Zinc is a naturally-occurring metallic element similar to magnesium or iron. Like iron and magnesium, zinc exists in the building blocks of the body and skin and is necessary for the maintenance of health and balance. It also contributes to the health of the immune system and maintenance of enzyme systems and cells. It is essential for protein synthesis, collagen formation, and helps skin heal. Zinc and one of its various compounds, zinc oxide, have been used in medicinal and industrial applications for centuries.
Counter to common belief, zinc oxide is not a naturally-occurring element, but rather a result of chemically-heated zinc ore. The ore is processed with oxygen molecules until the substance is vaporized, condensed, and finally appears as a fine, white, crystallized powder. Only in this oxidized form can it be combined with base creams and other formulations to create skin care products used today.
With the ability to act like a mild astringent, zinc oxide can help keep harmful bacteria from causing infections of the skin, and act as a natural skin-drying agent. Traditional uses of zinc oxide products included treating wounds following surgery and applying salves inside the mouth to treat ulcers or sores. As an essential mineral, zinc has an important role of regulating enzyme functions that are needed to repair epidermal wounds of the skin and form new collagen/connective tissue.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that zinc oxide likely helps to reduce bacterial infections not by killing bacteria, but by inhibiting the adhesion and internalization of bacteria. Zinc oxide also helps to decrease permeability, increase tightness of junctions so that bacteria can’t make their way through, and reduce inflammation through modulating cytokine gene expressions.
Many skincare products containing zinc oxide help to reduce redness, swelling, pain, and inflammation caused from bacterial build up. As an added benefit, just like other commercial or beauty astringent products, zinc oxide helps to minimize the appearance of large pores and prevents shininess of the skin by regulating oil production.
In additional, the body requires zinc and other trace minerals for the synthesis of collagen that helps to build and repair connective tissue. Studies have found that treating damaged, dry or wounded skin with zinc oxide products for just 48-hours (including during post-operative treatment) helps skin to heal better, inflammation/redness to be lowered, pigment to be restored, and interstitial fluid and sebum (oil) to be better regulated. Zinc can also help increase the amount of other active ingredients that are absorbed into the skin when its used in conjunction with other anti-aging products.