Sulfur is a mineral within the Earth’s crust that usually forms near volcanic vents. People have used it for skin complaints, including eczema, psoriasis, and acne, for hundreds of years. However, there are no studies that prove sulfur is an effective eczema treatment in humans.

Sulfur may have some properties that can alleviate eczema. It appears to be antimicrobial and a keratolytic, which means it can soften and hydrate hard, dry skin. The substance may also have anti-inflammatory properties and could help reduce itching. However, more research is necessary to confirm its effects.

This article explores sulfur for treating eczema, including its potential benefits, side effects, and ways to use it.

A person's hands holding a large chunk of yellow sulfur. The person is wearing a blue top, and there is a green arrow pointing to the sulfur.Share on Pinterest
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Some people report that sulfur-containing products help reduce their eczema symptoms. So far, though, the only evidence supporting its use is anecdotal.

Dermatologists sometimes recommend sulfur for treating other inflammatory skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, and acne. People have also used sulfur and other minerals to treat skin conditions historically. The practice has origins dating back to Persia, as the physician Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, first described using the technique.

Bathing in hot springs was another historical remedy for skin conditions such as eczema. Some scientists believe that this may be due to the mineral content of certain thermal waters, many of which include sulfur.

A 2017 animal study found that mineral-rich spring water reduced eczema-like inflammation in mice. However, so far, there are no studies that examine sulfur’s impact on eczema in humans specifically.

There are several ways individuals can use sulfur-containing products on the skin. These include:

  • topical pastes or ointments
  • lotions or creams
  • soaps and shampoos

The concentration of sulfur in over-the-counter products can vary dramatically. Some that contain higher concentrations may only be available via a prescription.

Additionally, some homeopathic remedies contain sulfur. Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine that uses very dilute substances to treat disease. However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any health condition.

Sulfur has several properties that could be helpful for people with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema.

Certain species of bacteria can make eczema worse. And, according to a 2019 article, sulfur is antimicrobial. For example, a small clinical trial found that the presence of Staphylococcus aureus makes the symptoms of hand eczema more severe. Sulfur could reduce the level of harmful microbes on the skin.

Sulfur is also a keratolytic. Keratolytic agents work by softening and loosening dry, scaly, thickened skin, a process that doctors call hyperkeratosis. These agents also bind moisture to the skin, which may improve the feeling and appearance of eczema.

Bathing in mineral-rich water more generally may also help reduce inflammation. A 2018 study notes that mineral-rich waters can ease eczema and psoriasis, while phototherapy — another form of eczema treatment — enhances its anti-inflammatory effect.

Due to the lack of research, it is unclear if sulfur is a safe long-term treatment for eczema. Anyone considering trying this substance for eczema should speak with a doctor or dermatologist first.

So far, topical sulfur use appears to be generally safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an ointment containing 5–10% sulfur is safe for topical use in children, including babies under 2 months of age, to treat scabies.

A 2017 case study notes there are no reported cases of topical sulfur treatments causing complications during pregnancy. However, it is important to consult with a doctor before using sulfur products, especially when trying to conceive, while pregnant, or while breastfeeding.

Sulfacetamide is a topical antibiotic that contains sulfur, which may interact with other substances, such as silver. Do not use sulfur alongside products that contain silver.

One of the less desirable properties of sulfur is its smell. The substance has a strong odor that may linger on the skin if a person uses sulfur-based products, especially if they have a high concentration.

Other potential side effects of using sulfur topically include:

  • dryness
  • peeling or flaking
  • mild irritation, which may include stinging, burning, or tingling

If side effects occur, thoroughly wash the product off the skin and discontinue use. If severe side effects occur, seek medical attention.

People can try sulfur products for eczema safely by following instructions on the packaging or by asking their doctor or dermatologist. Avoid using sulfur products alongside other eczema treatments unless under the direction of a healthcare professional.

To use sulfur soap:

  1. Wet the skin with lukewarm, but not hot, water.
  2. Lather the soap under running water and apply to the affected area.
  3. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a clean towel.

To use a sulfur cream, ointment, or gel:

  1. Gently wash and pat the affected area dry.
  2. Apply the product as directed.
  3. For lotions, rub in gently until absorbed. Ointments and thicker products may sit on the skin’s surface rather than the skin absorbing it.

There are other natural remedies for eczema that people can try. Examples include:

  • colloidal oatmeal, available in eczema lotions and for use in baths
  • cold-pressed or “virgin” coconut oil, which reduces Staphylococcus bacteria on the skin
  • sunflower oil, which reduces inflammation and seals in moisture
  • cold compresses to reduce itching

Find out more about home remedies for eczema.

People with eczema should consult with their doctor as soon as possible if:

  • their eczema is severe
  • sulfur treatments do not help or worsen symptoms
  • the skin shows signs of infection, such as pus, swelling, or warmth to the touch
  • a rash occurs alongside other symptoms, such as joint pain or fever

Any mild side effects that occur may resolve on their own after a person stops using a sulfur-based product. However, if the side effects are severe or do not go away, seek medical help.

Although there is anecdotal evidence that sulfur may help relieve eczema symptoms, there is little research to confirm this theory. Sulfur may have antimicrobial properties and ease dryness or itching, but it is unclear how effective it is in humans. Additionally, health experts are not clear on what concentrations may offer optimal results.

Sulfur also has a strong odor and may not be suitable for everyone. Recommendations state that individuals looking to use sulfur-containing products speak to a healthcare professional first.