Zinc Pyrithione: A Topical Antimicrobial With Complex Pharmaceutics

J Drugs Dermatol. 2016 Feb;15(2):140-4.


Zinc pyrithione (ZPT) is an active material that has been used for over 50 years to effectively treat dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis (D/SD). It has become the most common material for that purpose, its use has expanded to include other skin benefits such as skin hygiene. However, there is much about ZPT that is unappreciated. It is a rationally developed molecule that was modeled after the naturally occurring antimicrobial aspergillic acid. The molecular basis for its antifungal activity has been elucidated. The efficacy of ZPT originates from two attributes. First, it has a very broad antimicrobial spectrum of activity, including fungi, gram-positive and -negative bacteria. Second, the material has very low solubility, resulting in formulation and delivery as a particulate material, which has distinct performance advantages. The particles are deposited and retained on the target skin surfaces even when delivered from rinse-off products. These particles slowly release molecularly active material to interact with the surface fungal and bacteria cells to control their population, functioning as slow-release reservoirs to provide extended and persistent benefits. This particulate nature, though, results in complex pharmaceutics to realize the full efficacy benefits; it is common to see products with the same ZPT level having widely varying levels of clinical performance. Several product matrix-determined factors directly impact resultant benefits: ZPT must be retained on the skin surface achieving uniform spatial distribution laterally as well as within hair follicles (especially on scalp); ZPT must be maintained as a physically stable dispersion in product; ZPT must be maintained in a chemically active form as there are many chemical reactions that can occur that can harm ZPT bioactivity. The benefits achievable by employing ZPT require significant pharmaceutics expertise to realize the full benefits of this active material.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry*
  • Antifungal Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antifungal Agents / chemistry
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / methods*
  • Dandruff / drug therapy
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Organometallic Compounds / administration & dosage*
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry*
  • Pyridines / administration & dosage*
  • Pyridines / chemistry*
  • Scalp Dermatoses / drug therapy


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Antifungal Agents
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Pyridines
  • pyrithione zinc