Yes, it's found in your favorite mineral sunscreens, but there's so much more to the derm-loved ingredient.
When zinc is mentioned in relation to our skincare, we're often referring to sunscreen. There's long been a debate about mineral vs chemical sunscreens, with the former featuring zinc oxide as one of its prime ingredients to UV rays off the skin. However, there's so much more to zinc than just being an ingredient in your favorite mineral sunscreen.
In recent months, the TikTok beauty community has taken to praising zinc for its anti-acne benefits, with a viral video even touting Head & Shoulders shampoo as a gold standard solution thanks to its zinc-heavy formula designed to tackle dandruff.
So, to learn more about zinc and its many skin and health benefits, we tapped three experts to break it all down, including how to start incorporating the ingredient in our skincare routines.
What is zinc?
Before going into how zinc works in skincare, let's scale it back.
"Zinc is one of the most common trace minerals found in the body. It is found in every cell in our body and it is essential for their proper function," explains cosmetic chemist, Ron Robinson, of the skincare brand BeautyStat. He goes on to explain that since zinc is so essential in maintaining our health, a deficiency in it can cause hair loss, acne, slow wound healing, and vision problems.
Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, further explains that zinc is typically absorbed into the body through our diets. (He calls out poultry, shellfish, and meat, specifically, but says supplements work as well.)
"In the skin, [zinc] is an essential co-factor for proper functioning of the cells themselves," Dr. Zeichner continues. Beyond diet, Robinson confirms that zinc can also provide benefits when applied topically.
What are the benefits of using zinc in skincare?
There are multiple ways zinc benefits the skin. For starters, Joseph Cabasso, President of Mario Badescu Skin Care, says it's a suitable ingredient for people of all skin types.
Furthermore, he says zinc has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to aid in wound-healing. As it's anti-inflammatory, Cabasso adds that it's a great ingredient for those with sensitive skin. And Dr. Zeichner adds that for this reason, and the fact that it's an antiseptic, zinc is also touted as a champion ingredient in anti-acne products, such as Jori's Acne & Oil Control Primer and BeautyStat's Universal Microbiome Purifying Radiance Mask.
Of course, we must talk about zinc's UV-protective qualities, too. "In sunscreen, zinc oxide is one of the main filters used and is wonderful for sensitive skin because it's not being absorbed into the skin so it's less irritating for those with acne, rosacea, and eczema," explains Cabasso, who recommends Mario Badescu's Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30.
Lastly, both he and Robinson suggest zinc stimulates collagen production. In fact, studies have found that zinc supplementation slows down the degradation of collagen and increases collagen stability.
Are there side effects of using zinc on your skin?
Since it's a topical ingredient that's generally safe for all skin types, there are few side effects to be wary of. The exception, of course, is if you're allergic to it. "The only side effect I’ve heard of is skin irritation for those who are sensitive to it," confirms Cabasso. Furthermore, Robinson urges people who are pregnant or nursing to consult their physicians, just to be safe. (Overdoing zinc intake via diet or supplementation is another story. Robinson says it can cause nausea, vomiting, and headaches.)
What's the best way to use zinc in your skincare routine?
There are several ways to incorporate zinc into your daily routine, the most obvious being through a balanced diet. Skincare-wise, though, Cabasso suggests doing a quick patch test under your jawline or behind your ears before slathering it all over your face — just in case.
As for topical products, Robinson says that cleansers, masks, creams, lotions, and serums are great delivery systems for zinc depending on the benefit you’re seeking.
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