What role does zinc play in skincare?
Zinc oxide is perhaps more commonly known for its use as a mineral UV filter in SPF formulas – it sits on the surface of the skin acting as a physical barrier, preventing the sun’s rays from penetrating. But there are other benefits associated with this powerhouse mineral. “Zinc is a trace mineral and an essential nutrient that your body can’t produce,” explains New York-based dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss. “Diet, supplements and topical skincare products are all ways to deliver zinc, which helps with immune function, wound healing and inflammation.” However, when it’s applied topically, it needs help to penetrate the skin. “Zinc is a large molecule, so modern formulations often include micronized zinc,” explains London-based cosmetic expert Dr. Sophie Shotter. “This means it has been broken down into very small particles so that it can penetrate deeper into the skin.”
How does zinc protect skin?
“When applied topically, zinc is commonly used to treat acne, rosacea and eczema, as well as to accelerate wound healing,” says Dr. Idriss. Research suggests that acne may partially be associated with a low zinc supply in the body, too, due to zinc’s ability to limit oil secretion in the pores. Then there are the anti-aging benefits: zinc is known to encourage the production of collagen fibers and elastin, which can firm skin and boost healing. “Importantly, zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties,” says Dr. Shotter. “Inflammation is becoming increasingly understood as a key cause of aging, so when you control inflammation this helps both your skin and overall health with aging well.” Zinc is also a powerful antioxidant: “It reduces the levels of free radicals and oxidative stress in the skin,” explains Dr. Shotter. If that wasn’t enough, she adds that zinc can improve an uneven skin tone. “Studies have shown that zinc can reduce the production of melanin in your skin, meaning it can help with hyperpigmentation.”
Which skin types benefit from using zinc?
“Zinc is excellent for most skin types as a sun protector,” says Dr. Shotter. “It’s also a great choice for anyone with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea and acne. I’m a particular fan of using it as a supplement in these cases so that it can work from the inside out. It can also be great as a soothing, healing and barrier-repair agent for anyone struggling with these skin concerns.” That said, Dr. Idriss warns it shouldn’t be used by those with a known zinc allergy and adds that “zinc oxide, when applied topically on its own, will not treat a bacterial or fungal infection”. Any signs of infection, such as redness or warmth, should be assessed by a medical professional.
How to use zinc in your routine
As Dr. Shotter has explained, zinc isn’t easily absorbed by the skin. However, clever product formulas now ensure you can easily integrate zinc into your regimen. “Zinc works well in cream formulations, with nourishing lipids to help restore the skin barrier,” says Dr. Shotter. “It’s also an excellent ingredient for helping to treat blemishes when used in conjunction with additional spot-busting ingredients. Plus, it pairs well with other sunscreen ingredients, both mineral and chemical. It’s also great when layered with multiple antioxidants, like vitamin C, to supercharge skin’s free-radical protection.”
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