11 Oct 2022 Article

Zinc is a trace element. That means we need very little of it. Nevertheless, this element is very important for the optimal functioning of our body. You could easily write a book about the functions of zinc in human body. In this article I focus only on the functions of zinc that relate to the health of our skin.

Zinc plays an important role in skin health. It is necessary for protein synthesis, collagen and keratin production and wound healing, and it is also an antioxidant. Even mild zinc deficiencies can cause your skin to suffer.

Zinc is needed for collagen and keratin production

Zinc is necessary for the formation of the skin’s structural protein: collagen. In fact, collagen is produced in the skin by zinc-dependent enzymes called collagenases. Collagen is one of three major proteins that our skin is made of (elastin and keratin are the other two). As we age, our body gradually produces less collagen. With age, collagen in the deep layers of the skin changes from a tightly organized network of fibers into a disorganized maze. This leads to wrinkles on your skin, among other things.

Furthermore, our body needs zinc to make keratin. Even the smallest deficiency can lead to hair loss and dry skin.

Zinc protects against ultraviolet radiation

Ultraviolet rays are the number One cause of skin aging. If you want to keep your skin young for as long as possible, you must protect yourself very well against the sun. Zinc oxide is widely used as the active ingredient in sunscreens.

Zinc and wound healing

The skin contains a relatively high zinc content (5-6%), mainly found in the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). Due to the abundance in the epidermis, a mild zinc deficiency quickly leads to roughened skin and impaired wound healing.

Zinc and acne

Zinc supplements have been used to treat acne for decades.

Zinc is one of the two main minerals (the second is selenium) that can support acne therapy. Zinc inhibits the growth of the bacterium Cutibacterium acnes and reduces inflammation of the skin.

In addition to acne, taking extra zinc is recommended against rosacea, psoriasis and eczema. Unfortunately, the cause of all these conditions is not entirely clear. But what scientists see is that people with these skin diseases are often deficient in zinc. And that their skin gets significantly better after supplementing zinc.

How much zinc do we need?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an adult man is 9 milligrams, for an adult woman – 7 milligrams.

Too little zinc?

As far as we know, severe zinc deficiency is uncommon in developed countries. Vegetarians and especially vegans have an increased risk of zinc deficiency. The bioavailability of zinc in plant products is lower than that of animal foods. The term “bioavailability” refers to how well a nutrient is absorbed by our body. The moderate bioavailability of zinc from plant sources is partly due to phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of zinc. Phytic acid is found in whole grains and legumes. To avoid the inhibitory effect of phytic acid, soak grains and legumes in water for several hours before cooking, preferably with lemon juice or vinegar. Then rinse the grains/legumes thoroughly and cook them as usual.

Specific symptoms of zinc deficiency are smelling and tasting differently, night blindness, diarrhoea and open sores on the skin.

Too much zinc?

Getting a surplus of zinc from food is almost impossible. However, it is possible to overdose on zinc when using supplements, as these often contain mega doses. Taking more than 50 milligrams of zinc per day disrupts the absorption of mineral copper. Therefore, if for some reason you have to take zinc supplements, it is necessary to take extra copper at the same time (1 mg copper for every 50 mg of zinc).

Synthetic zinc supplements containing 50% to 100% of the recommended daily amount of zinc are safe for those who believe they are zinc deficient. However, do not use mega doses without consulting a specialist.

Vegan sources of zinc

The following vegan products are rich in zinc:  nuts, and seeds (especially pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds), legumes (lentils and beans), whole grains. I’ve made a top-ten for you of the best plant-based sources of zinc. The data is derived from Food Data Central of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The amount of zinc is given per 100 g of food. Here we go:

  1. Hemp seeds: 10 mg zinc;
  2. Pumpkin seeds: 7.8 mg zinc;
  3. Sesame seeds or pure tahini (sesame seeds paste): 6-7 mg zinc;
  4. Cashew nuts: 5.8 mg zinc;
  5. Sunflower seeds: 5.3 mg zinc;
  6. Flaxseed: 4.8 mg zinc;
  7. Chia seeds: 4.6 mg zinc;
  8. Pecan nuts: 4.5 mg zinc;
  9. Soy flour: 4.4 mg zinc;
  10. Oats: 4 mg zinc;
  11. Beans: 3-4 mg zinc;
  12. Spelt flour: 3.6 mg zinc;
  13. Lentils: 3-3.5 mg zinc;
  14. Walnuts: 3 mg zinc;
  15. Peanut butter: 3 mg zinc.