Diet and Acne: Zinc

The relationship between acne and nutrition is not well determined. Although many theories abound regarding the role of things like chocolate, milk, fat, sugar, and numerous other food and food compounds on acne development none of these have actually been confirmed in controlled trials.

Perhaps this issue was best summarized by Apostolos Pappas in a recent review (1) of the scientific literature on diet and acne:

“We did not realize how daunting it would be to write an article dedicated to making sense of the relationship of acne to foods. It turns out that there are no meta-analyses, randomized controlled clinical studies, or well-designed scientific trials that follow evidence-based guidelines for providing solid proof…We reviewed the updated arguments, facts, and relevant data on this ancient debate, but we warn the truth-seekers among you that the jury is still out.”

However, one possible dietary factor is zinc. Several studies have investigated the ability of zinc to improve acne. A number of these studies reported some degree of benefit (2-7), although some reported no effect (8,9).

This treatment most likely works correct a zinc deficiency, so be aware that in the absence of a deficiency a high zinc intake, especially from supplements, may cause toxic effects such as nausea, tiredness, and copper deficiency as well as disregulated appetite and glucose control. The safest course of obtaining enough zinc in the absence of a medically diagnosed deficiency may be by increasing foods rich in it, such as red meat, shellfish and, to a lesser extent, white meats. Plant sources include many types of seeds, beans and lentils. However, these sources typically provide less absorbable zinc than from meat, so they may be less preferable in this regard.

1. Pappas A. The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Sep;1(5):262-7.

2. Göransson K, Lidén S, Odsell L. Oral zinc in acne vulgaris: a clinical and methodological study. Acta Derm Venereol. 1978;58(5):443-8.

3. Hillström L, Pettersson L, Hellbe L, Kjellin A, Leczinsky CG, Nordwall C. Comparison of oral treatment with zinc sulphate and placebo in acne vulgaris. Br J Dermatol. 1977 Dec;97(6):681-4.

4. Verma KC, Saini AS, Dhamija SK. Oral zinc sulphate therapy in acne vulgaris: a double-blind trial. Acta Derm Venereol. 1980;60(4):337-40.

5. Michaëlsson G, Juhlin L, Vahlquist A. Effects of oral zinc and vitamin A in acne. Arch Dermatol. 1977 Jan;113(1):31-6.

6. Michaëlsson G, Juhlin L, Ljunghall K. A double-blind study of the effect of zinc and oxytetracycline in acne vulgaris. Br J Dermatol. 1977 Nov;97(5):561-6.

7. Weimar VM, Puhl SC, Smith WH, ten Broeke JE. Zinc sulfate in acne vulgaris. Arch Dermatol. 1978 Dec;114(12):1776-8.

8. Orris L, Shalita AR, Sibulkin D, London SJ, Gans EH. Oral Zinc Therapy of Acne: Absorption and Clinical Effect. Arch Dermatol. 1978;114(7):1018-1020.

9. Weismann K, Wadskov S, Sondergaard J. Oral zinc sulphate therapy for acne vulgaris. Acta Derm Venereol. 1977;57(4):357-60.


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