Are you getting enough zinc in your diet? Maybe you haven’t thought about it lately — or maybe ever! The mineral doesn’t get talked about as much as — well — more “famous” nutrients like iron, calcium, or vitamin D. But it turns out that approximately 17.3% of the people don’t get enough of it in their diets.1
Zinc plays an important role in your body: it strengthens the immune system, keeps the digestive system working properly, encourages hair growth, and promotes the health of your skin.
A zinc-rich diet will help your complexion stave off irritation, redness, and the signs of premature aging.
And it can be especially challenging to get enough in your body if you follow diets that exclude certain foods. For example, if you follow a plant-based diet or abstain from high-cholesterol foods for health reasons — you may have lower concentrations of zinc in your body.
When you’re getting enough zinc in your diet – – you’ll reap the benefits of a healthier body and beautiful skin.
What Exactly Is Zinc?
Zinc is a metallic trace element that’s absolutely essential to maintaining the health of the skeletal, gastrointestinal, immune, reproductive, skin, and central nervous systems of your body.2
This trace mineral is also an antioxidant.3 Antioxidants are responsible for combating oxidative stress, which can inhibit immune responses and lead to chronic conditions in various systems and organs in your body, including your largest organ: the skin.
About six percent of your body’s zinc intake goes to maintaining your skin. And keep in mind your body has no permanent place where zinc is stored — it’s constantly being used up. That’s why a continuous supply of zinc from external sources is necessary to satisfy cell metabolism and tissue repair needs.
Zinc for Beautiful Skin
So what are some of the benefits zinc provides for the skin? Here are a few:
Helps Relieve Redness, Irritation, and Dryness
Red, dry, and irritated skin? It can roll around every winter or even nag you throughout the year. It’s annoying and uncomfortable and can have you reaching for creams just to get some relief.
Sensitive skin is often a byproduct of oxidative stress. So if you’re not getting enough antioxidant foods in your diet, you may experience skin irritation. Zinc has properties that fight irritation, so a diet rich in zinc may help calm skin.
Zinc can also help support the skin’s regeneration process. The mineral encourages something called reepithelialization. Reepithelialization is the process by which skin wounds are closed and eventually repair themselves, forming new skin.
Helps Keep Dark Spots at Bay
Hormones, aging, and sun exposure: all can contribute to the appearance of dark spots on the complexion.
It turns out that zinc may be able to help minimize skin darkening. You see, zinc has the ability to suppress the actions of cells called “melanocytes”.
Melanocytes are cells that exist in the bottom layer of the epidermis and they’re responsible for pigment creation in skin and hair. Melanocytes are what give you brown, black, or red hair, and they also dictate whether you have dark, olive, or fair skin. But when melanocytes are overactive, they can cause the skin to darken and become uneven, contributing to the appearance of “age spots”.4
But by inhibiting the actions of these melanocytes, zinc can help the skin maintain an even tone, with fewer age spots.
Helps Prevent Visible Signs of Aging
Oxidative stress is one of the foremost causes of the wrinkles, sagging, and thickening that appear as skin ages. Oxidative stress occurs when the body attempts to fight off free radicals, which are unpaired, charged atoms. These free radicals increase with age and scavenge the body, causing damage.5
As an antioxidant, zinc combats free radicals and protects the body — including the skin — from oxidative stress. This boosts the skin’s ability to stave off wrinkles, sagging skin, and any other unnecessary signs of premature aging.
Helps Fight Acne
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when pores are blocked by dead skin cells and excess oil. Acne may present itself as blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples — which can lead to scarring. There are a variety of factors that can cause acne, including hormones, age, stress, and lifestyle choices.
Interestingly, studies have demonstrated that people with acne often have lower levels of zinc in their bloodstream.6
And it’s suggested that zinc intake may be effective in minimizing the occurrence of moderate acne. It’s unclear how zinc specifically targets acne, but scientists theorize that zinc may suppress the production of sebum which exacerbates breakouts. So if you’re not getting enough zinc in your diet, your skin might have a harder time limiting oil that can lead to breakouts.
Zinc for Skin and Hair
Clearly, zinc plays an integral role when it comes to beautiful skin. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention another huge beauty benefit of zinc — healthy hair growth!
Now, we all know that hair has the potential to be your crowning glory. But unfortunately, hair tends to thin with age.7 There are many factors that play into hair loss, but it seems that zinc — or a lack thereof — may be one of them. For example, scientific studies have shown that people who experience hair loss have significantly lower levels of zinc in their bodies than those not experiencing hair loss.8
Scientists are still studying just how zinc affects hair loss and hair growth, but it seems that zinc-related enzymes have the potential to regulate the hair growth cycle and prolong the growth phase. That means your hair will have a chance to grow longer. Another benefit? Even if you have experienced a certain amount of hair loss — due to stress, say — zinc may have the ability to help your hair follicles recover. In other words, it can help hair grow!9
So to prevent unnecessary hair loss, go ahead and up your zinc intake!
What Does a Zinc-Rich Diet Look Like?
So how can you make sure you’re getting enough zinc into your diet? You might think that zinc supplements are a foolproof way to make sure you’re meeting your body’s zinc needs–and they are helpful, especially if your zinc levels are especially low. But it’s important not to rely solely on zinc supplements. Your body will absorb zinc supplements quite well at first, but will eventually habituate, and your body’s zinc absorption rate will decrease over time.
So the best way to avoid a zinc deficiency is by eating a diet that’s high in zinc.
Besides a supplement, the best dietary sources tend to be from animal products, like eggs, meat, and seafood.
These foods make zinc more bioavailable – – in other words, easy for your body to absorb. Animal-derived proteins contain amino acids the boost your body’s zinc absorption rates.
You can also get zinc through vegetarian sources like seeds and cereals, but these sources contain phosphates and phytates that inhibit zinc absorption. In fact, your body may only absorb about 20 to 40% of the zinc you eat from these sources, so you’ll have to eat larger quantities to get the benefits.
What To Eat!
Here are some nutritious (and delicious) foods to get you started:
Shellfish: By far and away, oysters are the most mineral-rich food you can eat. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is about 8 to 11 milligrams for adults.7 That means a serving of 6 oysters will give you about 215% of your daily zinc needs.8 Amazing! If oysters aren’t your thing, clams, lobster, crab, shrimp, and mussels are all good sources too.
Meat: After shellfish, meats provide the greatest amount of the beautifying mineral. Three ounces of beef will offer you 47% of your daily needs, while a pork chop will give you 19% and chicken 16% of your daily allowance.9
Of course, it’s important to eat in moderation, and consume lean, grass-fed meats, as a diet high in fatty meats can negatively affect fat and cholesterol levels.
Sesame Seeds: Sesame seeds are a good source too, but you’ll need more than a few seeds sprinkled on your hamburger bun. Try incorporating tahini — a paste made out of toasted sesame seeds — into your diet. Many hummuses are made with tahini, or you can use tahini to make salad dressings and other sauces.
Pumpkin Seeds: An easy, on-the-go snack, pumpkin seeds are another potent supply. They also contain protein, which is essential to healthy skin production.
Cereal: Fortified breakfast cereals are often high in zinc, containing 25% of your RDA. Look for cereals that are whole grain, multigrain, or bran-based. Avoid sugary cereals as sugar can inhibit zinc absorption.
Wheat Germ: Wheat germ is a surprisingly easy element to add to your diet and full of that beautifying mineral. Use it in place of granola on top of your yogurt, or sprinkle some into a smoothie or oatmeal.
When It Comes To Skin…
Zinc may be a tiny trace mineral, but its impact on the skin is immense. When your body has the right amount it needs, it will show in a complexion that’s smooth, youthful-looking and glowing. So, if you’re looking to boost the appearance of your skin–be sure to eat a diet that’s high in zinc to meet your body’s needs.
Article updated: March 28, 2018
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