Selenium sulphide is a very common ingredient in many types of over-the-counter medicated shampoos targeted at dandruff.
Surprisingly though, the question of links between selenium sulphide and hair loss goes back to the early 1960s – as do experiments to test whether such a link exists.
What is Selenium Sulphide?
As indicated by the name, this product is a mixture of selenium and sulphur – two chemicals that are considered toxic to humans in higher doses. Both though, in far lower doses, are also necessary for good health.
Why is it put into medicated shampoos?
Most medical hair care specialists agree that the exact causes of dandruff are complex and not entirely understood.
There is though a clear understanding that a major contributory factor is a fungal infection caused by the fungus “Malassezia”. This fungus exists normally on just about everyone’s scalp and is usually not a problem but in some cases, it can for reasons that are not fully clear, become out-of-control. The result is more severe dandruff.
Selenium sulphide is a very effective anti-fungal agent and it typically helps to knock back the fungus and reduce dandruff. Its use in this capacity goes back to the mid-20th century.
Is the product a cause of hair loss?
This is the big question and to get directly to the point, there is no real definitive answer other than it may be – but only in some very specific circumstances.
Those usually involve:
- using medicated shampoos excessively and beyond medical or manufacturer’s recommendations;
- using them exclusively as your hair care cleansing treatment;
- applying them in cases where you have erroneously self-diagnosed a scalp problem as dandruff, whereas in reality, it is something else;
- where you have an allergy to or intolerance of, selenium sulphate.
What does the scientific evidence say?
Unfortunately, very little work has been done specifically on this one point.
When concerns arose in the early 1960s, they did so because areas of the planet known to be rich in natural selenium were also well known for the local populations experiencing a variety of skin conditions and most pertinently, hair loss problems.
However, those conditions were not representative given that they involved far higher concentrations of selenium than was ever going to be found in medicated shampoos.
A series of small-scale studies in the 1960s appeared to show that there were links between these products and scalp damage or hair loss. However, far more extensive studies in the decade or so following were unable to replicate those results and they concluded that firm evidence of such a link did not exist.
As a consequence, today hair care specialists and doctors are a little more guarded about saying conclusively one way or another.
Are there alternatives for dandruff treatment?
Yes, there are numerous options for the treatment of this annoying and unsightly condition which do not involve selenium sulphide. Some are chemically based but others are homoeopathic. They are all known to be effective though they may be more so for some people than others for reasons that are unclear.
To summarise – what should I do?
The first point is to consult a hair care specialist or doctor if you’re suffering from serious dandruff. What they recommend will depend upon their own experience, opinions and their assessment of your unique case.
Commonly today, you may find they’ll:
- recommend the use of a medicated shampoo for a set period. You can always ask them to recommend one without selenium sulphate or one that’s 100% ‘natural’ if you are concerned or if you have any sort of reaction to a medicated shampoo (irritation, increased hair drop);
- if your dandruff is unaffected by your treatment regime or if it returns very rapidly after you stop using the treatment, it might be sensible to consult with your doctor or specialist to see what other treatments are available.
Remember, if you are using selenium sulphide, NEVER exceed the usage recommendations of the manufacturer.