Sulfur for Acne Scars and Acne

October 03, 2016 3 min read 0 Comments

 Guest Blog By VeganAcneSufferers 


There are so many things that people recommend as a topical to clear up acne: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, turmeric, tea tree oil, coconut oil - you name it. The list goes on. Sometimes it's hard to determine what is right for everyone, so I find it useful to go ingredient-by-ingredient to weigh the pros and cons of each item - that way everyone can make an informed decision.

Sulfur is one such ingredient that people often recommend for acne. Sulfur for acne scars and acne is great option.

What is Sulfur?

Sulfur is a naturally-occurring mineral that is found mostly near hot springs and volcanic craters. It has a distinct "rotten egg" smell, caused by sulfur dioxide gas escaping into the air. 


Sulfur and Skin Care

Sulfur has been used on the skin for thousands of years. As early as 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used a salve made with sulfur to treat both acne and eczema, and Traditional Chinese Medicine was using sulfur in skin care before the reign of the Yellow Emperor, some 2,200 years ago. But just because it's something that has been done for a long time doesn't mean we should keep doing it, or that there's any premise to it.

So let's delve in a little more before we draw any conclusions.

Modern Use of Sulfur for Skin Care

Since the 1950’s, sulfur has been available in the form of a 5% sulfur foam that is applied directly to broken skin. The foam also contains 10% sodium sulfacetamide to make the product emollient without clogging pores and moisturizing to the skin. 

Sulfur creams, lotions, sprays, soap bars and ointments have come to the market since, although it is still not as popular as other treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide.

The Science Behind Sulfur

Sulfur is an inhibitor of growth of the P. acnes bacterium - it is a mild "antimicrobial." However, its precise mechanism of action is unknown. It is thought that the sulfur may interfere with and cause inactivation of sulfhydryl groups on the proteins involved in specific enzymatic pathways in the bacteria. For acne treatment, the sulfur is almost always combined with another antimicrobial called sodium sulfacetamide. This compound acts as a competitive antagonist to paraaminobenzoic acid (PABA), an essential component for bacterial growth.

Since most people who have acne do have some degree of inflammation due to the P. acnes bacterium, sulfur and sodium sulfacetamide are almost always included in the products to treat acne. One advantage of the topical application of antimicrobials such as sulfur is that they have very few side effects and do not lead to microbial resistance.

Sulfur also has both comedolytic and keratolytic properties by helping dry out problem areas while pushing to promote quicker shedding and exfoliation of pore-clogging dead skin cells, dirt, and oil, respectively. Sulfur works by making your very top layers of skin dry and peel off. This can unclog the pores, reduce oil, and acne.

Generally, sulfur-containing products are used as alternatives to antibiotics - they provide a similar action, and so anyone who benefits from antibiotics would likely also benefit from sulfur, although without the added risk of resistance.

Several studies have been done on patients with acne and use of sulfur as a monotherapy or in conjunction with other treatments, and although the majority of the evidence rides on case studies, the response is almost always positive.


Is Sulfur Suitable for My Acne?

Sulfur works best if you have mild to moderate acne characterized by pustules and small pimples, but case studies have shown that even people with severe or cystic/hormonal acne may also benefit from its anti-inflammatory properties. It is perfect for both inflammatory and comedonal acne. So, if you have pustules, blackheads, or a combination of the two, sulfur may help to improve your skin.

Sulfur can also be useful when treating patients who may have acne as well as rosacea and/or seborrheic dermatitis, as these conditions can also respond to this medication. This is doubly exciting for those of us with concurrent skin conditions. Overall, I would really recommend sulfur for acne scars and acne as it can be very helpful.


While sulfur is generally recognized as safe, please note that mild irritation at the site of application may occur. Discontinue use if this issue persists.



About VeganAcneSufferers:

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I first got acne in high school, and it came back in my early adulthood. I was able to struggle through those difficult times and come out of it a stronger, wiser, healthier person as a result. I'm here to help you do the same thing!

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