Sulphur for Acne: how to use it for clear skin

Sulphur might not sound like something you want to apply to your face but it is one of the oldest treatments for acne. Yes! The same ingredient used to make the flammable end of a matchstick 🙂

That same ingredient has long been used to treat a number of skin issues like warts, rosacea, dandruff and dermatitis, and is still being used in various skin care products today.

Sulphur for acne

Should you use sulphur for acne? Let’s find out.

How Sulphur Works

Sulphur helps dry out the skin. Since excess oil production in the sebaceous glands contributes to acne, sulphur cuts down that sebum, and helps skin to fight against frequent breakouts.

Sulphur has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it helps in clearing bacteria from pores. Buildup of bacteria in pores can result in acne and breakouts. Sulphur works to not just remove the existing bacteria but also prevent it from manifesting on the surface of skin.

Sulphur has been hailed as keratolytic as it peels away your skin’s top layer, removing the dead cells and revealing a fresh, unblemished skin.

Using Sulphur for Breakouts and Acne

If you are experiencing blackheads, red pimples, or a mixture of these two, a sulphur treatment can enhance your skin and treat the breakouts.

Sulphur is being used in a range of skin care products, including spot treatments, face masks, lotions, cleansers and soaps. It is also used as an acne treatment in various skin care salons and spas. Often, these treatments include sodium sulfacetamide or resorcinol. These offer extra moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties, making the treatment even more effective.

Draw Out Acne Cysts

Ichthammol ointment is a cheap, sulphur derived product that is an old remedy for boils. It is also effective at helping to draw out acne cysts! See this article for details and step by steps instructions.

What About for Dry Skin?

However, it is also important to keep in mind that sulphur is not suitable for all acne grades and all skin types. It’s not a great treatment for dry skin as it removes the extra oil which dry skin really needs (see this article). So people with oily skin benefit the most from sulphur treatments.

Is Sulphur Okay for Sensitive Skin?

If your skin is allergic to retin-A or benzoyl peroxide, then sulphur will become your skin’s best friend. This ingredient is gentler on the skin as compared to other acne treatments. While it might not be the most effective acne treatment available in the market, it still works great for sensitive skin and for mild to moderate acne.

How to Use Sulphur for Acne

When using sulphur-based products, it is important to apply it as per the recommended amount on the package. For instance, if you are using spot treatment, you can use it thrice a day but if you are using a sulphur-based moisturizer; the recommended usage would be, not more than twice every day.

Whenever you use a new sulphur-based skin product, it is always best to perform a patch test to ensure that your skin is not allergic to sulphur or any other ingredient included in the product.

A patch test is a good idea:

  1. Test the product on a small area which isn’t near your face (e.g. inside of the arm)
  2. Take a tiny amount of the product and apply it on the selected area.
  3. Wait 24 hours.
  4. Check the skin for any signs of side effects.

If your skin is fine, then apply the product on your face. However, if you notice hives, rashes, or redness on the skin then stop using the product.

Some Possible Side Effects

There are possible side effects to using sulphur on the skin. It’s a generally safe ingredient, but if have concerns check with your doctor before using, or do a patch test as above:

Irritation: Sulphur has strong chemical elements, which can cause skin irritation like flaking, itching, swelling, and redness. This is because sulphur expediates the turnover and growth of skin cells.

Extra Sebum: While it might seem strange that using a product that is supposed to dry the skin can cause an increase in oil production, this can be a side effect in certain cases. When the skin becomes excessively dry, it might be triggered to produce an excess amount of oil, which can actually make the acne worse.

Unpleasant Odor: This is not really a side effect, but sulphur is known for its strong unpleasant odor – a rotten egg-like smell (ugh!). This can be rather overwhelming and might lead to headaches. While many new skin care products utilize extra fragrances to reduce or mask this odor, organic skin care products usually have this strong odor.

When used right, sulphur can be one of the most effective acne treatments and can reveal brighter, smoother, and radiant skin after regular use.


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