Zinc: Skin's Miracle Mineral

Zinc: Skin's Miracle Mineral

Unlike media stars vitamin C, calcium, and iron, zinc doesn't get a lot of ink. Besides, most sources for nutrition information say you're probably getting enough to keep your skin glowing. Enough, that is, unless you're:

  • Eating a vegetarian diet
  • Breastfeeding your child
  • Cutting back on cholesterol
  • Eating a lot of processed foods
  • Taking calcium supplements
  • Suffering with IBS
  • Trying to lose weight
  • Taking iron supplements

Whoa! That adds up to a lot of itchy, flaky skin complaints that could be linked to a lack of zinc.

Zinc is a workhorse nutrient that's involved in almost every biochemical reaction in your body, but it's especially important for skin-cell renewal. Zinc isn't hard to find—shellfish, lean ham, beef, and lamb are full of it (vegetarians need to work a bit harder to get enough). But as the list above shows, it's easy to throw off zinc levels. A lot of things can either drain the body's supply (breastfeeding) or interfere with zinc's absorption (almost everything else; calcium supplements alone can cut it in half).

So how much zinc do you need, and how can you get enough to keep your skin's RealAge® young? The recommended daily amount is 15 mg, which can be found in most multivitamins. But aim to get a little more, especially if you're dealing with anything on the list above. Good sources:

  • Oysters: They're the all-stars; depending on the type, they can run from 16 mg a half dozen to 40 mg or more, but they're hardly a staple food.
  • Fortified breakfast cereals: They can be terrific; for instance, a cup of Cheerios has 15 mg.
  • Eating several of the following every day: meat, chickpeas, lentils, dairy foods, and nuts. With a good mix of these, it's easy to get your daily dose.

Just don't go overboard. Getting more than the upper limit of 40 mg can cause heart-healthy good HDL cholesterol to plummet and can throw off your immune system.

That said, if summer sun and hot weather has left you with persistent dry-skin patches, try rubbing on a zinc cream. No, not the white nose goop lifeguards swear by. We mean diaper-rash creams like Vusion. "The zinc oxide in them really helps," says Manhattan dermatologist Jeffrey Weinberg, MD, "probably because it makes such a terrific barrier against moisture loss and protects skin from external irritants."