Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/27/2019
Zinc pyrithione may sound like a new and trendy costume jewelry compound to the uninitiated, but to people with scalp and skin issues, it can be somewhat of a lifeline.
One of the many common zinc salts on the market for healthcare uses, zinc pyrithione is one of the most effective antimicrobial agents around.
Zinc pyrithione is commonly known as an active ingredient that tackles dandruff and hinders yeast growth, but it also helps heal acne.
Whether you’re here because your other acne treatments haven’t worked, or you’re just interested in learning about what’s in your dandruff shampoo, read on to learn more about zinc pyrithione and how it can pack a healing punch.
Zinc pyrithione is one of several zinc preparations formulated for human use and consumption.
Zinc pyrithione in particular is a topical agent — and when used on the skin, can treat skin conditions such as acne, warts, dandruff and rosacea.
It can even be used in the treatment of diseases like leprosy, basal cell carcinoma and genital herpes.
Zinc pyrithione can also treat psoriasis, eczema, ulcers, certain forms of alopecia and vitiligo, and can generally help as an anti-aging skincare ingredient.
Because of its antifungal properties, this form of zinc is often used as a treatment for dandruff. It’s a common ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoos.
Your skin’s normal process of shedding dead skin cells from the inside of your hair follicles is important, and when it breaks down, you can get acne.
Problems with the shedding process can result in a particular bacterial infection if those excess dead cells and the oils produced clog the pore.
A mixture of sebum or oil and your dead cells is the perfect breeding ground and food source for bacteria — which is the bacteria that causes acne.
Plenty of things can trigger a skin process imbalance, whether it’s poor diet and dehydration, a dry climate’s toll on your skin or hormone imbalances.
The hormones usually in this group are called androgens.
Androgens can significantly increase your oil production through the sebaceous glands, making them instrumental to the development of acne.
Sebum is generally good and can help protect your skin. Yet when it starts to block pores, it can help provide more of a breeding ground for bacteria.
So where does zinc pyrithione come in?
How zinc pyrithione actually works for acne isn’t fully understood, according to recent studies.
The current thinking is that it has some impact on both inflammatory issues due to microbes, as well as on antibiotic absorption.
Zinc pyrithione has also demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth and productivity of the P. acnes bacteria.
It has also been shown to have antifungal activity, so in those rare fungal acne cases, it has demonstrated benefits.
Furthermore, zinc pyrithione has been shown to work in combination with antibiotic treatments.
Research has shown how promising zinc treatments are — not just because of their effectiveness and ability to work in combination with other treatments, but also because they are low cost and lack systemic side effects.
Is any of this a cure for acne? Not exactly, but it’s another tool with a steadily growing body of knowledge.
The efficacy of zinc pyrithione when used in combination with other medications is actually well demonstrated through another of zinc’s uses: dandruff treatments.
Ketoconazole shampoo can be an effective treatment for seborrheic dermatitis, and in multiple studies has been shown to be a superior treatment when compared to similar options.
Like other topical medications (especially the ones that go on your head) it’s best to try just a small amount first (in one location) when you begin using it.
Once you’ve confirmed that no serious or immediate reactions are taking place, you can apply the shampoo like normal. Just be sure to follow the directions on the label for best results.
Ketoconazole shampoo may cause some side effects, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
These may include blisters on the scalp, changes in hair texture, dry skin, itching, oily or dry hair or scalp, irritation or stinging.
If these symptoms persist or worsen, call your healthcare provider. Call them immediately if you see signs of rash or hives, or if you have difficulty breathing or pain.
Used in combination with zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole is effective at disrupting fungal membranes — which can eventually help you fight them off for good.
Zinc works well with ketoconazole, which (as mentioned above) is an antifungal medication commonly used in shampoo to treat seborrheic dermatitis — a condition that causes skin irritation and flaking, and which can lead to dandruff when it affects the scalp.
Zinc pyrithione may be another effective tool to fight acne and dandruff yet if you experience either of these conditions, know you have options.
The best place to start is by connecting with a healthcare professional, to help determine what might be causing your issue, and to help find the best treatment for you.
Either way, zinc pyrithione is a proven ingredient that can help clear up your skin and scalp.