Zinc has been used since ancient times to help heal wounds, including burns and incisions. Zinc, the second most common trace metal found naturally in your body, helps maintain skin integrity.
Teenage acne occurs when pores become blocked. Known contributors include genetics, hormones, diet and stress. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, topical and oral use of zinc to treat acne appears to be safe and effective. However, there are conflicting results from studies. Some studies show zinc effectively treat acne, while other studies show zinc had little to no effect on acne.
While zinc is naturally present in some food sources, it is also available as a prescription and as an over-the-counter supplement.
Food Sources of Zinc
The U.S. National Institutes of Health states that foods high in protein usually contain high amounts of zinc, such as beef, pork and lamb. Other good food sources of zinc are peanuts, peanut butter and legumes. Your body cannot use the zinc found in plant proteins, so fruits and vegetables are not good food sources of zinc. Based on the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommendations for regular dietary zinc intake, males (age 14+) should take 11 milligrams per day. Females (age 14 to 18) should take 9 milligrams/day and females (age 19+) should take 8 milligrams/day. Women who are pregnant or nursing need higher amounts of zinc. As with all medications and supplements, be sure to ask your health care provider about what dosage is best for you.
To treat acne orally, the U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that studies used the following doses for adults: 45- to 220-milligram doses of zinc sulfate three times a day for up to 12 weeks; 45 to 135 milligrams of divided zinc doses for up to 12 weeks; and 30- to 200-milligram doses of zinc gluconate for three months. They do not have national recommended doses for teens. Individual drug and supplement companies have their own suggested guidelines.
To treat acne using zinc topically, the U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that studies found erythromycin (4 percent) plus 1.2 percent zinc for 12 weeks was the most commonly used dose. They do not have national recommended doses for teens. Individual drug and supplement companies have their own suggested guidelines.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, zinc is still under study. It appears that zinc may be effective in the treatment of childhood malnutrition, peptic and leg ulcers, infertility, Wilson's disease, herpes and taste or smell disorders. It is also gaining popularity for its use in the prevention of the common cold.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that large amounts of zinc supplements can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and vomiting. These symptoms will go away after stopping the supplements.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements found that zinc supplements can interact with several types of medications, including antibiotics, penicillamine and diuretics. High amounts of zinc supplements can inhibit copper absorption and cause copper deficiency and anemia. As a result, supplements with high levels of zinc may contain copper.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using and discard three zinc-containing products administered through the nose, as they could cause a loss of smell. This warning did not involve zinc tablets and lozenges taken by mouth.