How does zinc benefit skin?

Zinc supplements.
Zinc helps repair damaged tissues and heal wounds.
© Tero

Vitamins get a lot of press, but they're not the only nutrients that should be on your health radar. To stay healthy, your body needs a daily dose of the right vitamins and certain minerals. One of those crucial minerals is zinc, which affects a variety of your physiological processes and body parts, including your skin [source: MedlinePlus].

Zinc is like a 24-hour, on-call skin mechanic. It helps repair damaged tissues and heal wounds. Without zinc, your body's inside and outside repair time -- and possible health costs -- go up. Like vitamins, minerals are essential to your overall health and development, helping the body grow and take care of itself. Some research suggests that zinc might be particularly effective in treating topical irritations and injuries, such as acne, skin sores and minor wounds, by helping cells to regenerate [sources: American Academy of Family Physicians, TeensHealth].


Zinc's potential advantages for your skin include the following:

  • Acne -- Using zinc topically and taking it orally has shown some potential in preventing and alleviating the inflammation and scarring associated with acne. Zinc may help nip zits in the bud by reducing the amount of natural oil, or sebum, produced in the skin. It may also help heal damaged skin around acne that does develop. Some research has indicated that acne formation results in part from a lack of zinc in the diet [source: Bouchez].
  • Scalp conditions -- Dandruff and some fungal infections of the scalp have been shown to respond to the use of shampoos containing zinc [source: MedlinePlus].
  • Diaper Rash -- Zinc may help prevent and heal diaper rash [source: MedlinePlus].

Another important use for zinc includes protecting skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Whether you realize it or not, you may already be using zinc to prevent skin cancer every time you apply your favorite sunscreen; many sunscreens that provide broad spectrum UV protection contain zinc oxide [source: Clark]. Recently, researchers have begun conducting further investigations into the anti-cancerous benefits of zinc by looking at how it may help prevent skin cancer recurrence in cancer patients [source: WebMD].

Although more research is needed, studies have also shown that zinc may aid in the treatment of several other skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, burns, boils and leg ulcers [source: MedlinePlus]. Although more research needs to be done, it seems clear that zinc does yield many potential health benefits for you and your skin. At the very least, zinc has positive effects in tissue healing and is essential for regular cell growth and regeneration.

Read on to learn what food you can eat to get your daily allowance of zinc.


Zinc Foods

Not having enough zinc in your diet can have unpleasant consequences for your skin as well as for your overall health. Wounds may heal more slowly, and you may be more likely to develop skin lesions and acne. Other possible results of zinc deficiency include hair loss, weight loss, lethargy, eye problems and skin rashes [sources: MedlinePlus, Poirot].

If the potential results of zinc deficiency don't persuade you to make sure you're getting enough zinc in your diet, then you might want to consider potential benefits -- faster wound healing as well as alleviation of acne, fungal infections and other skin irritations.


Whether you want to avoid negative consequences or try to gain health advantages, the following foods can help ensure you get an adequate amount of zinc:

  • Red meats such as beef, pork, lamb and liver
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Some seafood, including oysters
  • Nuts, including peanuts and peanut butter
  • Legumes, or beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

[sources: American Academy of Family Physicians, MedlinePlus, and TeensHealth]

The best way to get adequate zinc is to eat a balanced and varied diet. But don't overdo it -- taking too much zinc can lead to unpleasant side effects, including stomachache, vomiting and diarrhea [source: MedlinePlus]. Also, it is important to note that fruits and vegetables are not a good source of zinc because the human body cannot use the zinc found in plant proteins in the same way as zinc found in animal proteins. However, fruits and vegetables supply other valuable nutrients that benefit your skin and general health, so keep them on the menu [source: MedlinePlus].

Overall, zinc constitutes an important nutrient that provides specific value to your body and your skin. Eating a balanced diet that includes zinc-rich foods will help you lead a healthier life -- with radiant, healthy skin.

For more information, follow the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. "Minerals." (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. "Vitamins and Minerals: What You Should Know." (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out." WebMD. (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • Clark, Susan P. "Sunscreen and Your Makeup Routine." WebMD. (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Common Cold." February 23, 2008 (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • MedlinePlus. "Minerals." (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • MedlinePlus. "Zinc." (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • MedlinePlus. "Zinc in Diet." (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • Poirot, Lissa. "A Wrinkle in Time: Preventing Damage to Aging Skin." WebMD. (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • TeensHealth. "Vitamins and Minerals." Nemours Foundation. (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Warnings on Three Zicam Intranasal Zinc Products." (Accessed 9/25/09)
  • WebMD. "Understanding Skin Cancer -- Diagnosis and Treatment." (Accessed 9/25/09)