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Do Selenium Supplements Benefit Your Hair? Evidence Review 2024
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Updated on January 9, 2024

You may have heard online chatter lately about selenium benefits for hair loss. And some of these benefits may be real, but only if you respect the daily recommended dose.

While having a selenium deficiency can sometimes contribute to hair shedding (alongside other health issues), ingesting this micronutrient in excessive quantities has been found to cause hair loss, alongside many other health problems [1]. 

At the recommended daily dose of 55 micrograms [2], selenium helps to keep you healthy and may present hair benefits, such as stimulating hair growth, protecting your strands from UV radiation or helping to treat dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis (although more research is needed to verify this).

However, if you exceed 400 micrograms daily, you may develop selenium toxicity, which can manifest as severe digestive, neurological and cardiological symptoms and can also cause your hair to fall out

Since selenium supplements aren’t always properly monitored and may contain higher doses than recommended [2][3][4], it is ideal to get your daily selenium intake from foods, such as fish, cereals, poultry, eggs and dairy.

It is also advisable to get blood tests that attest you have a selenium deficiency and to get the recommendation of a trichologist before taking selenium supplements for hair loss. 

Keep reading this article to discover what scientific research says about:

  • What selenium is and how you can get the daily recommended dosage
  • The relationship between selenium and hair loss
  • The side effects that selenium supplementation can have on your hair
  • The best treatment alternatives to selenium supplements for hair loss
Table of Contents

What is selenium?

Example of selenium

Selenium is a micronutrient (a mineral that you need in very small quantities)  which is incorporated in important enzymes called selenoproteins  [5]. They are necessary for proper functioning of the human body and have been scientifically proven to play a role in the prevention of certain forms of cancer, maintaining heart health, immunity and good cognitive and reproductive functions [6][7]. 

Scientists agree that there is no health or cosmetic benefit from supplementing your selenium intake if you don’t have a deficiency [8]. The extra amount will – in the best-case scenario – be excreted and in the worst-case scenario, lead to toxicity. 

While a selenium deficiency can have its own range of health consequences, constantly getting more selenium than needed can lead to potentially serious health issues alongside hair loss. 

What benefits does selenium have for hair loss?

Scientists agree that it’s only beneficial to take selenium supplements for hair loss if you have a selenium deficiency. Here is what balanced levels of selenium are purported to do for your hair: 

Selenium may help regulate hair growth

A few studies, most performed on animals, have shown that insufficient selenium has led to slower hair growth or hair shedding [9][10][11]. However, there is little scientific evidence of the same effect occurring in humans, possibly because selenium deficiency is rather rare and has not been sufficiently studied with a focus on hair loss. 

There is also some research that indicates selenium may play a part in regulating the human hair growth cycle and that selenium imbalances can cause a lengthening of the shedding phase, but further studies are needed to confirm this [8]. 

However, there is a robust body of scientific literature that has shown excessive selenium intake can cause moderate to severe hair shedding, due to selenium toxicity [4][12][13]. 

Selenium may reduce chemotherapy-induced alopecia

One study conducted on 31 patients with ovarian cancer revealed that receiving a selenium supplementation during chemotherapy led to a significant decrease in chemotherapy hair loss.

That is because selenium levels were normally depleted by the treatment and supplementation kept them at healthy levels and reduced the severity of some of the side effects associated with chemotherapy , including hair shedding [14].

However, more research is needed to determine whether this applies to other types of cancer treatments as well. 

Selenium may help with hair anti-ageing and UV protection

Selenium plays a role in the production of antioxidants, and thus in reducing oxidative stress [21] on your hair and summer hair loss. That means it may have some contribution to protecting your hair strands from damage caused by excessive exposure to sunlight, which can leave you with dry, brittle hair that breaks off easily. 

However, given the very small amount of this element which can be present in our bodies, it is unlikely that it will have a great enough impact on your hair to provide sufficient UV protection on its own, even if supplemented. So always make sure to protect your hair from direct sunlight exposure in hot, sunny weather.   

Selenium may help treat some common scalp problems

A meta-analysis performed on 27 studies, totalling 1315 patients, revealed that people who experienced psoriasis, acne and atopic dermatitis showed lower levels of selenium in their blood than in the control group [15].

This may suggest selenium could play a role in the development and treatment of common scalp problems, such as scalp psoriasis, scalp acne or atopic dermatitis [16]. 

However, one study conducted on 69 patients with psoriasis revealed no improvement in patients who received selenium supplementation.

Similarly, while some research indicates that selenium deficiency can exacerbate symptoms of atopic dermatitis [16], a clinical trial conducted on 60 adults with this condition showed no improvement after 12 weeks of selenium supplementation [17]. 

Selenium has also been found by one study [21] to have antimicrobial properties that were effective in vitro against certain bacteria, some of which are known to cause scalp folliculitis.

However, there are no studies to show that supplementing selenium would be effective in killing this bacteria in humans.

When it comes to dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, selenium sulphide shampoos are frequently recommended as treatment. This means that selenium can play a role in improving these conditions, but not alone and not through dietary supplementation.

That is because ingesting it does not affect the microbes on the surface of your scalp. However, applying a selenium sulphide shampoo topically on your scalp has been found to reduce irritation and itching [23]. 

To sum things up, further research is needed to determine the relationship between selenium levels and frequently occurring scalp problems. 

What are the best natural sources of selenium?

foods that contain selenium

Selenium deficiency is rather rare in healthy individuals, as it can be found in many readily available foods, such as [1]:

Food item

Proportion of daily recommended selenium value per serving:

Brazil nuts (1 ounce: 6-8 nuts)989% (avoid consuming these nuts frequently or in large quantities)
Cooked tuna fish (3 ounces)167%
Cooked halibut (3 ounces)85%
Roasted ham (3 ounces)76%
Canned shrimp (3 ounces)73%
Cooked macaroni (1 cup)67%
Beef steak (3 ounces)60%
Roast turkey (3 ounces)56%
Roast chicken (3 ounces)40%
Cottage cheese (1 cup)36%
Cooked brown rice (1 cup)35%
Hard-boiled egg (1 large)27%
Whole wheat bread (1 slice)24%
Cooked oatmeal (1 cup)24%
Low-fat milk (1 cup)15%
Low-fat yoghurt (1 cup)15%

Does selenium decrease DHT?

There is currently no scientific evidence that selenium contributes to the decrease of dihydrotestosterone (DHT). On the contrary, one study conducted on 36 males who received selenium supplementation revealed no differences in their levels of testosterone or DHT before and after supplementation [18]. 

This finding indicates that selenium levels are unlikely to play a significant role in the development or treatment of androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness), a common type of alopecia closely related to your DHT levels.

However, if you suspect you may be experiencing androgenetic alopecia, it is best to see a trichologist from the first signs of hair thinning and balding, as this condition is likely to progress if left untreated.

Is it OK to take selenium everyday?

As is the case for most vitamins and nutrients, taking selenium supplements is only recommended if you are experiencing a deficiency. In this case, it is best to follow the recommendations of your healthcare provider regarding the type, amount and frequency of your selenium supplementation.

In order to maintain healthy levels of selenium, it is recommended to intake 55 (for women) – 70 (for men) micrograms of this element per day, most of which should come from your diet.

So if you are not getting enough selenium from your diet and supplementation has been recommended, it may be safe to take selenium every day, provided that your total intake of this element does not exceed the daily recommended value. 

What are the side effects of selenium for hair loss?

Taking an excessive amount of selenium over a longer period of time can result in selenium toxicity. One study showed that 72% of the 200 people who took a dietary supplement that accidentally contained 200 times the selenium content listed on the label experienced this condition [4]. 

The symptoms of selenium toxicity can range from moderate to life-threatening [1][19], so if you think you may be experiencing selenium poisoning, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible:

  • Severe gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms
  • Muscle tenderness and tremor
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Tooth decay and mottling
  • Brittle nails and hair
  • Often significant hair loss
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Kidney failure
  • Rarely, heart failure or heart attacks
  • Rarely, death

Selenium toxicity-induced hair shedding can range from some diffuse thinning to alopecia universalis [20], depending on the quantities of this element that were ingested:

selenium toxicity induced hair loss
Hair loss induced by selenium toxicity [2]
progression of hair loss due to selenium toxicity
Progression of hair loss due to selenium toxicity from misformulated nutritional supplement consumption in one patient. The photos show hair loss and then regrowth after selenium supplementation was stopped, over the course of three months, as follows: day 12 (A), day 22 (B) day 47 (C), day 55 (D), day 70 (E) and day 90 (F) from the start of the consumption. [20]

What are the best alternatives to selenium for hair loss?

If you are experiencing hair loss and would like to curb it and find ways to stimulate hair growth, there are many evidence-based treatments and therapies you can try:

  • Finasteride – the most widely prescribed medication for male pattern baldness, it inhibits excessive dihydrotestosterone (DHT) production, which can stop your androgenetic alopecia from progressing and restore hair growth (usually not recommended to pre-menopausal women).
  • Minoxidil –  this versatile medication is used in numerous hair loss conditions. It is usually applied directly onto the scalp, where it is absorbed by your skin and dilates your blood vessels, so more nutrients can reach your hair follicles. 
  • Steroid creams for hair loss – these creams are most often used to treat autoimmune conditions which cause hair loss, such as alopecia areata
  • Red light therapy for hair growth – A focused beam of red light is used to stimulate your hair growth by enhancing your cell metabolism and thus providing your hair follicles with a burst of energy. 
  • Dermarolling for hair growth –  A small tool called a dermaroller is used on your scalp to create microscopic wounds. They trigger your body’s healing response and help your scalp absorb hair loss medication more effectively.  
  • Hair transplant – Permanent hair restoration which involves a safe, quick and painless surgical procedure. Healthy hair follicles are harvested from an area of your scalp untouched by hair loss and reimplanted in a thinning or balding area. 

However, these treatments are only effective against certain conditions which lead to hair loss. Furthermore, in certain people, they can produce unwanted side effects or interfere with pre-existing medication. That is why it is good to avoid self-medication and get a recommendation from a hair specialist. 

Why am I experiencing hair loss?

There can be a number of reasons why you may be experiencing hair shedding or hair loss. The most common reasons your hair may be falling out  include:

  • Androgenetic alopecia
  • Telogen effluvium
  • Alopecia areata
  • Medication-induced hair loss
  • Common scalp problems

If you are concerned about hair loss, book a consultation now with one of our world-renowned trichologists. They will run all the necessary tests and provide you with an accurate diagnosis and a personalised treatment for your condition.

It is a good idea to get treatment for your hair loss sooner rather than later, as certain kinds of alopecia progress if left untreated and can get to the point where medication alone can no longer restore your hair. If that happens, you might need a hair transplant to recover your once-luxurious locks.

Fortunately, even if you should need hair restoration surgery, technology in this field has developed to the point where you can get such a natural-looking hair transplant that it will be hard to tell you even had one, regardless of whether you opt for a FUT or FUE procedure.

Basically, you can get a hair transplant without anyone knowing. The best hair transplant clinics in the UK have a 97-100% success rate and you can see the results for yourself in our before and after hair transplant gallery.

Do Selenium Supplements Benefit Your Hair? Evidence Review 2024, Wimpole Clinic

Sources:
  1. Selenium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
  2. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review
  3. Selenium in the supplement as the probable cause of hair loss and nail dystrophy
  4. Systemic causes of hair loss
  5. Selenium Metabolism and Biosynthesis of Selenoproteins in the Human Body
  6. Selenium and human health
  7. Selenium nutrition: How important is it?
  8. The Relevance of Selenium to Alopecias
  9. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use
  10. Changes in murine hair with dietary selenium excess or deficiency
  11. Primary hair growth in dogs depends on dietary selenium concentrations
  12. Generalized hair loss and selenium exposure
  13. Acute Selenium Toxicity Associated With a Dietary Supplement
  14. Selenium as an element in the treatment of ovarian cancer in women receiving chemotherapy
  15. On the Potential Role of the Antioxidant Couple Vitamin E/Selenium Taken by the Oral Route in Skin and Hair Health
  16. Micronutrients in Atopic Dermatitis: A Systematic Review
  17. The effect on atopic dermatitis of supplementation with selenium and vitamin E
  18. Influence of Selenium-enriched Yeast Supplementation on Biomarkers of Oxidative Damage and Hormone Status in Healthy Adult Males: A Clinical Pilot Study
  19. Two fatal cases of selenium toxicity
  20. Case Series Of Selenium Toxicity From A Nutritional Supplement
  21. Evaluation of Antibacterial Activity of Selenium Nanoparticles against Food-Borne Pathogens
  22. Selenium: its role as antioxidant in human health
  23. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of ketoconazole 2% shampoo versus selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo in the treatment of moderate to severe dandruff
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)Updated on January 9, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
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