Can You Use Sulfur To Treat Acne?

Medically Reviewed By Cara Downey , Plastic Surgery
Written by Arshiya Syeda

Acne is a common problem that teenagers and even some adults face. Many treatments and home remedies for acne are gaining popularity these days. One of these treatments getting a lot of focus is sulfur for acne.

Sulfur is a gentle treatment that is suitable for all skin types. This makes it a popular home remedy for acne. Despite scientific backing being minimal, anecdotal evidence suggests that sulfur is effective in treating acne.

Several properties of sulfur make it an effective acne treatment and help it keep your skin healthy and clear. Let us look at the physiological processes involved in using sulfur for acne treatment, the types of acne it can treat, and the skin types it is suitable for.

How Does Sulfur For Acne Work? The Science Behind It

To understand how sulfur is an effective acne treatment, it is essential to understand how acne forms in the first place. If you do not cleanse your skin regularly or are frequently exposed to pollution, dirt and grime can clog your skin’s pores. These external substances can then penetrate the initial layers of the skin and get trapped under them. This causes inflammation, resulting in the formation of acne (1).

Sulfur has been used as an acne treatment for numerous years now due to its drying and antibacterial properties (2). However, enough scientific research has not been done to establish a direct link between sulfur use and acne reduction. According to anecdotal evidence, here is what we know about sulfur for acne treatment and what we can assume based on sulfur’s proven properties:

  • Dries Out The Skin: When you apply sulfur on your skin, it dries the top layer of skin and allows you to peel it off. This layer also removes dead skin cells so that new ones grow in their place and unclog the pores. It is also said to absorb excess oil from your skin, leaving it less susceptible to acne (3).
  • Antimicrobial Property: Sulfur is also an antimicrobial agent and can fight the acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (4).

Let us now take a look at the types of acne that sulfur can be effective for.

What Types Of Acne Does It Work For?

While all acne generally looks the same, it is classified by severity. Sulfur can be a valuable treatment for most of these types of acne. It is also important to note here that sulfur’s efficacy will differ for different people.

1. Mild Acne

Whiteheads and blackheads are classified as mild acne. Mild acne is non-inflammatory and occurs when dead skin cells and excess oil combine to block your pores. A clogged pore open at the top is known as a blackhead, while one that is closed at the top is known as a whitehead.

Sulfur is said to work best on mild acne due to its ability to remove dead skin cells and excess oils from the upper layer of the skin.

2. Moderate Acne

Papules and pustules are classified as moderate acne. These are formed when the pore walls break down and cause them to become clogged (1). This type of pores can become stiff and even cause pain. Pustules are generally more prominent than papules and typically have a yellow or whitehead.

Sulfur, by itself, is not as effective on moderate acne as it is on mild acne. It is more effective when combined with other acne treatments, like benzoyl peroxide (5).

3. Severe Acne

Nodules and cysts can form when the pores of your skin become highly inflamed. This type of acne is painful and lasts longer. It is also much deeper set in the skin than mild or moderate types, which may render it hard to treat. This type of acne also causes redness and scarring (1).

Severe acne is best treated with solid ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid (5). Sulfur, combined with these ingredients, may also be a good fix. It is best to consult a dermatologist to treat severe acne.

Read on to know more about the skin types that sulfur is suitable for.

Safety Of Sulfur For Acne

As with most skin products, sulfur is not suitable for all skin types. For certain types, using sulfur for acne can even be counterproductive. Sulfur has a high pH, which can make it cause irritation on the skin. This may also leave your skin more vulnerable by removing its natural protective barrier(6).

If your skin is sensitive and stronger ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are not suitable for it, sulfur might be the right treatment for you (2), (5). It may be effective as a spot treatment for dry to combination skin types as well.

As with any other skin care product, it is essential to conduct a patch test before you start using sulfur on your face. Just apply it to a small patch on your jawline and leave it on for 24 hours to see how your skin reacts to it.

For skin care products, it is generally recommended that you use the product only sparingly to assess its impact before gradually increasing usage.

Sulfur has various advantages when used for acne treatment. Read on to find out the benefits of sulfur in acne reduction.

Advantages Of Using Sulfur For Acne

As might be evident by now, sulfur has various advantages in skin care. Here are the primary benefits of acne treatment using sulfur.

  • Due to its wide availability, using sulfur for acne treatment is very economical.
  • A wide variety of skin care products contain sulfur, allowing you to choose the product that best suits you.
  • Sulfur is very gentle on your skin.
  • Sulfur can be used on all skin types, including sensitive acne.

Using sulfur for acne can also have side effects. Read on to know more about them.

Disadvantages Of Using Sulfur For Acne

Sulfur is generally gentle on the skin But, it has been reported to cause some mild side effects. These include (7):

  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Peeling
  • Drying of skin

If you observe any of these side effects when your start using sulfur for acne, consult your dermatologist.

Read on to find out how you can add sulfur to your daily skin care regimen.

How Do You Use Sulfur For Acne Treatment?

Sulfur is present in several different kinds of skin care products. Due to its easy availability and versatile nature, it is possible to add sulfur to your daily skin care regimen in many forms. Here are the ways to use sulfur for acne treatment.

1. Foaming Soap

Foaming soap is among the newest innovations when it comes to using sulfur for acne. It can work well if you have oily skin. You can wash your face with this soap to remove oil from your face early in the morning and use it again at night to unclog your pores. However, do not use the soap too often as it may cause irritation.

2. Clay Mask

The combination of clay and sulfur can be potent as they both dry out your skin. When applying a clay mask, do make sure to follow the given instructions carefully, especially concerning the time for which the mask must be kept on. Also, wash your face and pat it dry before you apply the mask.

3. Spot Treatment

You can use a sulfur spot treatment to treat mild acne, such as whiteheads and blackheads. If your acne has already grown considerably, this treatment will have a limited impact. This is a localized treatment that dries out the impacted area and unclogs open pores.

Final Words

While scientific evidence for using sulfur for acne treatment is sparse, there is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence claiming its efficacy. It has been utilized for this very purpose for many years now and continues to be a part of different skin care products. Sulfur is an excellent option if you have sensitive skin and do not want to use products with overly strong ingredients. It is claimed to be the most effective on mild acne. Try out this popular acne treatment, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for sulfur to work for acne treatment?

The amount of time it takes for sulfur to work depends on the individual. It may have an immediate impact on some people and fail to work for others. Use it for at least a few weeks to see if it works for you before consulting a dermatologist.

Can I use dry sulfur on my face?

You must never use sulfur in its elemental form. It is rough and explosive and can damage your skin considerably.

How do I recognize a product containing sulfur?

The best way to recognize a product that contains sulfur is through the list of ingredients provided. If such a list is not available, try smelling the product. Sulfur has a distinct pungent odor that smells like rotten eggs.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780801/
  2. An update on the management of acne vulgaris
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3047935/
  3. Sulfur and skin: from Satan to Saddam!
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17147562/
  4. Tolerability of topical antimicrobials in treatment of acne vulgaris
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24918554/
  5. Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/in-depth/acne-products/art-20045814
  6. An innovative approach to the topical treatment of acne
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399783/
  7. The Use of Sodium Sulfacetamide 10%-Sulfur 5% Emollient Foam in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2923965/

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Cara Downey

(MD)
Dr. Cara Downey is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Houston, who is passionate about serving her community. She had pursued... more