It’s found in the soil, water and in some foods and can play a big part in our skin’s health. But what exactly is selenium? While it’s best known as an antioxidant, this essential mineral is a component of more than two dozen proteins that influence reproduction, the making of DNA, thyroid function and immune response. Our bodies don't need much of the skin-boosting mineral, and we can get it both from selenium-rich foods as well as products that have it.
Here’s what happens when you feed your body selenium:
It protects cells from damage. Selenium neutralizes free radicals and other skin-damaging compounds before they can lead to wrinkles. It’s similar to vitamin E and actually works with the vitamin to safeguard cell membranes, the protective coating around cells. That makes selenium a key player when it comes to slowing the signs of aging. In fact, research has shown that it's a triple treat, protecting against UV-induced cell damage, skin inflammation and pigmentation. Recent studies continue to emphasize the importance of selenium and other antioxidants on skin health and reducing the risk of skin cancer.
It helps skin fight infection. Your immune system relies on selenium to function well. In fact, it's selenium, along with other minerals, that bolsters your body’s army of white blood cells and strengthens your response to infections—including those on the skin—since skin is your body’s first line of defense.
It tempers inflammation. Inflammation caused by UV light, stress and other factors is known to age skin, contributing to the breakdown of collagen (which is where wrinkles get their start). Selenium may help thwart the production of inflammatory cytokines, molecules that can build up in the body and harm healthy skin.
How Much Should You Get?
It’s not difficult to get the recommended 55 mcg (men and women need the same amount daily) of selenium. Although Brazil nuts tout the highest amount of the mineral (just one nut delivers almost double what you need), if you include seafood (shrimp, crab and salmon), beef, poultry and grains, like brown rice and wheat germ, in your diet, you're sure to get enough; each of these foods delivers between 15 and 40 mcg of selenium per serving. However, the selenium content of vegetables and grains, and indeed grass and grain fed animal meat, is dependent on the amount of selenium in the soil where the plants are grown.
Here’s what happens when you apply selenium topically:
It soothes redness and sensitivity. Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, selenium is a powerhouse for calming inflamed, irritated skin. Look for selenium in sprays known as thermal spring water mists. Sourced from natural springs, these mineral-rich water sprays feel incredibly refreshing and may alleviate redness and irritation (they're the perfect follow-up to a chemical peel or microdermabrasion treatment). They also make a gentle, skin-soothing alternative to toners. For best results, spray on the mist after cleansing your face or body and apply moisturizer while skin is still damp.
It treats dandruff. A form of selenium called selenium sulfide is an effective antimicrobial that's known to fight the yeast that causes dandruff and its symptoms—a flaky and/or itchy scalp and rough, scaly patches—as well as fungus that leads to itchiness and discoloration on the scalp and skin. Look for the ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoos and conditioners.