Zinc is one of the most beloved and widely used supplements in the whole of the acne world. It has been proven to improve acne massively in several studies, and in this article I firmly recommended taking a supplement.
But there’s another aspect of zinc that‘s been getting a lot of hype recently. According to various acne and also hair loss gurus, zinc has the ability to reduce levels of the androgenic hormone DHT in both males and females.
If true, then that could add another acne-reducing effect to zinc, on top of its already potent ability to control the human immune system. DHT is the androgen that is most responsible for causing highly active sebaceous glands and therefore reducing it can lead to less blocked pores.
Hair restoration communities are also going crazy over the news because DHT is one of their mortal enemies. There’s a big misunderstanding in the role that DHT plays in hair loss, in reality, but nevertheless, everybody’s eyes are keenly focussed on zinc…
…however, after looking at the studies I believe everybody’s excitement is misplaced. Judging by the evidence, there are plenty of hints that zinc could reduce DHT but the stone cold data suggests that zinc increases it.
The stone cold scientific analysis
These are the two studies which sparked off everybody’s interest…
- In this study scientists placed human skin cells in a petri dish and applied a dose of zinc sulphate to them. As well as applying other compounds like azelaic acid, they tested the level of 5-alpha reductase activity in the skin. That’s important to understand because 5-alpha reductase is the enzyme that is responsible for the creation of DHT. The scientists’ results seem shocking initially; they found that zinc significantly inhibited the activity of zinc sulphate. Not only that, but they found that applying high doses of the zinc inhibited the enzyme’s activity by 100%.
- In this study scientists again tested the effects of zinc human prostate tissue. Again they were looking for the effect on the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, and they came to two conclusions. Their first was that if a human is zinc deficient and is then given supplemental zinc, his 5-alpha reductase (and thus DHT) will actually increase. However their second conclusion was that once zinc levels pass a certain point, any further increase will cause 5-alpha reductase to decrease once more.
Both of these studies indicate that even an ineffectively absorbed zinc supplement can significantly reduce DHT. The basic function of 5-alpha reductase, which the studies found was lowered, is that it creates DHT by converting it from testosterone.
These studies all found that 5-alpha reductase was reduced, so therefore one could safely conclude that zinc reduces DHT as well.
However looking at actual studies on DHT and zinc, it seems that the studies above have come to completely the wrong conclusion.
- First we have this study from all the way back in 1981. Scientists were testing the effects of zinc on DHT and testosterone in particular, so to accomplish this they gathered 37 men who had been infertile for five years or more. Firstly they tested all of them for testosterone deficiency, and when it turned out there were 22 deficient men, they gathered them into a test group. These 22 men were then all given supplemental zinc for as long as it took to notice effects. Within six months, 9 of the men had successfully made their wives pregnant. That already suggests that male sex hormones had increased, including DHT, but scientists also did blood tests on them. They found that among the formerly testosterone deficient group, there was on average a big increase in blood testosterone and DHT.
- This study from 1996 tested the effects of supplemental zinc on rats and their hormones. The scientists created three groups of rats; one fed a deliberately zinc deficient diet, one group of rats with controlled levels of zinc, and another group of rats that were free-fed, or in other words, they could eat whatever food they wanted. After several weeks the scientists tested all rats for DHT and other hormones. They found that circulating levels of DHT were by far the lowest in the rats fed a zinc deficient diet.
Judging from those studies, it actually seems more likely that zinc increases DHT. There’s not even a slither of evidence to say that zinc can decrease DHT.
The first set of studies does suggest that zinc decreases DHT but only the effects on 5-alpha reductase were tested. Even if zinc does reduce the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone to DHT, then it’s still possible that the human body compensates through other mechanisms, like for instance, providing more testosterone to begin with.
Zinc is well known for its testosterone boosting effects, which was another result the two studies above confirmed. Zinc is one of the favourite supplements of athletes due to testosterone’s effect on weight loss, energy, focus, and muscle mass. The first study parallels the real world in that when a man is infertile, he will often be prescribed zinc by his doctor.
What this means is that while the 5-alpha reductase enzyme could be inhibited, there could still be more DHT if there is more testosterone to be converted in the first place.
Evidence of zinc inhibiting DHT is flawed
The first study referenced, showing the astonishing reduction in the enzyme, is fatally flawed by the whole ludicrous design of the study. The scientists did not use a test that offers any valid evidence for what actually goes on in the human body. What they basically did is take a few human skin cells, place them in a petri dish, and bombard them with giant amounts of zinc sulphate.
The first problem is that you can’t apply the results from a few isolated cells to the whole of the human body. The second problem is that if you applied the huge doses of zinc they used to the whole human body, that human would die. The doses they used were larger than anyone would ever contemplate taking.
All that the study proves is that if you flood cells with enough zinc, the cells will cease to function. The fact that there was 100% inhibition is pretty clear evidence that the experiment was over-the-top.
Moreover, zinc toxicity is well known to happen in the real world and it can interfere with the functioning of your cells. Therefore it is not surprising that the 5-alpha reductase enzyme was inhibited, and if the experiment was adjusted for real world levels, I would expect a completely different result.
The second study backs this point of view up, as it shows that zinc only inhibits the 5-alpha reductase enzyme at higher doses. Once again though, we can’t tell what the end result on DHT in the human body would be. Overall there is no strong evidence that zinc reduces 5-alpha reductase and thus DHT, due to the weakness of these studies.
Meanwhile we have good evidence that zinc increases DHT. The rat study isn’t perfect, because the diet of the rats was not very controlled. For all we know, the rats would have been eating some other compound in the zinc rich foods that accounted for the increase in DHT.
However it is still a decent indicator, and the study done on humans was very well conducted. It tested a zinc supplement specifically and found that DHT increased in just about everybody.
Zinc raises DHT in the majority of acne patients
This conclusion is also backed up by real world evidence as zinc is commonly used for infertility and other hormone related issues. On the rest of this website we have discussed how while acne patients may fear testosterone, it is not the king of all androgens at all. DHT is actually a far more potent androgen, and it is largely responsible for body hair, sexual drive, aggression, and other hormonal effects.
High levels of testosterone do cause these effects, as users of anabolic steroids will happily tell you. However they only occur because with more testosterone, more will inevitably be getting converted to DHT.
This is important to understand because in tons of studies, in tons of testimonials, and in tons of anecdotal reports, zinc intensifies almost all the factors listed above.
If a man is having trouble conceiving, then as we discussed earlier, zinc is one of the very first things his kindly doctor will give him. Either that or the doctor will tell him to double down on red meat and oysters. Zinc is also one of the top five supplements of the bodybuilding community and they take it precisely because of the androgen boosting effects it provides.
Therefore not only do the studies provide evidence that zinc actually increases DHT, but the real world also shows us exactly that. We can conclude that zinc does not decrease DHT at all and thus will not help you with blocked pores as much as it might.
Nevertheless though, zinc is still one of the ultimate acne supplements. It might be lacking this one effect, but its ability to constrain an overactive immune system from inflaming your acne is very real.
For men this is actually great news. DHT is a vital hormone for a man because it is responsible for all the healthy characteristics above. It is critical for a man’s mood, focus, drive, physical strength, and general sense of well-being.
Therefore if you are a man, you can enjoy the acne-reducing effects of zinc supplements without becoming a eunuch.
If you are a woman, then you could consider this slightly bad news as a reduction in DHT would have been somewhat welcome. The conclusion that zinc increases DHT is, in theory, also troubling for you because your sebaceous glands are particularly sensitive to the hormone…
However, there’s no need to worry. I still recommend zinc because the studies using the mineral overwhelmingly found that it improves acne. One study on 87 people found that a staggering 54.1% of acne patients were zinc deficient.
The acne community and indeed the wider health community are excited about the DHT lowering effect zinc has, mostly because they believe it can lead to hair loss and even prostate cancer (it’s more complicated than just DHT). However the effect seems to be non-existent. The reality is that the studies all show an increase in DHT, and from all the sexual benefits men get from zinc, a reduction in DHT is the last thing you would expect it to cause.
Therefore I don’t recommend you make any change in your zinc strategy whatsoever. My advice is to simply ignore the whole DHT issue when it comes to zinc, and continue supplementing as you would…
…and by the way, I do highly recommend that you take a zinc supplement, as tons of studies have shown it to be almost a miracle. Make sure you take a well absorbed one like zinc l-methionine (my preferred supplement), zinc piliconate, or zinc orotate, for the best improvement your money can buy.
I take a zinc supplement once every few days, and the best I’ve ever used is by far this one: NutraBio L-OptiZinc (30 mg).
If that supplement is enduring one of its frequent unavailable periods, then there is also the NutraBio Chelated Zinc. The zinc arginate contained in the pills is well absorbed by your gut, as is the case with most chelated minerals.
Thanks for reading!