Zinc oxide is a white, powdery mineral used for making plastics and other textiles. It also appears in some cosmetics and is probably known best in the U.S. as a primary ingredient in sunscreen lotions.
When applied topically, zinc oxide offers several important benefits for the skin:
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1. UV Protection
Zinc oxide is generally recognized as a safe ingredient for the skin, according to a February 2019 study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The mineral protects the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays.
UV rays penetrate the skin and damage tissue, speeding up the aging process and drying out the skin, according to the American Cancer Society. These rays also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Sunscreens containing zinc oxide help filter out UV rays, keeping them from penetrating the skin and causing cell damage.
2. Burn and Rash Treatment
Zinc oxide cream can be used to treat minor burns on the skin, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Zinc oxide ointment can also treat skin irritation because it acts as a barrier against the irritant so your skin has time to heal, which is why the ingredient appears in diaper rash medicines such as Desitin.
3. Treating Dark Spots
While zinc oxide won't whiten skin, it should be part of your treatment plan for dark spots or melasma, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. When used daily, broad-spectrum sunscreen with zinc oxide that's SPF 30 or higher can help prevent further darkening of the skin.
Keep in mind that you should apply the sunscreen to all skin that clothing doesn't cover, and you should use it even when it's raining or snowing outside.
4. Acne Treatment
Other forms of zinc — zinc sulfate and zinc acetate — can be applied to the skin to treat inflammatory skin conditions like acne, according to a July 2014 review in Dermatology Research and Practice. This includes the type of acne that causes pustules, cysts and nodules. However, zinc sulfate cream may cause skin irritation, per the review.
5. Easing Hemorrhoids
Zinc oxide is also an ingredient found in hemorrhoid medicines, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins around the anal canal that are caused by excess pressure in the pelvic and rectal area, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hemorrhoids are generally not serious but they can cause significant discomfort, including itching, swelling and bleeding.
A paper in the 2020 issue of the Journal of Critical Reviews found that zinc oxide ointment is effective at relieving the symptoms of hemorrhoids as part of medical treatment.
- American Cancer Society: "Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Zinc oxide overdose"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "How to Fade Dark Spots in Skin of Color"
- Dermatology Research and Practice: "Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review"
- Journal of Critical Reviews: "Study the effect of zinc oxide ointment on symptoms arising from hemorrhoids and anal fissure"
- Journal of Investigative Dermatology: "Support for the Safe Use of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticle Sunscreens: Lack of Skin Penetration or Cellular Toxicity after Repeated Application in Volunteers"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.