Zinc is a type of trace element important for growth and the maintenance of body cells. According to Oregon State University, men over 19 years of age should get 11 mg of zinc per day, while women over 19 should get 8 mg daily. Zinc is found in foods such as beef, pork, milk, almonds and peanuts. Without adequate zinc, both physical and neurological development can become delayed and a person becomes susceptible to infection, including some types of skin irritations.
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Zinc works with certain enzymes in the body that are responsible for producing substances that reduce inflammation. For instance, zinc supports enzymes that produce cytokines, which are proteins that affect the immune system to control inflammation. As an example, people who develop atopic dermatitis, which is itchy or rashy skin, may develop the condition because of an immune response to an allergen. Also known as eczema, atopic dermatitis is skin inflammation that could be caused by environmental irritants, such as clothing, lotions, chemicals in laundry detergents or foods.
A form of zinc deficiency known as acrodermatitis enteropathica occurs as a genetically inherited disorder that results in significant skin irritation. People with this condition develop dry skin that becomes red and inflamed and that may eventually crust or turn into blisters. In addition to skin changes, acrodermatitis enteropathica is also associated with eye inflammation, diarrhea, light sensitivity and slow growth among children. The condition occurs when the body is unable to absorb zinc through the digestive process and is treated through lifetime supplementation with zinc.
Zinc oxide is a type of topical ointment often used for itchy or irritated skin. It is available without a prescription and often advertised for specific purposes, such as diaper rash. By applying zinc oxide to dry, itchy skin or rash, the ointment serves as a barrier between the skin and surrounding air or clothing. This may be soothing to the skin, prevent further irritation and give the area time to heal.
Some people take zinc supplements to prevent or treat dry, itchy skin. Zinc is available in supplements over the counter, in preparations such as zinc sulfate or zinc picolinate. Before treating your skin with zinc supplements or topical preparations, check with your doctor to ensure that it will not interact with any other medications you may be taking and to avoid taking in too much. Dry, itchy skin can be caused by a number of sources, so talk with your doctor if you are unable to clear your symptoms by using zinc.