What Is Zinc PCA, and What Does It Do For Your Skin?

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  • Zinc PCA is often found in moisturizers, masks, and serums.
  • The ingredient is a natural molecule found in the outermost layer of skin.
  • Zinc PCA is used to combat acne breakouts and reduce redness in the skin.

The ingredients in our skin-care matter — the right mix of them is what makes any product effective. While the specific formulations are left up to the scientists and chemists behind the scenes, it's important for us to have a handle on what ingredients can help our own unique (and sometimes finicky) complexions.

Here, we're introducing you to Zinc PCA, a rising star in the skin-care world. It's already a prominent ingredient in moisturizers, masks, and more to help fight acne and reduce redness and inflammation; plus, it also has anti-aging benefits. Here's what to know about Zinc PCA and what it can do for your skin.

What Is Zinc PCA?

"Zinc PCA, otherwise known as zinc salt, is the salt of the pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA)," explains board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD. "PCA is a natural molecule found in the outermost layer of skin." Most of the PCA in skin-care formulations is synthetically made, but it can also be derived from oils and certain plants, she adds.

What Does Zinc PCA Do For Skin?

"Zinc PCA has been found to help treat pimples and reduce sebum secretion and redness, in addition to moisturizing the skin," says Dr. Engelman. "Similar to hyaluronic acid, it is a humectant that is used as a hydrating ingredient." Meaning Zinc PCA can help hold the water in your skin rather than letting it evaporate.

Zinc PCA is also a preventative ingredient for skin aging, as it aids in the healing process and counteracts the degradation of collagen (what gives skin its plumpness and elasticity).

What Kind of Products Use Zinc PCA?

Zinc PCA is popular in acne-fighting formulas. You'll find it in a range of clarifying products from moisturizers like Typology Paris Purifying Moisturizer ($32) to masks like Paula's Choice Purifying Clay Mask ($29) to spot treatments like Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask ($20). And as Dr. Engelman adds, it's even used in haircare products to add moisture to the hair and scalp.

Is There Any Downside to Using Zinc PCA?

As Dr. Engelman explains, since PCA is naturally occurring in the body, most people have no adverse reaction to using it in a topical form — so it's OK for all skin types. But as with other powerful and effective ingredients in skin care, consider moderation. "Large doses of zinc PCA can be drying, but Zinc PCA usually does not negatively impact the normal function of the skin barrier or hydration since PCA is a humectant," says Dr. Engelman. If your Zinc PCA–infused product of choice is creating some dryness, she recommends layering a thick moisturizer on top.