Endemic zinc deficiency is recognised to be a common and serious problem in developing countries. However, it may be seen in routine practice in the UK, and can be easily overlooked. Malnutrition from any cause in conjunction with an undiagnosed cutaneous problem should alert the clinician to the diagnosis. Investigations may be unreliable, and if in doubt, a therapeutic trial of zinc supplementation is indicated. We present three cases of malnourished patients, in whom zinc deficiency was diagnosed after the development of cutaneous features. The malnutrition resulted from alcoholism in two cases and anorexia nervosa in the third. The heterogeneity of underlying causes of zinc deficiency is discussed, along with its effects, treatment and zinc homeostasis.