Have you ever been at the beach and seen little kids running around with what appears to be neon-colored streaks painted across their faces? Well, that’s zinc oxide — a powerful formulation of sunscreen that helps protect skin from the sun.
But zinc isn’t just for kids… and it’s not just for sunscreen either! With anti-aging, acne-fighting, and antioxidant properties, this mineral is a skin essential for people of all ages.
Zinc – The Microscopic Metal With Big Benefits
Zinc is actually a metal, and it’s found throughout your body. This metal is essential for the health of the skeletal, gastrointestinal, immune, reproductive and central nervous systems.1 And yes — zinc is essential for the health of your skin too.
And although zinc is critical to maintaining your body systems, your body doesn’t produce it on it own. So if you don’t get enough zinc in your diet, you’re at risk for developing a zinc deficiency.
In fact, you might be surprised to learn that nearly 2 billion people worldwide are affected by a marginal zinc deficiency.2 People most at risk for developing a zinc deficiency are strict vegetarians, children, adolescents, and people who suffer from chronic gastrointestinal disorders.
Zinc and Benefits for the Skin
Of all the tissues in the body, skin has the third highest abundance of zinc.3 (Pretty impressive!) This metal does a lot to keep skin — both young and aging — healthy. Here are a few ways zinc benefits the skin:
1. Protects Against UV Rays
Soaking up some rays can be relaxing, but it often does more harm than good. UVA and UVB rays damage the skin — even after a few short minutes. These rays have the potential to cause sunburns and can lead to the visible signs of aging (and the potential for serious health problems).
It’s never too early or too late to start protecting your skin from the sun. A daily, generous application of sunscreen goes a long way in blocking or neutralizing harmful UV rays as they make contact with your skin.
Zinc is a popular ingredient in sunscreen — and for good reason. Studies have shown that zinc is an effective agent in protecting the skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays4 and works to reduce the toxicity of skin cells after they’re exposed to UV-related stress.5
So if you’re looking for good sun protection, consider trying a sunscreen with zinc on the ingredient list.
2. Fades Dark Spots
Dark spots — they show up on your face, hands, and arms as you age. And while they can show up on skin of all ages, they generally becoming more pronounced around age 50.6 These dark spots are also known as “sunspots” because significant time in the sun usually makes them worse.
These dark spots are caused by melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that live in the bottom layer of the epidermis, and they’re responsible for creating melanin — the pigment that gives your skin and hair their color. Sometimes these melanocytes become overactive — often as a result of sun exposure — and lead to the development of dark spots.
Interestingly, studies have shown that zinc actually has the ability to suppress the actions of melanocytes. This suppression prevents melanocytes from becoming overactive and causing the skin to darken.7
So, regular application of zinc may help promote a more even complexion and help minimize the development of age spots on the skin.
3. Provides Anti-Aging Benefits
Antioxidants help combat the effects of free radicals, which can lead to the visible signs of aging. Now, you might be wondering exactly what free radicals are. Well, they’re unpaired electrons that come from a variety of sources — pollution, UV rays, cigarette smoke, and environmental toxins, to name a few.
You see, electrons are generally meant to be paired. And when they’re not, they’ll scavenge the body looking to pair. This scavenging is called “oxidative stress” and it leads to many signs of aging: fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin, for example.8
This is where antioxidants come in handy — they’re able to neutralize these free radicals and prevent them from attacking your body.
And — you guessed it — zinc is a powerful antioxidant. So a diet high in zinc may help your body fend off these free radicals and help keep you looking young.
4. Soothes Sensitive Skin
There’s nothing more aggravating than skin that’s prone to redness, dryness, and irritation. Like aging, skin sensitivity may partially be due to oxidative stress. Studies have shown that regular intake of a zinc supplement has to potential to soothe irritated skin, thanks to its antioxidant properties.9
5. Minimizes Acne
Approximately 85% of people between ages 12-24 experience at least minor acne, and it’s not uncommon for people to continue to break out now and then as they age.10
Breakouts occur when pores are blocked by a buildup of oil or dead skin cells and can manifest themselves as whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. Hormones, oily skin, and stress can all contribute to acne, but it’s worth noting that acne sufferers tend to have lower levels of zinc in their bloodstreams — in other words, a marginal zinc deficiency.11
And it turns out that zinc can help diminish the appearance of acne by reducing irritation and oil production, as well as regulating fatty acid levels.12
So How Can You Get More Zinc?
Zinc is an essential nutrient to keep your skin looking youthful, calm, even, and blemish-free. Many sunscreens and skincare products now contain zinc as an ingredient, but it’s also vital to be sure you’re putting zinc into your body.
Zinc supplements are a great way to boost the concentration of zinc in your body. But keep in mind — it’s important not to rely entirely on zinc supplements. Eventually, your body will habituate to the supplements and your zinc absorption rate will decrease.
A better way to avoid the development of a zinc deficiency is by eating a diet that’s high in zinc. Good sources of zinc tend to come from animal products like eggs, meat, and seafood. These animal-derived proteins contain amino acids that can boost your body’s zinc absorption rates. You can also find zinc in vegetarian sources like yogurt, beans, and nuts.
Want a cheat sheet to know which foods are high in zinc? Here you go!
Good Sources of Zinc
When it comes to zinc content, shellfish take the cake. In fact, a serving of six oysters will provide you with approximately 215% of your daily recommended value of zinc intake.13 Other shellfish, like clams, lobsters, shrimp, and mussels also make a strong showing in zinc content.
After shellfish, meat is the second best way to get a good amount of zinc in your diet. The recommended daily intake of zinc for the average adult is 8 to 11 milligrams, and 3 ounces of beef will give you a generous 7 milligrams of zinc.14 Chicken and pork are also good sources of zinc — plus, all of these meats contain amino acids that help promote your body’s zinc absorption.
Yogurt contains 1.7 milligrams of zinc — approximately 11% of your daily intake. Plus, it’s chock-full of healthy probiotics that help maintain gut health.
Not only are beans a good source of vegetarian protein, they’re also a great way to get zinc. Half a cup of beans will give you 19% of your daily value.
A delicious on-the-go snack, cashews contain 1.6 milligrams of zinc per ounce.
Half a cup of cooked chickpeas will give you 9% of your daily intake for zinc. They’re also a wonderful source of protein.
Zinc – The Essential Nutrient for All Ages
If you’re looking to boost the health of your body and skin at any age — look to zinc. It’s sun-protective, antioxidant, and skin-soothing properties can help you look like the best version of you.