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3 Trace Minerals Your Skin Needs to Thrive

Published on April 01, 2024

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

Minerals are just as vital as vitamins for overall health and wellness, and an imbalance of certain minerals can directly impact the appearance of your skin.

This article will dive into three key minerals — zinc, copper, and selenium — that play crucial roles in maintaining healthy, glowing skin. You'll learn about the specific functions of each mineral, the recommended daily intake amounts, and the deficiency symptoms to watch out for.

We’ll also cover the foods that help you optimize your mineral intake and when you might want to use mineral supplements to ensure your skin gets the mineral nourishment it needs.

Why Your Skin Needs Minerals

The skin is your body's largest organ. It acts as a barrier against pathogens, ultraviolet radiation, toxic substances, and water loss. The skin helps regulate body temperature through sweating and constriction of blood vessels. It is also critical for detecting sensations like touch, temperature, and pain.

To effectively carry out these functions, the skin requires a steady supply of nutrients: proteins, vitamins, healthy fats — and minerals. 

While vitamins A, C, D, and E often get more attention regarding skin health, minerals are just as vital. Mineral deficiencies can affect the physical and biological functions of the skin and result in impaired wound healing, diminished skin elasticity and moisture levels, increased irritation and inflammation, disruption of the skin barrier, and visible changes like rashes, dryness, premature aging, and a lackluster complexion.

While each mineral is important in skin health, it can’t operate in isolation. To achieve skin health, you must consume the right nutrient balance. Even while addressing a deficiency, an overabundance of one mineral can disrupt this balance, potentially causing new issues. So, seek professional guidance before making any drastic dietary changes or using supplements. 

3 Key Minerals for Healthy Skin

The human body requires at least 16 essential minerals, including macro and trace minerals, for proper physiological function and health. Since your body can’t make these minerals, you must get them from your diet.

The macrominerals — minerals you need in large amounts — include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. These play critical roles in virtually all physiological systems and processes, including maintaining good skin health. So, you want to ensure you always get your daily recommended allowance of the macrominerals.

The remaining minerals, known as trace minerals, are required in smaller amounts. Trace minerals include iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, molybdenum, and cobalt. Although you need less than 100 mg of these daily, they play crucial roles in various bodily functions.REF#3785 This article dives into three essential trace minerals that have been well-researched for their effects on your skin: zinc, copper, and selenium.

Zinc for Skin Health

Zinc, a mineral found throughout your body, plays a significant role in maintaining healthy skin. Approximately 6% of the body's total zinc is found in the skin, with about five times as much in the outer layer (epidermis) than in the deeper layer (dermis).REF#3786

Zinc acts as a vital collaborator, helping activate and optimize the function of around 300 enzymes throughout the body.REF#3787 Its contributions to skin health include:

  • Radiant complexion: Zinc acts as a key player in morphogenesis (the formation of new skin cells), ensuring proper development and maintenance. It also participates in basal cell mitosis and differentiation, the processes responsible for replacing old skin cells with new ones.
  • Wound support: Numerous studies have demonstrated zinc’s vital role in wound healing, as zinc concentrations elevate naturally in the early stage of healing and drop in later stages. Zinc deficiency has been shown to impair wound healing.REF#3788 Topical use of zinc oxide is shown to be more effective for wound healing than oral intake of zinc supplements.
  • Antioxidant support: Zinc joins forces with antioxidant enzymes to combat free radicals and protect your skin from damage.REF#3789 This shield helps prevent premature aging and maintain a youthful appearance.
  • Sun protection: While primarily consumed through food or supplements, zinc is also a common ingredient in topical sunscreens. Studies prove its ability to safely and physically block harmful UV rays, offering an extra layer of protection.REF#3786

Zinc deficiency can manifest in various skin issues, including lesions, delayed wound healing, and roughness. The body can’t store zinc, so you need to consume it daily, either in food or as a supplement. 

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is eight mg daily for adult women and 11 mg daily for adult men. The upper tolerable limit is 40 mg per day. Maintaining adequate zinc intake is not difficult for most individuals through a balanced diet, although vegetarians and vegans may need to be particularly mindful of getting adequate zinc from plant sources. 

Examples of foods with high zinc content include:

  • Oysters: 32 mg per three-ounce serving of Eastern farmed oysters 
  • Beef: 3.8 mg per three-ounce serving of beef sirloin
  • Oatmeal: 2.3 mg per cup of cooked, enriched oats
  • Pumpkin seeds: 2.2 mg per ounce of roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Lentils: 1.3 mg per .5-cup serving of cooked lentils
  • Cheddar cheese: 1.5 mg per 1.5-ounce serving of cheese
  • Whole grains: 2.74 mg in 100 grams of whole-grain rolled oats
  • Dark chocolate: 3.31 mg in a 3.5-ounce bar of 70-80 percent dark chocolate

To ensure proper intake, check the labels on the packages of food you buy or look up the nutritional values online. 

Typical supplemental doses range from 15 to 30 mg of elemental zinc daily. Long-term intake above the upper limit increases your risk of copper deficiency. While rare, excessive zinc intake can lead to skin and hair-related problems. 

Zinc absorption can be impaired by certain medical conditions and with aging. Adolescents may require higher amounts of zinc during growth spurts. In these cases, you may need to use a zinc supplement.

Copper for Skin Health

Copper, another vital trace mineral, has been used in multiple ways for millennia to support skin health. Countless cultures have believed in copper's therapeutic powers. Egyptians applied it to wounds, Mayans used it to disinfect surgical sites, and Romans treated various skin conditions. 

About 15 percent of the copper in your body is in your skin. Modern research is confirming the ways copper promotes skin health:REF#3790

  • Collagen and elastin production: Copper helps stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, proteins responsible for the strength and elasticity of your skin. These proteins are essential for giving your skin a plumper, more vibrant appearance.
  • Wound support: Copper accelerates wound closure by promoting blood vessel formation and fortifying the skin's matrix of collagen, elastin, and other structural components. This helps wounds heal faster and with less scarring.
  • Antioxidant support: Copper partners with the superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme present in the skin, to protect against free radical damage, which can contribute to premature aging and skin concerns. 
  • Melanin production: Copper plays a crucial role in melanin production, the pigment responsible for your skin and hair color. This ensures even pigmentation and contributes to your overall complexion.
  • Healthy cell function: Copper's benefits extend beyond the skin's visible layer. It supports healthy cell function and protects against harmful inflammation, contributing to overall skin well-being.

Copper can be incorporated into your skincare routine through diet, supplements, or topical creams. 

The current RDA for copper is 900 mcg for adults over 18 years of age. That amount increases to 1,000 mcg for persons who are pregnant and 1,300 mcg for those who are lactating. 

Top food sources of copper include:

  • Organ meats: 12,400 mcg per three-ounce serving of beef liver
  • Oysters: 4,850 mcg per three-ounce serving of oysters
  • Unsweetened chocolate: 938 mcg per one-ounce serving
  • Potatoes: 675 mcg per one medium potato
  • Mushrooms: 650 mcg per half-cup serving of shiitake mushrooms
  • Cashews: 629 mcg per one-ounce serving of cashews
  • Sunflower seeds: 615 mcg per ¼-cup serving of sunflower seed kernels
  • Soy products: 476 mcg per ½-cup serving of tofu
  • Salmon: 273 mcg per 3 ounces of cooked wild salmon
  • Spinach: 157 mcg per ½-cup serving of boiled, drained spinach 

Copper can also be taken as a supplement, either alone or in combination with other vitamins and minerals. No studies have yet compared the bioavailability of the different forms of copper. A tolerable upper limit has not been established for copper, but supplements typically range from a few micrograms to 15 mg. It’s rare to have copper toxicity, unless you consume too much regularly in your diet or through supplements. Since copper toxicity can be harmful, you want to avoid excess consumption.

Copper deficiency is rare for most people. However, celiac disease can impair absorption, and Menkes disease can prevent the body from processing copper effectively. Additionally, excess zinc can interfere with the copper levels in your body. So, if you’re taking high-dose zinc supplements long-term, you may need supplemental copper.


Selenium is an essential trace mineral that may help maintain skin health and a more youthful appearance. As a component of several enzymes, including glutathione peroxidase, selenium may increase the antioxidant activity of these enzymes and help promote normal inflammatory function to minimize premature skin aging and damage. 

Research indicates that low selenium levels are associated with various skin diseases, and it is believed that higher levels of selenium provide some level of protection.REF#3791 More studies are needed to confirm that selenium protects against the oxidative stress caused by excessive UV exposure. 

Similar to zinc, insufficient selenium intake may manifest in skin concerns. While severe deficiency is uncommon in the United States, regular consumption of selenium-rich foods helps ensure optimal levels. 

The RDA for selenium is 55 mcg for adults and is easy to meet through food alone. The upper limit (UL) is 400 mcg/day. 

Selenium-rich foods include:

  • Brazil nuts: 544 mcg per one-ounce serving 
  • Seafood: 92 mcg per three-ounce serving of yellowfin tuna
  • Pasta: 37 mcg per one-cup serving of cooked enriched macaroni
  • Red meat: 33 mcg per three-ounce serving of beefsteak
  • Poultry: 31 mcg per three-ounce serving of boneless turkey
  • Dairy: 20 mcg per cup of 1% milkfat cottage cheese
  • Legumes: 6 mcg per one-cup serving of cooked lentils

Selenium content varies greatly depending on the soil where foods are grown. Certain regions worldwide have deficient levels of selenium in the soil and the foods grown in them may not offer enough of that nutrient. Additionally, certain medical conditions can impair selenium absorption.

While it’s rare to need a Selenium supplement, supplemental doses range from 100-200 mcg per day. Doses over 400 mcg may have side effects over time that can include changes in nails and hair, gastrointestinal issues, and fatigue.REF#3792

Additional Minerals

More research is needed to determine how effectively other trace minerals support skin health. A few that show promise include iron, manganese, silicon, and iodine. 

Iron is a mineral involved in oxygen transport and collagen synthesis. It may help ensure adequate oxygenation of skin cells and participate in the production of connective tissue proteins that maintain skin structure and elasticity. Manganese activates enzymes important for wound healing and may protect skin cells from oxidative stress through its antioxidant functions. Silicon helps form and stabilize collagen and may affect skin firmness. And iodine is essential for proper thyroid function. Since an imbalance of thyroid hormones can lead to dry, flaky skin and nails, iodine may contribute to the skin’s ability to retain moisture. 

Whether or not these minerals play an active role in skin health, getting sufficient amounts of them to keep all minerals in proper balance is key to supporting your overall health.

Tips for Healthy Skin

Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats is the easiest and most effective way to keep your skin properly nourished with all the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients it needs. Many herbs can also help you achieve glowing skin. 

It’s also important to drink enough fluids and protect your skin from excessive sun exposure. Avoid excess sugar and refined carbohydrates to help support normal inflammatory function.

While whole food sources should be the foundation of a healthy diet, supplementation of specific minerals may sometimes be advisable under medical supervision. Speak with your doctor if you suspect a deficiency and before taking high-dose supplements.


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