Can Zinc Cure Acne?

Community Member

We get a lot of questions and search requests on MySkinCareConnection   for information about acne cures. The problem is that there are a lot of dubious claims out there from people who claim they can cure your acne. For example, in a previous post I talked about a doctor who claims to be able to cure your acne with a phone app. This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. We are inundated every day with ads for acne remedies from TV, the Internet, and the alternative health section of the bookstore. It can be hard to sort out what is fact from fiction as to what acne treatments work (and are backed up by research) and which claims are exaggerated or downright fraudulent. We are here to help.

In this post we are going to take a look at whether or not zinc has any merit as an effective acne treatment.

My quest for an answer to the question of whether or not zinc supplements can help treat acne has generated pages of advertisements marketing zinc as an "amazing breakthrough" for "consistent and dramatic results." What is equally as amazing is when I try to click any links which say "study" or "research" it takes me to another advertisement. Imagine my surprise to find no links to any research to back up the claims. I also am finding long-winded testimonials on acne forums attesting to how zinc had cured their acne. Curiously these testimonials sound very similar to the wording of advertisers trying to sell zinc supplements. Could it be that some of these glowing reports are coming from the same source?

Call me a skeptic but I am not seeing anything so far to substantiate the claim that zinc can cure acne.

Is there any research to back up the advertising?

Here are the results of my search for research on the possible benefits of zinc for treating acne:

  • A 2001 study published in Dermatology, compared the efficacy of treating patients diagnosed with inflammatory acne with either zinc gluconate or an antibiotic, minocycline. The researchers found that treating acne with the antibiotic was far more effective than treating with a zinc supplement. The test subjects were given either 30 mg elemental zinc or 100 mg minocycline over 3 months. Clinical success was defined as a more than 2/3 decrease in inflammatory lesions, i.e. papules and pustules at the end of the 90 days. This clinical success rate was 31.2% for zinc and 63.4% for minocycline.

  • A 2010 report published in Dermatologic Clinics, concluded that "...there is little evidence that convincingly demonstrates the efficacy of zinc as a reliable first-line treatment for most dermatologic conditions."

  • In 1985 researchers tested the efficacy of topical zinc therapy for treating acne vulgaris. The results of this study were published in the International Journal of Dermatology.   During a 12-week period subjects were either treated with a placebo or a topical zinc application. No difference was found between participants who were treated with placebo or zinc. In fact, the study subjects who were treated with topical zinc experienced more skin irritation than subjects given the placebo. The study authors concluded that topical zinc therapy alone is not of significant benefit in the treatment of acne.

As you can see there is nothing in the scientific literature to back up claims that zinc can cure your acne. There is one study (the first study cited above) which shows that zinc supplements can help some patients decrease the number of acne lesions but this same study also shows that zinc treatment is inferior to more traditional acne treatment such as using an antibiotic. It seems to be the case where some marketers of supplements will exaggerate the results of a single study in order to make claims of a cure.

The other problem is that some manufacturers of supplements will lure you with the term, "natural." Just because a product is labeled "natural" doesn't mean that it doesn't have unnatural fillers and sometimes harmful ingredients. The FDA does not regulate supplements and so as a consumer you have to especially be aware of fraudulent marketing.

In the case that you choose to take a zinc supplement to treat your acne another problem arises as to which type of zinc supplement to take and at what dosage. The side effects of taking zinc can include gastrointestinal problems as well as a metallic taste in the mouth. If you take too much it can cause anemia, vomiting, and a weakened immune system. Zinc can also create adverse interactions with some antibiotics including tetracycline.

The suggested dose of zinc provided by The Univeristy of Maryland Medical Center to treat acne is 30 mg two times per day for a month and then 30 mg per day thereafter.

If you choose to take a zinc supplement to treat your acne you need to seek the guidance of your doctor about what type of zinc supplement to use and at what dosage. Do not use this supplement before you consult with your doctor.

My best suggestion of how to treat your acne is to be seen by a dermatologist. We all have different skin types and what works for one person may not work for you. Your dermatologist will be able to create a skin care regimen to treat your skin based on their medical expertise and knowledge of what type of skin problem you have. Why waste time on unproven remedies when you can get guidance on proven and reputable acne treatments from a medical professional?

Here is some additional information we have about acne and how to treat it effectively: