However, it’s one that many acne patients could use more of.
Selenium is found most widely in animal foods like fish, eggs and meat. Consequently, studies show that vegans and vegetarians are likely to be selenium deficient. Soils in both Eastern states like Georgia and Western ones like Washington are very low in selenium compared with the central US. China, New Zealand, Scandinavia, and parts of the US all have low-selenium soils, and if you’re a citizen of them, you too may be deficient.
Severe selenium deficiency is uncommon, but moderate deficiencies are plaguing vast swathes of the world population.
Why does this matter? Well, it’s simple. Selenium has been demonstrated again and again to be excellent for acne.
The evidence is overwhelming
STUDY ONE – in this 1990 study, scientists analysed the blood of 37 men aged 18 to 25, all of whom had inflammatory acne, and compared it with 37 other men who didn’t.
The men with acne had dramatically lower selenium levels. The acne-ridden men had blood and plasma levels of 1.59 and 1.22 respectively, whereas the healthy men had levels of 1.80 and 1.36. Women with acne were also compared and the results were the same; 1.50 and 1.10 for the acne women and 1.93/1.34 for the others.
STUDY TWO – scientists in this 1984 study gathered 29 acne patients and fed them 0.2mg of selenium and 10mg of vitamin E twice a day for 6-12 weeks. The results were good; acne fell in nearly all patients.
STUDY THREE – this study picked 56 normal people of both sexes from acne patients attending the Al Hussein Teaching Hospital in Iraq. Scientists observed their numbers of acne lesions, and then fed some a selenium supplement for 8 weeks. Every 2 weeks the acne lesion count was re-assessed.
With each measurement, the volume of inflammatory acne had dropped further and further. The scientists thus concluded – “the results obtained in this study showed the beneficial effects of using… selenium to patients with acne vulgaris”.
It’s clear that selenium is phenomenal for your skin. Selenium is also one of the best reviewed acne nutrients on the internet, equally as praised as the famous zinc and vitamin A.
Selenium feeds your antioxidant production
Selenium’s main acne power is to dramatically increase your antioxidant levels. Antioxidants are critical for preventing blocked pores. The oil on your face, sebum, can block pores by itself but the real mayhem begins when it oxidises.
Every day your face is bombarded by air pollution, sunlight, toxic chemicals in cosmetics, and also free radicals inside your body. Upon contact, these villains react with squalene, which makes up 12% of sebum, and form squalene peroxide.
This substance is twice as effective as plain old sebum for blocking pores, encouraging p.acnes overgrowth, and causing acne. Squalene peroxide triggers further sebum production and even directly inflames your skin.
It is thus critical to prevent sebum from oxidising, and because antioxidants keep sebum strong and prevent reactions, it’s critical for all acne patients to get more antioxidants.
To achieve this you have two broad acne strategies. Firstly, you must eat more fruits and vegetables to get antioxidants through your diet, and secondly, you must help your body to manufacture its own antioxidants.
It’s that second strategy where selenium works wonders. Selenium is one of the main ingredients of glutathione, your body’s most abundant indigenous antioxidant. As well as acne lesion counts, one study also analysed blood gluthathione levels and found that during the six-week supplementation, levels slowly rose and rose. Study 3 also analysed glutathione levels and concluded the same thing.
That’s great news, because in the medical world gluthathione is commonly dubbed the “master antioxidant”.
Study 3 also measured molondiandehyde (m), and interleukin-8 (IL-8). These are both bio-markers of oxidative stress and should fall as antioxidants increase.
Sure enough, increased glutathione levels caused by the selenium also reduced M and IL-8 substantially.
Countless studies find that selenium improves your antioxidant status better than almost all other acne nutrients. Gluthathione is actually a family of 8 enzymes with strong antioxidant powers. Selenium is an ingredient and co-factor of four of them – GPx1, GPx2, GPx3, and GPx4 all rely on selenium. GPx6 is actually a seleno-protein, which makes selenium utterly critical.
Alongside regulating thyroid hormones, creating antioxidants is selenium’s main job in the body. Selenium is thus terrific at preventing blocked pores.
Additionally, gluthathione is extremely widespread in the body and can reduce many types of free radicals. By hoovering them up and preventing their oxidising reactions throughout your body, selenium can also lower the general inflammation of your acne.
Note that acne patients have consistently been found to have lower gluthathione levels than average.
Gluthathione also has the power to regenerate previously used antioxidants. Vitamin E is the most important fat soluble antioxidant. It’s particularly important for preventing squalene from oxidation because it’s your sebum’s favoured defensive tool.
When vitamin E has been “used up” – it has donated its electron to a free radical and is no longer an antioxidant – gluthathione can restore it. Thioredoxin reductase, another antioxidant selenium helps to create, can also restore vitamin E, and also vitamin C.
Gluthathione itself also helps to create many other antioxidants like superoxide dismutase. Basically, getting enough selenium easily ranks alongside eating fruits and vegetables as a top way to get antioxidants.
Selenium – an acne clearing powerhouse
Protection against heavy metals – mercury and arsenic are both dangerous contaminants that unfortunately, nearly all of us are exposed to. Mercury is the key ingredient of silver fillings and is now found in all seafood, while arsenic contaminates soils and gets into vegetables. Both can cause acne via inflammation and insulin resistance.
Arsenic is particularly evil for acne; it can dramatically rev up production of keratin, the protein that glues dead skin cells together into pore-blocking clumps.
Mercury meanwhile is a killer heavy metal behind elevated levels of insulin, the worst hormone behind oily skin. However dietary selenium can render many heavy metals harmless for acne. Selenium binds to both mercury and arsenic, allowing your body to remove them before they cause harm.
It’s hard to avoid all heavy metals, so selenium is a great way to defend yourself. Also, we discuss how to avoid mercury in detail in my eBook Annihilate Your Acne.
Stronger skin – two studies have shown that selenium protects the skin from UV rays. In 1983, scientists in this study gathered some hairless female mice, and separated them into selenium supplemented groups and control groups. Apparently, it became clear early on that the selenium mice resisted the UV light far better. They experienced substantially less inflammation and pigmentation.
In 1985, the same team conducted a similar study. Again selenium supplementation worked; this time the control mice had far more skin cancers induced by the light. UV resistance is great for acne for two reasons. 1) Less free radicals will form on your face, reducing inflammation and sebum oxidation. 2) It’s easier to make vitamin D through sun exposure without getting burnt. We discussed in this article how vitamin D is critical for curing acne.
The explanation behind these powers? It’s possible that selenium helps to strengthen skin proteins like collagen.
Lowered inflammation – selenium can reduce the activity of NF-Kappa B, a master messenger that stimulates the release of many inflammatory chemicals behind acne. Basically, less NF-Kappa B means less TNF-A, IL-6, IL-8, IL-1 beta and other pro acne inflammatory cytokines running rampant around your body. Selenium is thus great at calming down your red and inflamed acne.
Greater zinc potency – selenium can dramatically enhance the acne powers of zinc, because it helps to shuttle the nutrient into the cells where it carries out its work. You can thus enjoy even more of zinc’s immune system constraining powers.
By helping to restore vitamin E and C, you’ll also get the additional benefits of those acne nutrients like lowered stress levels. Selenium can also cure eczema and psoriasis, a red, flaky, itchy skin condition with similar causes to acne.
So is selenium useful for curing acne?
The answer is a resounding yes. All the evidence shows that selenium is one of the best nutrients for acne ever. Zinc is more famous, but selenium is equally useful.
For some it may be even better. Your acne could particularly benefit from selenium if you’re exposed to lots of air pollution, or are a light-skinned person living in a sunny climate like Africa. If you smoke cigarettes then you’ll benefit more too, because tobacco is a gigantic source of free radicals and a major villain behind acne.
Not eating many fruits and vegetables, nor herbs and spices, is another factor. Basically, the poorer your overall antioxidant status in the rest of your lifestyle, the more benefits for acne you’ll notice from selenium.
With that said, selenium is still terrific for almost all acne patients – getting more antioxidants is important for everyone.
Are you deficient?
Not eating eggs and fish, two great sources, makes deficiency particularly likely. In fact, you might have heard that all animal foods are bad for acne; maybe you’ve heard that they increase the acid load of the body or sit and rot in your stomach for weeks.
The truth is that high-quality meats, fish, and eggs are amazing foods for acne. Selenium is one of the many reasons why.
China, New Zealand, parts of the UK, and Scandinavia all have low selenium soils, as do Tibet, parts of Siberia, Korea, and Japan. Living in a central US state like either North or South Dakota is a plus because their soils are famously selenium rich. However you still have to eat the foods where the mineral actually accumulates.
Being a heavy drinker is a negative since alcohol depletes selenium. Symptoms of a moderate selenium deficiency include brain fog, weak skin and hair, poor fertility, hypothyroidism, and discoloured fingernails.
The greatest selenium supplement
If that sounds like you, then your next step for your acne is simple – eat two Brazil nuts every day. The Brazil nut is easily the best source of selenium in the world. Just two nuts contain the entire recommended daily allowance (RDA), which is 70 micrograms (mcg) per day according to the World Health Organisation.
A 100 gram cup of Brazil nuts contains over 3000% of the RDA. One study took 59 New Zealanders and placed them on different feeding programs, including 2 Brazil nuts per day and a placebo. Selenium levels in the placebo group barely changed, but in the Brazil nut group, they shot up by 64.2% in just 8 weeks.
For that reason, specific selenium supplements are nearly pointless. A Brazil nut is clearly as effective as any pill on the market.
Brazil nuts will also provide plenty of vitamin E and magnesium. One study found that 20-50 grams of Brazil nuts lowered inflammation substantially, and quickly.
Brazil nuts are also packed with l-arginine, which is used to make nitric oxide, which itself is important for wound healing and thus old acne healing. A single isolated mineral will work, but Brazil nuts provide extra benefits.
One product that ticks all the boxes is this two pound bag of Anna and Sarah Raw Brazil Nuts. They’re raw, which means that they retain all the nutrients. Additionally, many foreign sourced nuts are contaminated with inflammatory moulds called mycotoxins – Brazil nuts are especially vulnerable. While it’s not guaranteed, superior production techniques mean that organic products are far more likely to be nice and fresh. This bulk pack is also fairly cheap – eat one of these every day and you’ll still hit the RDA, and the packet will last for months.
One strategy I don’t recommend for acne, however, is huge doses of selenium. Unlike vitamin C or vitamin E, which are terrific for acne in massive doses, selenium won’t provide any extra acne benefits past 300mcg per day. Megadosing vitamin E is a great strategy for obtaining extra acne antioxidants but there’s a limit to how much glutathione your body will ever synthesise.
Secondly, selenium is easy to overdose on. Certain woodland plants actually use selenium as a poison against predators. Farmers in the central USA take special care to keep their livestock away from astragulus bisulcatus, a selenium packed plant that’s notorious for making sheep sick.
Consuming over 400mcg per day is considered an overdose and the symptoms include…
- Discolouration of skin.
- Weak hair, nails, and skin.
- Garlic flavoured breath.
- Tooth decay.
- Mental fatigue and listlessness.
Avoiding this nightmare is vital for your acne as well, because one effect of selenium toxicity is insulin resistance. Several studies on diabetics have confirmed that they have higher blood selenium levels than average. Excessive selenium can also disrupt the formation of collagen and prevent your old acne from healing; that’s why weak skin is a symptom.
Therefore, eating more than about five Brazil nuts per day is a bad idea, and if you eat any at all, I advise against any additional selenium supplementation. Small amounts in a natural multivitamin are acceptable, but that’s it. What’s more, most nuts are far too high in the wrong types of dietary fat. You can eat ten Brazil nuts in one day, but don’t make it a regular occurrence.
Finally, if you don’t actually enjoy Brazil nuts then it’s still easy to get your selenium through food. The RDA for selenium is 60-70mcg for both men and women over the age of 14, with pregnant and breastfeeding women needing slightly more. 200mcg is a better amount to really maximise the benefits. Going further won’t make much difference.
If you simply eat boiled eggs for breakfast every day, eat some meat, and then throw in some salmon every couple of days, you’ll easily get enough selenium to make a big difference. Organ meats like kidneys are also full of selenium, as are crimini mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and oysters.
The glorious truth is that getting enough selenium is extremely easy; it hardly requires any effort once you’ve got the knowledge.
Boosting your selenium intake is one of ultimate strategies for boosting your antioxidant supply, and therefore it’s terrific for acne too.
Be aware that the results don’t come instantly. Both studies examining selenium’s effects on acne found that it took at least four weeks for the biggest reductions in pimples to kick in.
Nevertheless, you should notice a good difference in two weeks, and thereafter the improvements in acne will accelerate.
Thanks for reading!