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Treating Acne with Sulfur


Updated June 19, 2014

Topical Sulfur Acne Treatment:


Sulfur is one of the oldest known acne treatments. Yes, sulfur. The same stuff match sticks are made of. Historically known as brimstone, sulfur was used in ancient times to treat skin problems like dermatitis and dandruff, to rosacea and warts.

Sulfur is a natural element, and has an odor that is quite… distinctive. The scent of rotten eggs comes to mind. Luckily, most of today's products don't smell that bad.

Quite often, sulfur treatments also contain resorcinol or sodium sulfacetamide. Sulfur is available in prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter skin care products.


How it Works:


When applied topically, sulfur causes the skin to dry and peel. Despite how this sounds, it is actually a good thing for your skin if you have acne. Sulfur helps reduce skin oiliness, and prevents pore blockages from forming.

Sulfur is found in a wide array of skin care products, including soaps and cleansers, lotions, masks, and spot-treatments.



Common Usage Directions:


Since sulfur products come in a wide variety of forms, always follow the usage directions on the package.

Pay particular attention to the instructions for masks, lotions, and spot treatments. Some can be left on all day, or overnight. Others must be rinsed off after just a few minutes. This can vary from mask to mask, and cream to cream. Always double check the usage directions to avoid a skin care catastrophe.

By and large, sulfur products are used one to three times daily.


Possible Side Effects:


Drying, peeling, redness, burning, and skin irritation are the most common side effects. They tend to be worse when you first begin treatment. You may want to start slowly, and build up to the recommended dose.

Topical sulfur rarely causes serious problems. If your skin is uncomfortably dry and irritated, scale back on your usage for a period of time.

Some products containing sulfur can cause skin discoloration. And some products still have that unique sulfur odor. If you find find the smell particularly noxious, try another brand. The scent can vary from product to product.


Tips for Using Sulfur:


  • If your skin is chapped, sunburned, or already irritated, wait until it has healed before using sulfur products.
  • Steer clear of drying soaps and abrasive scrubs. They can over-dry the skin and make your sulfur products sting when applied.
  • If you are currently using a prescription acne treatment (such as Benzamycin, Differin, or Accutane) talk to your doctor before using sulfur products. Adding sulfur to your current acne treatment routine can cause major irritation.
  • Take care when using sulfur with your over-the-counter treatments too. It may be too drying. Again, when in doubt, ask your doctor.
  • The effect sulfur has on a developing fetus isn't known, so let your doctor know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.


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