Historically known as brimstone, sulfur is one of the oldest and safest ingredients used to treat the skin. Dermatologists frequently recommend sulfur for acne treatment and other skin disorders, including rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, and scalp psoriasis.
What is sulfur?
Sulfur is a common natural element with a distinctive, rotten egg-like odor. It's an essential component for all living cells and is common in minerals, rocks and is necessary for plant growth. It also plays a significant role in our bodies' physiology, found in amino acids, vitamins, and skin and hair. Over the years, sulfur has become an essential part of dermatology practices.
Sulfur is also available as an over-the-counter ingredient in skincare products. It's known to help reduce acne blemishes, dandruff, psoriasis, rosacea, and dermatitis. When used in hair products, sulfur can enhance body suppleness, shine, and texture. Luckily, when incorporated into beauty products and prescription medications, the characteristic smell is often minimal.
How does sulfur work to treat acne and rosacea?
- Sulfur is keratolytic. It works to remove dead skin cells from the skin's surface and unclog pores. This reduces the formation of both open and closed comedones.
- Sulfur absorbs and reduces sebum. By removing oil (sebum) from the skin's oil glands' openings, congestion is minimized, treating and preventing acne breakouts and other skin conditions.
- Sulfur is antibacterial. Sulfur helps fight acne bacteria (P. acnes) to reduce inflammation and prevent future acne breakouts.
- Sulfur is an anti-parasitic. It can kill Demodex folliculorum, the skin parasite believed to be a leading cause of rosacea.
- Sulfur is antifungal. By reducing the Malassezia furfur fungi on the skin, sulfur can treat both fungal acne (Malassezia furfur) and seborrheic dermatitis.
What causes acne vulgaris?
Acne vulgaris, known as acne, starts when pores in the skin become clogged with sebum and dead skin cells. The proliferation of acne bacteria triggers an immune response, resulting primarily in blackheads and whiteheads, then red pimples and cysts.
Can sulfur help fungal acne, too?
Despite its resemblance to bacterial acne, fungal acne is an infection within the skin's hair follicles caused by yeast resulting in pimple-like bumps. Nothing on the acne shelves will combat this bacterial acne imposter. Fungal acne is often caused by:
- Oral and topical antibiotics
- Oral and topical steroids
- Greasy cosmetics
- Excessively oily skin
- Hot and humid environments
Sulfur's antifungal and antibacterial properties make it one of the best and safest treatments for fungal acne. Sulfur washes, masks, and spot treatments are a gentle method to combatting this frustrating condition by killing fungi on the skin and reducing inflammation.
Is sulfur safe for all skin types?
As with any effective anti-acne medication, sulfur can cause temporary skin dryness. However, it has fewer drying effects than benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, making it suitable for any skin type, including sensitive skin. For those with eczema, sulfur mineral baths are often recommended to soothe and heal the skin.
Is sulfur the same as sulfa?
No. Sulfa is a medical ingredient used in some oral and topical antibiotics (sulfonamides) and is a fairly common drug allergy. Sulfur is an essential element found in the human body and does not cause allergic reactions on its own. The two ingredients are chemically very different, and people with sulfa allergies can safely use sulfur.
Which is the best form of sulfur acne treatment to use?
Many products contain sulfur, so which should you use? It depends on your skincare type and needs! You may also combine various products to create the best acne treatment for you. Whichever you choose, be sure always to end your skincare routine with an effective moisturizer.
Sulfur treatment creams
The most effective way to use sulfur is with sulfur treatment creams that stay on the skin for the whole night. For decades, sulfur treatment creams are known as one of the safest and most effective treatments for teen and adult acne, fungal acne, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis. That said, older sulfur preparations had an unpleasant smell that limited their use.
A new sulfur treatment launched recently has solved the odor problem. This new sulfur cream is the world's first sulfur 3%, which combines the sulfur with a few other active ingredients and, most importantly, smells great. In addition to pure sulfur, niacinamide, azelaic acid, salicylic acid, and natural plant complexes help reduce skin redness and fade dark spots.
Why should I use a sulfur treatment cream?
1. Acne: Sulfur is the safest and most effective non-irritating acne treatment. It's the perfect treatment for people with acne with sensitive skin and people that are allergic to other anti-acne medications.
2. Antifungal acne: Due to its potent anti-fungal effects - it's an optimal treatment for fungal acne and seborrheic dermatitis.
3. Rosacea: Its anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic effects make it the best non-irritating topical product for people with rosacea-prone skin.
4. Maskne: Due to its potent anti-acne effects and not irritating, it's the optimal treatment for maskne on the sensitive areas around the mouth.
Perfect for sensitive and oily skin, sulfur soaps can effectively diminish sebum buildup without irritating the skin. They can also reduce inflammation and kill bacteria, helping to control rosacea symptoms and acne lesions.
Sulfur masks are often a more effective treatment method because it allows the ingredients to stay on the skin longer. Using the product once or twice a week can drastically improve skin clarity and texture by sloughing away dead skin, soaking up excess oil, and banishing breakouts. Before using the sulfur mask, be sure to gently wash your face with a cleanser such as MDAcne's Facial Cleanser.
Sulfur spot treatment
Sulfur spot treatments are great at accelerating red, angry blemishes' healing process. They are useful in minimizing the appearance of pimples and rosacea spots without leaving behind any dry patches.
How long would it take to see results?
As with any effective acne treatment, improvement is typically seen within 4-6 weeks of regular use. It is recommended for best results to combine a sulfur treatment cream with other medicated anti-acne products, such as a salicylic acid cleanser or a benzoyl peroxide treatment cream.
- An update on the management of acne vulgaris
- The use of sodium sulfacetamide in dermatology
- Comprehensive Medical Management of Rosacea
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