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Zinc: Should it be in your face cream?

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An essential element and mineral, zinc plays an important role in enzyme function, immunity, wound healing and cell division. That's why nutritionists recommend a healthy intake of zinc from foods or dietary supplements [source: Office of Dietary Supplements]. But should dermatologists recommend it, too?

Zinc typically appears in topical treatments as the compound zinc oxide, a white powder that doesn't dissolve in water. Known since ancient times for its healing and antibacterial properties, zinc oxide is the first skin-care product many people use -- it's found in most diaper rash ointments [source: WebMD]. But if your face cream contains zinc oxide, it's likely there to play a sun protection role. A powerful physical sunscreen, zinc oxide forms a barrier on the skin's surface that blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays [source: The New York Times].

If you have sensitive skin or have experienced an allergic reaction to other sunscreen ingredients, zinc oxide may be your best bet since most people tolerate it well [source: Everyday Health]. The drawback? Because it doesn't absorb into the skin, it can leave a gooey white film on your face. That may be fine for the pool or beach, but it's less than desirable in an everyday face cream. To avoid the ghost look, seek out sunscreens and sunscreen-containing creams with micronized zinc oxide, a newer formulation that has finer, more transparent particles [source: Hart].

Aside from zinc oxide, another form of zinc -- zinc pyrithione -- is also used in skin care. It's a common ingredient in creams, shampoos, soaps and washes that treat seborrheic dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes red, scaly patches on the scalp and other areas of the skin [source: Johnson]. Unless you've been diagnosed with this condition, however, there's no need for your face cream to contain zinc pyrithione.

If you suffer from acne, you may have heard that zinc can help clear breakouts when taken orally or applied topically. While some studies have supported this theory, others have found no positive effects or concluded that more established therapies, such as antibiotics, outperform zinc [source: HealthCentral]. Though you can certainly find acne creams and products that include zinc, consider more mainstream ingredients first.

For more information about zinc and skin care, check out the links on the next page.