The Role of Zinc for Acne

Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of zinc supplements

Zinc is a micronutrient that serves a pivotal role in the human body. Its roles include helping with biochemical reactions for regulation of fat, the breakdown of protein and DNA, and gene production.[1] It also plays various roles in the immune system, proper hormone stimulation, antioxidant properties, and wound healing.[1,2] Some evidence suggests that zinc may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which could decrease oil (sebum) production, and therefore may improve acne, however, its role is controversial.


Zinc for Acne

Zinc oxide, calamine, and zinc pyrithione are all formulations of zinc that can be found in different products to help protect the skin barrier and improve disorders of the scalp and skin caused by yeast overgrowth, such as seborrheic dermatitis (a type of dandruff) and tinea versicolor (a type of rash).[2] Topical antibiotics such as erythromycin, dapsone, and clindamycin are first-line therapies for acne.[3] Several studies have reported that the use of zinc in conjunction with topical antibiotics has superior results in reducing acne symptoms than the use of topical antibiotics alone, which is thought to be partly due to zinc’s ability to enhance absorption of the topical antibiotics. However, skin irritation can occur with topical zinc, and the combination of zinc with topical antibiotics was not shown to be more effective than the standard acne treatment recommendation, which is a combination of topical antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide. [2-5] 

Several studies have shown that oral zinc in the form of zinc gluconate or sulfate is effective in reducing the symptoms of acne,[6] however they were less effective than oral antibiotics.[6] Side effects of oral zinc may include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.[3]


Safe for Acne in Pregnancy

Treatment options for acne during pregnancy can be somewhat limited due to possible risk factors to the mother and fetus. Zinc at low doses of <75mg per day may be used as an alternative form of therapy during pregnancy. [4,7]


Bottom Line

Due to the increasing presence of antibiotic resistance as well as potential effects on the body’s natural resident bacteria [5], alternative therapies for the management of acne are of growing interest.  Zinc may be a good option to consider due to its relatively safe profile, moderate efficacy, and accessible cost.

* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.


  1. Prasad AS. Zinc: an overview. Nutrition.1995;11(1 Suppl):93-99; PMID: 7749260 Link to research.
  2. Gupta M, Mahajan VK, Mehta KS, et al. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatol Res Pract.2014;2014:709152; PMID: 25120566 Link to research.
  3. Bae YS, Hill ND, Bibi Y, et al. Innovative uses for zinc in dermatology. Dermatol Clin.2010;28(3):587-597; PMID: 20510767 Link to research.
  4. Chien AL, Qi J, Rainer B, et al. Treatment of Acne in Pregnancy. J Am Board Fam Med.2016;29(2):254-262; PMID: 26957383 Link to research.
  5. Tan AW, Tan HH. Acne vulgaris: a review of antibiotic therapy. Expert Opin Pharmacother.2005;6(3):409-418; PMID: 15794732 Link to research.
  6. Dreno B, Moyse D, Alirezai M, et al. Multicenter randomized comparative double-blind controlled clinical trial of the safety and efficacy of zinc gluconate versus minocycline hydrochloride in the treatment of inflammatory acne vulgaris. Dermatology.2001;203(2):135-140; PMID: 11586012 Link to research.
  7. Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol.2012;5(5):32-40; PMID: 22808307 Link to research.