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Selenium sulfide

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Selenium sulfide is the active ingredient in Selsun shampoo. It is a medication that effectively treats itching, flaking, or skin scaling due to conditions such as dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Selenium sulfide has antibacterial and mild antifungal properties. It also reduces irritation and slows down the production of skin cells and excess natural oil (sebum) on the scalp, which can cause dandruff.

Who is it for?

Selenium sulfide shampoo can be used to treat simple dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp in patients over the age of two. Selenium sulfide shampoo aims to control symptoms of dryness, itching, and scaling of the scalp. The shampoo must be applied twice a week for two weeks to control the condition, then once a week for two weeks.

Before applying selenium sulfide shampoo to your scalp, ensure your hair is thoroughly wet. Rub enough shampoo for a lather to form that covers your scalp, and continue for 2-3 minutes prior to rinsing your hair. If after 4 weeks of treatment, you find no benefit, speak to your pharmacist or doctor. Selenium sulfide shampoo is for external use and should be kept away from your eyes.

How does it work?

There are two conditions on which the treatment is working. Firstly, seborrheic dermatitis is a common inflammatory skin condition affecting the scalp characterized by scaling and itching. Inflammation can occur when there is the presence of a type of fungus called dermatophytes. The shampoo works to get rid of these fungal elements.

Secondly, dandruff can present when there is overproduction of our natural oil sebum, blocking the hair follicles and creating a greasy look to the hair. Selenium sulfide shampoo works by reducing the speed of production of skin cells on the scalp, and reducing the greasiness of the scalp which contributes to dandruff. It also helps control the symptoms of itching and scaling associated with dandruff.

Should anyone avoid using it?

Do not apply selenium sulfide shampoo to those under the age of two years or if you have previously had an allergic reaction to selenium sulfide or any other ingredients in the shampoo. Do not allow any contact with broken or severely inflamed skin, and like most shampoo – please avoid your eyes.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects with the use of shampoo are uncommon. Milder symptoms include hair loss or local irritation (some patients describe these symptoms as a burning sensation). If you experience these, stop using the treatment and seek advice from your doctor. Slight hair color changes and scalp dryness may also occur, though they can be avoided or minimized by washing the hair after treatment.

If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, such as a new rash, swelling of the airways or face, or difficulty breathing – you should call the emergency services immediately.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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