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Using products containing sulfur for acne treatment may improve the symptoms of this skin condition.
Sulfur, which has antimicrobial properties, is an ingredient in some over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription acne treatments. These products often combine sulfur with other active ingredients, such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
In this article, we discuss the possible benefits of sulfur for the treatment of acne. We also explain how to use it and list the potential risks and side effects.
Sulfur may reduce acne due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties. It can inhibit the growth of a type of bacteria called Propionibacterium that contributes to acne development.
Sulfur also has keratolytic effects. Substances that act as keratolytics help soften the skin’s keratin — the key structural material in the outermost layer of the skin.
Keratolytic substances aid in skin exfoliation, and they may be an effective treatment for dry skin conditions.
Sulfur’s exfoliating and drying effects also help remove the buildup of the skin’s natural oils that contributes to acne development.
Additionally, OTC and prescription products often combine sulfur with other acne-reducing substances, such as:
- benzoyl peroxide
- salicylic acid
- sodium sulfacetamide
Research indicates that products combining sulfur with benzoyl peroxide or sodium sulfacetamide may work better than sulfur alone.
Sulfur is likely most effective for mild acne.
Moderate acne includes papules and pustules, which are forms of inflammatory acne that cause red lesions to appear on the skin.
For moderate forms of acne, sulfur alone may not be effective. However, it may be beneficial in combination with other acne-fighting ingredients, such as sodium sulfacetamide.
Sulfur is unlikely to be helpful for severe acne, such as cystic acne, which usually requires a person to visit a dermatologist. The dermatologist may prescribe medications, or they may recommend surgery to remove the cysts.
However, sulfur products that also contain other ingredients may be less suitable for sensitive skin. People should speak to their dermatologist and do a skin patch test before applying new products to large areas of the skin.
Other skin conditions
Sulfur may be an effective treatment for other skin conditions. For example, people may use it to treat rosacea, a common skin condition that causes facial redness, visible blood vessels, and pus-filled bumps.
It may also improve the symptoms of another common condition called seborrheic dermatitis, which causes scaly patches, red skin, and dandruff on the scalp or other areas of the body.
Acne scars can be difficult to treat. Sulfur may work for very light scarring because it dries out the skin and removes dead cells. However, most acne scars will require more intense treatments, such as:
- salicylic acid
- topical retinoids
- chemical peels
- laser treatments
Sulfur is available in a wide variety of skin care products, as well as targeted acne treatments.
People who wish to use sulfur on their skin can choose from:
- face washes and foams
- face masks
- spot treatments
Sulfur products are available OTC or with a prescription. They may contain additional active ingredients, such as resorcinol or sodium sulfacetamide.
Individuals can use sulfur treatments alone or alongside other acne treatments. Often, using a combination of treatments can help acne heal faster.
For example, people could use an OTC sulfur face mask once a week and a benzoyl peroxide wash each day. Alternatively, a dermatologist may prescribe a topical retinoid for nighttime use and a sulfur-based cleanser for morning use.
Conducting a patch test
People should always carry out a patch test before using any new product on their skin. They can do this by applying a small amount of the product to the inside of the arm and waiting 24 hours to monitor for side effects.
If no reaction occurs, it is likely safe to apply the product to the face or other parts of the body. If side effects develop, it is advisable to discontinue the use of the product.
Sulfur is generally suitable for most skin types, including sensitive skin. Even so, it has the potential to cause side effects, such as:
To reduce the risk or severity of side effects, it is important to use sulfur sparingly before gradually increasing the quantity and frequency of use. A person should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never use more than the recommended dosage.
According to a review, there has been no research on sulfur use during breastfeeding. Therefore, experts advise that women who are breastfeeding use caution when using sulfur as a skin treatment.
Additionally, sulfur can have a pungent odor, which many people say resembles that of rotten eggs. Most modern skin care products mask this smell. However, some may still have faint traces of the odor.
Individuals should always test products before buying them in case they find the scent too unpleasant.
People have used sulfur as an acne treatment since ancient times. Today, it is widely available OTC or with a prescription.
Sulfur has antimicrobial properties, and it can exfoliate and remove excess oil. It is relatively gentle and suitable for sensitive skin.
Sulfur may be most effective for mild acne. Products that contain sulfur alongside another acne-fighting ingredients may treat moderate forms of acne.
Anyone who would like to know more about sulfur for acne treatment should speak to a pharmacist, doctor, or dermatologist.