Antioxidants play a critical role in keeping skin healthy. The antioxidant benefits of vitamin C and E are well known, but the importance of the trace mineral, zinc, has been overlooked. This article reviews the evidence supporting zinc's antioxidant role in protecting against free radical-induced oxidative damage. Zinc protects against UV radiation, enhances wound healing, contributes to immune and neuropsychiatric functions, and decreases the relative risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. All body tissues contain zinc; in skin, it is five to six times more concentrated in the epidermis than the dermis. Zinc is required for the normal growth, development and function of mammals. It is an essential element of more than 200 metalloenzymes, including the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, and affects their conformity, stability, and activity. Zinc also is important for the proper functioning of the immune system, and for glandular, reproductive and cell health. Abundant evidence demonstrates the antioxidant role of zinc. Topical zinc, in the form of divalent zinc ions, has been reported to provide antioxidant photoprotection for skin. Two antioxidant mechanisms have been proposed for zinc: zinc ions may replace redox active molecules, such as iron and copper, at critical sites in cell membranes and proteins; alternatively, zinc ions may induce the synthesis of metallothionein, sulfhydryl-rich proteins that protect against free radicals. No matter how they work, topical zinc ions may provide an important and helpful antioxidant defense for skin.