencies – especially vitamin D, which is an important one for acne. I’m not sure why your skin got worse when you took supplemental vitamin D, except maybe because 200,000 IU is a gigantic dose. As a fat-soluble vitamin, it is possible to overdose on D, so maybe kick that down to something in the neighborhood of 5-10,000 IU per day, and once you’re replenished keep it to 5,000 per day.

      As for your cortisol levels, the pill may have some effect, but it may also be that your body is still having a stress response to something else that’s going on. Many things can trigger a stress response – insufficient sleep, a high-glycemic diet, not eating enough, caffeine, environmental toxins, excess body fat, negative attitudes, an overly busy schedule that doesn’t allow for “me-time,” or spending a lot of time doing things that you don’t want to do… and so I might evaluate my life from the perspective of these kinds of things to see where that extra stress might be coming from. (That said, I’m not a big fan of hormonal birth control, and so if that’s something you’re interested in coming off of, I’d be supportive of that as well.)

      The probiotics and zinc are probably good choices, and I suggest looking at Devin’s new recommendations about fish oil here. As for MSM and royal jelly, I don’t know about those one way or the other! However, based on everything you said about your stress levels during your studies and your poor diet, I’d say to focus on improving those things primarily and not worry too much about getting all the right supplements.

      I hope you find a lot more info on the site that resonates with you, and best of luck to you as you begin this positive transformation!

      (P.S., I’m Devin’s partner and have recently begun to work with him on CSF, which is why you’re getting a reply from me!)

      • Gwen says

        Thank you very much for your reply Sonia ! :)

        Yeah, you’re right about vitamin D, I should have asked for lighter dose each day, but my doctor gave me this gigantic dose !! my breakout is starting to calm down now, let’s see how it will go in the next few weeks ! but I think I’ll ask for a new blood test in january to see if the vitamin D level is normal.
        I will continue some rights complements, and try not to worry about it ^^

        I think my cortisol level is linked to my stress mostly. You’re right, I’m worrying about a lot of things, even if I do the right things for my body ! I have finished my studies, so I take time to rest, pratise my sport and go out with friends :) and I feel so much better! But I think my acne will take time to regulate.

        One question : you say high cortisol level can be related to not eating enough ? Because I have the feeling I’ve lost a lot of weight since I was stressed (about 3-4 kilos), and I stay at this weight now … I haven’t had this weight for 10 years ! I eat good amount, healthy and meat/fish, and I can’t take weight again …

        Thanks again!!

        • Sonia Carlson says

          That’s great, sounds like you’re doing many good things to reduce your stress – and you’re right, your body will need some time to adjust and heal itself now. As far as your weight, if you are on a calorie-restrictive diet (i.e. your body thinks you’re starving!), that can boost your cortisol. Is your current weight healthy for your height and body type? If you feel like you’re at a healthy weight, don’t worry about eating more; I only mentioned that because it is quite common for women to eat less than the ideal amount of calories because they think they are too fat / are afraid of gaining weight.

          If you’re following the Clear Skin Forever diet recommendations, which are quite low-carb, be sure you’re getting plenty of healthy fat in your diet as well, e.g. coconut oil, red palm oil, animal fats, olive oil.

          Hope that helps, and keep up the good work :)

  8. Brit says

    All I know is, I started taking zinc (optizinc to be exact, the formula is supposed to be better and easier to absorb) along with Pantothenic acid (b5) and my skin started clearing right away. After about 2 weeks I don’t have anymore new pimples. And before they covered my cheeks and I had many on my forehead. I don’t know if it is this plus a homemade toner I made containing water and lavender oil that used after washing with cerave (oh and I came off my tazorac and duac). Either way I am very happy with the results. I also started drinking a lot more water. A gallon when I can. Hope it works all. It did for me.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Thanks for your comment, Brit! Sounds like you’re one of the lucky ones that may have just been deficient in a few vitamins/minerals. It’s great that you took the leap and came off the medications and are seeing such great results, which of course speak louder than any words in a blog article! If you’re feeling inspired to tweak your routine further, take a look at the ingredient list on your CeraVe cleanser, which reads like a list of chemicals (because it is!). Avoiding cleansing products altogether and washing only with warm – not hot – water is our best recommendation, though you can find commercial and homemade natural cleansing products out there too.

  9. Brittany says

    Great article! I’m definately going to include a zinc supplement from now on. I’m a little confused though. A couple of the aricles that I read suggested Zinc Orotate as the best and most easily absorbed form of zinc. What is your opinion on this matter?

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Brittany! There are a lot of different forms of zinc out there, and if you’ve found a pretty reliable source that says that zinc orotate is readily absorbed, then go for it!

  10. Ann says

    I have been struggling with acne for about six months now. It got so bad to the point where it hurt when my son would touch my face and I would not dare to leave my house without makeup and it really took a shot at my self-esteem. I have tried so many remedies but nothing would work. I could not figure out what was doing this to me. Then I thought, my birth control. I use the Paraguard which contains copper. I did my research and found out that I could have Copper toxicity. I started taking “Zinc for Acne” from Vitamin World so I am hoping this is my final solution instead of removing my birth control. I just started yesterday so I am keeping my fingers crossed!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Ann! It sounds like a great idea to supplement with zinc given the possibility of copper toxicity, as you say. See how it goes – I hope you see great results! – but don’t give up if you don’t. Everyone is different, but for most people, acne is a complex condition that isn’t often solved by adding in a single vitamin or mineral. Other common foods, such as wheat/gluten, dairy products, and sugar, often trigger acne, so the approach we recommend is to work on improving your diet in specific ways in addition to adding in certain supplements like zinc. I encourage you to look at some of the other blog posts on the site for more on this, and if you are interested, Devin has written a great book that goes into a lot of detail about adjusting your diet and lifestyle to naturally cure acne. (You can find that here.) Copper IUDs are a great, reliable, non-hormonal birth control solution for a lot of women, so I recommend considering some of these other things before you pull the plug on the IUD!
      Also, stop back to the blog in the upcoming weeks, as I’m planning a new blog post on a really common question for us women – what is the relationship between birth control and acne?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Glad you enjoyed it, Carol! Feel free to sign up for my email list if you haven’t already, to get notified of future posts. I’ve got some good articles in the works!

      Let me know if I can help with anything else,

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