Sulfur Could Be The Secret To Clearing Up Acne-Prone Skin

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You may have tried just about everything on the shelf when it comes to clearing up your acne to no avail. It can be a frustrating journey attempting to find the root cause and cure for stubborn breakouts, blackheads, and acne scars. Concealer and makeup can only go so far when it comes to disguising less than smooth skin. From diet, stress, and hormones, to genetics, skincare routine, and environmental factors, the maze of what is causing acne-prone skin to breakout leaves many feeling at a loss. And while you may be familiar with some of the more common acne-fighting ingredients, sulfur likely isn't one of them.


Sulfur may stir up images of laundry detergents or even gunpowder, but the naturally occurring element is found in plants and soil and is also used as an effective pesticide. Sounds a bit harsh, right? But when it comes to acne, sulfur's antimicrobial properties are quite the hero. Let's take a closer look at why it could be the secret to clearing up acne-prone skin.

Sulfur fights bacteria

Sulfur is widely used for its powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties — which is part of what makes it a great combatant for acne (via Medical News Today). Propionibacterium is a bacteria that's one of the main culprits when it comes to acne and sulfur can stop its growth in its tracks. Sulfur is also an exfoliant and if you have any experience battling acne, you know how crucial it is to deep clean the pores.


An effective drying agent, sulfur is ideal for handling excess oil buildup. "It works to absorb excess oil, which can clog pores and cause acne, by drying out the surface of the skin to unclog pores and remove debris or bacteria build up," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Camille Howard-Verovik told Marie Claire. So, if you haven't yet tried a sulfur-based product to heal your skin and prevent acne, it may be time to give it a whirl.

It's available in multiple forms

When it comes to adding sulfur to your skincare routine, there are a few different options. Because the severity of your acne and your skin type factor into the mix, you'll want to do your research when it comes to the product that is the best candidate for you. Spot treatments, scrubs, cleansers, moisturizers, and masks — there are multiple avenues for your individual scenario.


"Spot treatments can be used more frequently, while lotions and cleansers with a higher sulfur concentration should be used less," Dr. Howard told Marie Claire. "The concentration of sulfur in skincare products typically varies from three to 10 percent. The concentration of sulfur and formulation of the product used will determine how frequently to use the products." Most of these sulfur-based skincare products are available over the counter. However, if you aren't having much luck, consider talking with your dermatologist about a prescription-strength sulfur treatment for acne.

It's most effective for mild acne

If you've found that acne treatments like salicylic acid are too harsh for your skin type, you may want to opt for an over-the-counter sulfur treatment instead. Most effective with more mild cases of acne, sulfur attacks the dead skin cells and sebum that buildup to cause a breakout. If your skin is extra tender or if you have a history of struggling with rosacea, then sulfur is likely a better fit for you than some of the stronger acne combatants.


When battling with acne scars, sulfur might be able to assist as it dries up dead skin cells, but typically, brightening products are best to lighten acne scars and diminish their appearance. If you have ultra sensitive skin, sulfur — though it's typically gentler than other acne products –  could still cause a reaction. It's always wise to do a small test patch on your skin prior to diving all in with any skincare product.

Potential side effects

Since it is a drying agent, sulfur could lead to dry, red, irritated skin — which is why pacing yourself with a small amount of the product at first is smart. Apply just a tad of the sulfur treatment to the top of your hand first and see how your skin reacts. Another component worth noting is, well, the smell. There's just no way around it, but it's not the greatest. Similar to the smell of eggs, sulfur is potent — though that may not be the case in some skincare products with multiple ingredients — or those with added fragrance and essential oils. As with any topical product, use caution and make sure to take allergies into account.


"Just make sure you don't have an allergy to the product," board-certified dermatologist and founder of GlamDerm Dr. Lian Mack told Marie Claire. "I would recommend that for any new beauty products, but some people do have systemic sulfur allergies."

Use caution when mixing products

While sulfur is effective and it's on the gentler end of the spectrum when it comes to acne-fighting elements, if combined with other strong products, it could easily overwhelm for your skin. So, it's best to take it slow and introduce sulfur softly. "If you are using drying products such as retinol or benzoyl peroxide, you should not use sulfur because it may cause the skin to become too dry," New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Marina Peredo, M.D. told Allure.


Alternatively, if you've had harsh reactions to prescription acne products, then sulfur could be a more mild solution for your breakouts. If you typically use a clay mask once or twice a week to combat clogged pores, try taking some time off while you introduce sulfur to your skincare routine to avoid product overload. And as its purpose is to dry-out and exfoliate those clogged pores, sulfur will inevitably cause dryness everywhere you apply it. So, don't forget to moisturize.

Sulfur products to try

Now comes the fun part: browse and add to cart. Once you've come to a decision about the type of sulfur that's right for your skin type, it's time to shop. Whether you opt for a cleanser, spot treatment, or mask, be sure to dig a little deeper beyond your standard Google search and read customer reviews to find a quality sulfur product. Heritage Store's Hot Springs Sulfur handmade soap bar is a popular option and happens to be unscented — which is a big win if you're aiming to avoid the egg smell. It's also cruelty-free and is a great solution for acne breakouts on the chest or back.


In terms of spot treatments that also happen to be super affordable, De La Cruz's Acne Treatment contains 10% sulfur and users appear to be quite pleased with the results. Just a ten minute application and a quick rinse with water and you're on your way to clearer skin.