People Are Using Zinc to Treat Their Acne — But Does It Actually Work?

We've seen a lot of interesting acne treatments — some of which dermatologist are quick to call BS on. But using zinc for acne, often a subject of debate on skin-care blogs, is a somewhat debatable acne treatment even among dermatologists.

How does zinc treat acne?

There are two ways zinc could potentially treat acne: orally via supplement or topically in a cream or serum.

It's the topical treatment that you tend to see starting conversations in skin-care blogs. In fact, zinc oxide is the magic ingredient that has some people swearing diaper cream is their go-to acne treatment. These people attribute it to zinc’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, which can potentially calm the angriest acne lesions. (These traits could also make zinc a treatment for other inflammatory skin issues like rosacea and eczema.)

But there's also some evidence zinc supplements could help treat your acne too. "Studies that have investigated zinc alone or zinc in combination with another medication have found that zinc can help reduce acne," Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure.

But there is a catch. "The prescription medication tends to be more effective," Shah says. One 2001 study, which compared 30 milligrams of zinc to a 100-milligram dose of minocycline (a common acne prescription) found that the zinc did help, but that it was about 17 percent less effective than the drug.

OK, but does it actually work?

"I do not think zinc is a particularly helpful acne treatment," Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure. "There isn't great scientific evidence for oral zinc in the treatment of acne."

Essentially, it comes down to the fact that while, yes, technically there is evidence (both in academic journals and on Reddit that zinc for acne can work, it's just not quite as effective as other acne treatments. "The backbone of any acne routine consists of topical steroids," Marchbein says.

Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York City, agrees. "Zinc supplements are not considered first line therapy, and generally, do not work as well as traditional acne treatments," he tells Allure. "Zinc supplements certainly can be used alongside traditional acne medications, however, I do not believe it should take the place of treatments that we know are safe and effective."

That doesn't mean using zinc doesn't have a place in your skin-care routine. "There is good evidence for using zinc orally to treat 'hidradenitis suppurativa,' a chronic inflammatory scarring condition characterized by painful bumps, acne, and abscesses," Marchbein says.

And topically, zinc can be used as a sidekick spot treatment for your most stubborn cystic blemishes. "If zinc therapy is going to help, it will most likely benefit people who suffer from red, angry papules, as opposed to those who suffer from blackheads and whiteheads," Zeichner says.

Should you try zinc?

For the moment, the evidence behind zinc for acne is just kind of meh. If you want to try it, go for it — especially if you're looking for a natural acne treatment. Just don't expect it to radically change your acne.

And before you start taking any new supplement, zinc or otherwise, make sure you talk to your doctor first.

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