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Selenium is a nonmetal that has been said to exhibit anticancer properties in numerous studies, including this 1997 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer. However, do products containing selenium help the skin?
Selenium as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredient
According to Dr. Jeannette Graf in Cheryl M. Burgess’ Cosmetic Dermatology textbook, “Selenium’s protective ability lies in its essential role as a cofactor in the formation of the important protective enzyme glutathione peroxidase.” Selenium is also anti-inflammatory, as has been demonstrated from its ability to inhibit skin-damaging UV-induced inflammatory cytokines in this 2002 study by Greul et. al.
Selenium does not prevent skin cancer, but does help prevent lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers
A Nutritional Prevention of Cancer trial conducted among individuals at a high risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer reported in Cheryl M. Burgess’ Cosmetic Dermatology textbook demonstrated that selenium supplementation is ineffective at preventing skin cancer and basal cell carcinoma, and probably increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma and total nonmelanoma skin cancer. However, the dosages taken by these individuals was not reported in the textbook.
On the contrary, the NIH reports here that, while selenium supplementation with 200 micrograms per day does not decrease the risk of skin cancer, it does decrease the risk of other cancers, including lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
Is selenium effective in skin care products?
According to Dr. Jeannette Graf, selenium applied topically does not penetrate the skin well, so the beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties would not be exhibited if selenium is incorporated into skin care products. However, selenium in selenomethionine form penetrates the skin and is therefore bioavailable. Selenomethionine is available in the Murad APS Youth Builder Supplement.
Recommended daily allowance of selenium
The recommended daily allowance for selenium for men and women is 55 micrograms/day, and the upper limit is 400 micrograms per day. Sources of selenium include nuts, meat, oatmeal, and pasta. To estimate daily selenium intake from food and supplementation, an excellent table from the NIH is available here.
For the average adult, selenium intake of 55 micrograms per day is recommended, 200 micrograms has been shown to prevent lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers, and 400 micrograms is the upper limit not to be exceeded. Although selenium does not prevent skin cancer and may increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma and total nonmelanoma skin cancer, according to the NIH, selenium is still beneficial, as selenium exhibits potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. When included in topicals, selenium should be in selenomethionine form to be bioavailable. Overall, a good ingredient, just keep daily allowances within FDA bounds until further research following up the disturbing Nutritional Prevention of Cancer study becomes available.