Element 30 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is zinc. Commonly used to galvanise other metals, it’s found in cars and streetlights. Its compounds are used in sunscreens, cosmetics, and medicines.

Galvanising is the process of coating iron and steel in a thin coating of zinc. This coating prevents oxidation by itself corroding first. Galvanised steel is used in car bodies and streetlights.

Zinc compounds are often found in cosmetics. Zinc oxide is used in sunscreens in a similar manner to titanium dioxide; small nanoparticles of zinc oxide absorb and scatter ultraviolet light from the sun, providing protection from sunburn. It’s also found in some skin foundations.

In medicine, research has shown that zinc acetate lozenges can shorten the duration of a cold by up to 40%. However, there are also some minor side effects that are possible with its use for colds, including nausea and an unpleasant taste. Additionally, though a number of trials have been carried out to inform these findings, there is still a lack of large scale trials to investigate the efficacy further.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.