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Selenium for Acne

Selenium is a potent antioxidant. It is used in combination with vitamins A and E to treat acne.
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The Importance of Selenium

Selenium is a rare but essential mineral. In humans, selenium is required in small amounts; therefore, it is a trace micronutrient.

The most important biochemical function of selenium is serving as a cofactor for antioxidant enzymes. Therefore, it contributes to the antioxidant properties of such enzymes and can help in the neutralization of harmful free radicals especially the reactive oxygen species produced from peroxides.

Selenium also plays a regulatory role in the production and use of thyroid hormones in the body. It serves as a cofactor for enzymes which activate and deactivate thyroid hormones and their metabolites.

For example, selenium is useful in the treatment of some thyroid diseases such as Hashimotos’ disease. It is effective because it reduces the production of antibodies signaling the autoimmune attack of the thyroid gland.

Selenium is mostly found in some plants grown in soils rich in the nutrient. It can be accumulate in toxic amounts in these plants. This is a common defense mechanism in forage plants which protects them against extensive consumption from animals.

Some plants do use the selenium that they take up from the soil. Locoweed is a good example of a plant that needs selenium for growth. In fact, the growth of locoweed in an area is a good indication that the soil there contains selenium.

Other plants that need high amounts of selenium to grow are prince’s plume, false goldenweed and woody asters.

Dietary Sources of Selenium
  • Nuts. Brazil nut has the highest concentration of selenium.
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Cereals
  • Tuna
  • Halibut 
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Kidney 
  • Mustard seeds.

Selenium is best ingested in very small amounts. When it is taken in amounts higher than 400 micrograms per day, signs of selenosis or selenium toxicity will present.

Symptoms of selenosis include stomach upset, garlic mouth odor, fatigue, irritability, nerve damage, hair loss and nail loss.

Selenium deficiency is rarely seen but when it occurs it is often caused by vitamin E deficiency or iodine deficiency.

Generally, selenium is rarely used in medical treatment alone. It is often combined with vitamin E (to improve its antioxidant effects) or iodine (to treat thyroid diseases).

Early investigative studies have already linked selenium supplementation with improvement in cancer therapy, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and diabetes.

Selenium and Acne

The chief benefit of selenium in acne treatment is its antioxidant effect.

However, selenium can also improve acne symptoms through its anti-inflammatory activities and its contribution to a healthy immune system.

Selenium can also improve the elasticity of the skin, and in this way reduce acne scars.

Selenium produces two kinds of antioxidant effects. First, it serves as a cofactor for certain enzymes that protect the body from harmful free radical. Secondly, it improves the antioxidant effect of vitamin E which is a natural antioxidant itself.

Selenium is recommended to be used along with vitamin E (and vitamin A) to get the most of the antioxidants’ benefits.

Antioxidants help mop up reactive free radicals which can cause damage on the skin.

Since the skin serves as the main protective barrier for the body, environmental toxins and byproducts of biochemical reactions accumulate on it. These toxins can change the nature of the skin if they are not immediately and completely neutralized.

When toxins accumulate on the skin, they create an ideal environment for bacterial growth as well as increase sebum production by interfering with the sebaceous follicles.

When bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermis invade the skin, they cause a cycle of inflammation and clog pores. These actions quickly lead to the formation of acne lesions.

Selenium may also help prevent the development of inflammatory acne lesions such as nodules, papules and pimples through its anti-inflammatory activities. However, this effect has only been found useful in the treatment of systemic inflammatory diseases such as lupus, gingivitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Selenium and Vitamin E in Acne Treatment

The efficacy of combined selenium and vitamin E treatment in acne patients was the focus of a study published in 1984 by G. Michaelsson et al.

In that study, 29 acne patients were given 400 micrograms of selenium and 20 IU of vitamin E every day for 6 – 12 weeks.

The result of the study showed improvements in acne symptoms in all the study participants. Those in the small control group, who were not given this combination of selenium and vitamin E, experienced more acne breakouts.

The most dramatic improvements were seen in test individuals who had the lowest levels of the enzyme, glutathione peroxidase.

The Antioxidant Effects of Selenium

There are two enzymes responsible for the antioxidant effects of selenium. These are glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase. Selenium serves as a component and cofactor for these enzymes.

Glutathione peroxidase is the name of a number of similar enzymes that protect the body from oxidative damage from hydrogen peroxide and lipid hydroperoxides.

There are 5 bioactive glutathione peroxidases in humans. Four of them are enzymes containing selenium while the fifth one is a selenoprotein. Therefore, their antioxidant activities depend on the availability of selenium for binding.

Glutathione peroxidase reduces hydrogen peroxide to water and lipid hydroperoxides to the corresponding alcohols.

Since these peroxides can be found on the skin, they can create the enabling environment for acne breakouts. This makes selenium essential in preventing acne breakout from such sources.

Thioredoxin reductase is related to glutathione peroxidase. It acts in a similar manner too but its specific benefits in acne treatment are not well studied.

Taking Selenium for Acne

The recommended dose for selenium in acne treatment is 200 micrograms per day. This daily dose can be increased up to 400 micrograms but not above that.

Selenium supplementation is most beneficial to acne patients with low levels of glutathione peroxidase. Daily doses between 200 – 400 micrograms can help such patients quickly restore glutathione peroxidase to normal levels.

To improve the antioxidant effect of selenium and get the best from it, vitamins E and A should also be used alongside.

It is important to note that selenium is only a supplement in acne treatment. Therefore, it should not substitute for acne remedies that directly treat the root causes of the skin disease.

The best way to take selenium for acne is to find an acne product that includes this essential micronutrient. One such acne product is Actimine which also contains other acne remedies.

In such formulations, selenium can contribute more to the anti-acne benefits of other remedies and vice versa. This synergistic effect means that products like Actimime can resolve acne faster and prevent new acne breakouts.

Selenium Sulfide

Selenium sulfide is a topical preparation that can be used to treat acne. It has a strong antifungal property and is usually used to treat dandruff.

However, selenium sulfide also has an antibacterial effect and is also recommended in acne treatment.

This topical selenium preparation has very little similarities to oral selenium formulations. The antibacterial effect of the topical preparation is mostly due to the sulfur component of the drug.

Selenium sulfide is a cheap alternative to benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. It is also an exfoliating agent, and by peeling the oily layer off the skin, it helps unclog the pores.

Selenium sulfide is commonly sold as a lotion. To use it, simply wash the area affected by the acne with the lotion. The lotion should not stay longer than 20 seconds on the skin before it is rinsed off.

Besides the sulfur-like odor of selenium sulfide which can be off-putting, it can cause dry, peeling skin, itching, irritation, redness and allergic reactions.

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