How Effective Is Zinc Oxide for Eczema?

What to know about topicals infused with zinc oxide

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Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is a condition in which the skin becomes red, irritated, itchy, and blistered. While there is no cure for eczema, there are treatments available that can help ease discomfort, reduce inflammation, and restore skin to normal conditions. 

One at-home treatment option for eczema is zinc oxide. Zinc is known for its ability to soothe and prevent skin irritation, meaning it may help some people with skin conditions such as eczema. 

African-American woman applies a patch of cream to her hand.

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What Is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that supports the immune system and metabolism. It maintains the body's senses of taste and smell. Zinc also is needed to heal wounds, which is why it can be helpful as an eczema treatment.

Zinc: The Mineral

Zinc is ver reactive, which is why it's always attached to a compound (like an oxide) rather than being in its pure, elemental form alone. The compound zinc oxide has a white appearance, but zinc on its own is more of a silver-gray color.

Zinc and Immunity

Zinc is often recommended to help your immune system function. For example, it's a common ingredient in cough drops and products for the common cold. Zinc's immune-boosting potential is one reason why it can be helpful to use during an eczema flare-up, when the skin is weak and exposed to infection.

Besides boosting the immune system’s reaction to skin irritation, zinc can also increase how quickly new skin cells grow to replace the damaged cells.

Zinc Deficiency

You might become deficient in zinc because:

  • You are not getting enough zinc in your diet.
  • Your body has a hard time absorbing zinc.
  • You're taking a medication that is interrupting your body's ability to absorb zinc.
  • You're taking too much iron (which can decrease the absorption of zinc).

Does Zinc Oxide Work for Eczema?

Zinc is present throughout your body, but especially in your bones, muscles, liver, and skin.

During an eczema flare-up, the body releases histamine, which causes you to feel itchy. You may also see small blisters or flaky, cracked, dry skin. Zinc can help address these weak points created in the skin during a flare-up.

Creams with zinc provide a moisture barrier to help soothe the dry, flaky skin that is common with eczema. Zinc creams can also help fight possible infections because of the mineral's natural antibacterial properties and ability to promote healing.

Zinc oxide may even help with itching by inhibiting the release of histamine.

Other Uses for Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is found in a range of beauty and personal care products. One of the most common uses for zinc oxide is as a sun protectant in sunscreen. It's also an ingredient in products that are used to treat cuts and burns.

Zinc Oxide Topicals

Eczema treatment varies from person to person—and even within the same person. The treatment you started using when you first were diagnosed with eczema may become less effective over time, or you might find that a treatment that used to work becomes too overpowering.

In general, topical creams and ointments are the preferred treatment for eczema rather than oral medications because they provide moisture and can target therapy directly to the affected area of skin. 

Diaper Rash Cream

One product that you might be surprised can work well for eczema is diaper rash cream. While intended for babies, most creams contain zinc oxide and can help soothe eczema.

Hand Soaps

Zinc pyrithione can be found in hand soaps such as Vanicream Z-Bar or Noble Formula soap. Using soap containing zinc can help soothe and clear up an eczema flare-up.

If you have dyshidrotic eczema—which is specific to hands and feet—handwashing can remove any lotion or ointments you have applied to treat the rash. Using a soap that has zinc in it can allow you to treat your eczema at the same time as you keep your hands clean.

Ointments vs. Creams

When choosing cream or ointment, consider the severity of your eczema. If the skin is particularly dry, flaky, and cracked, ointments may be more helpful because they are thicker and capable of holding moisture against the skin longer.

Being lighter than ointments, creams are easier to wash off. Creams also tend to be less sticky and may be preferred for this reason. 

Applying Zinc Oxide Cream

Before you use a cream on your skin, perform a small patch test to make sure you will not have a reaction when using the cream in large quantities. Since many people with eczema have sensitive skin, a patch test can prevent the distress caused by an adverse reaction.

To do a patch test, find an area of unaffected skin and apply a small amount of the product. If there is no reaction to the test site after a few hours, you can try using a the product in an area of eczema.

Is Zinc Oxide Safe for Kids?

Children, even babies, can get eczema and other skin rashes. Many products that are available to soothe the skin of infants and kids contain zinc oxide. One of the most well-known is diaper rash cream. Zinc is also a common ingredient in sunscreens that are recommended for use in babies and children.

Summary

Zinc is an essential nutrient that your body needs for many functions. In the form of a compound like zinc oxide, it can also help with skin conditions like eczema. Research has shown that zinc oxide has antibacterial properties that can help your body fight off infection and give skin that has been weakened by eczema a chance to heal.

A Word From Verywell

Zinc oxide products, particularly creams and ointments, might help soothe and protect your skin during an eczema flare. However, you should always check with your doctor before trying a new product or using more than one treatment to relieve your eczema symptoms.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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