Think Zinc

Nutrition: A Trace Mineral with a Substantial Role

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Skin Deep, December/January 2005.

Thanks to its cell-generating, skin-soothing properties, zinc supplementation stabilizes acne, eczema, rosacea, and broken capillaries and promotes wound healing, especially following burns or surgical incisions. In addition, getting the proper amount of this essential trace mineral boosts immunity and strengthens hair and nails.

However, zinc deficiency is common and can be caused by birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapy, and excessive alcohol consumption. In addition, copper — and to some degree calcium and iron — work antagonistically with zinc, as they compete for the same protein-binding sites that regulate absorption. Consequently, high copper levels — which can be the result of copper cookware, the copper IUD (intrauterine device), copper water pipes, multivitamins, and copper-rich foods such as some chocolates, teas, nuts, grains, and soy — can lead to zinc deficiency.

Signs of deficiency include acne, slow wound healing, stretch marks on skin, white spots on fingernails, loss of sense of smell or taste, joint pain, menstrual irregularities, premenstrual syndrome, recurrent infections, and sterility.

Fortunately, getting your daily zinc doesn’t have to be difficult. Food sources include red meat, eggs, pumpkin seeds, herring, oysters, whole grains, blackstrap molasses, whole bran, whole oatmeal, wheat germ, chicken, liver, sesame seeds, spirulina, sage, wild yam, nettles, and milk thistle. In her book The Living Beauty Detox Program (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), Ann Louise Gittleman recommends 25 to 50 mg/daily to help control acne and 15 to 30 mg/daily for general wellness. She notes that a 10:1 zinc/copper ratio should be maintained. Doses of more than 60 mg a day can lead to toxicity. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, anemia, impaired immunity, copper depletion, and lower HDL (good) cholesterol.

While you can help clients manage acne and eczema with proper facials and products, these conditions will likely persist if they’re suffering a zinc deficiency. Check the signs and educate your clients on the importance of nutritional zinc.