Sulfur for Acne: How Does It Work?
Do you feel like common acne solutions hurt your skin more than help it? If so, you’re not alone.
“Sulfur can be a gentle yet effective means of achieving clear skin.”
Luckily, sulfur is an age-old remedy that can tackle your breakouts from all sides. Read on to learn about this natural ingredient and how to work it into your skincare routine.
What Is Sulfur?
Studying the periodic table during school makes you likely already familiar with sulfur. This skincare ingredient is unique because it isn’t a compound – instead, it’s a pure element all to its own.
Sulfur is one of the first recorded ingredients to be used in ancient medicine.
Sulfur is the tenth most abundant element in the world and is an essential building block for many of the compounds we use today. The world as we know it couldn’t exist without sulfur.
What Are the Benefits of Sulfur for Acne?
Although this age-old ingredient has been used for centuries in ancient medicine, it is used today primarily for skincare. Here are some of our favorite breakout-busting benefits of sulfur.
There are quite a few reasons pimples can develop, and they often all work together. One of these reasons is acne-causing bacteria.
Although there are many strains of acne-causing bacteria, the most common are Propionibacterium Acnes and Cutibacterium Acnes. These bacteria are a natural part of life, but touching your face can introduce more bacteria than normal.
This bacteria gets into your pores and causes irritation. This irritation is what can cause pimples to look red and angry.
Sulfur has soothing and cleansing properties that can help neutralize this bacteria to help stop current breakouts and prevent future ones. Although sulfur can’t kill this bacteria, it can prevent it from spreading and causing irritation.
Another common cause of blemishes is excess oil or sebum. Overactive sebaceous glands are a hallmark of oily skin types, which can cause a few problems.
First, excess oil often has nowhere to go except into your pores. This oil mingles with other gunk and creates plugs that further irritate the pore. These plugs are what lies at the center of whiteheads and blackheads.
Second, acne-causing bacteria feed off of sebum. The more excess sebum on top of your skin or pores, the more this bacteria can feed and multiply. Having excess oil can be a massive contributor to breakouts.
Luckily, sulfur absorbs excess oil. This helps mattify the look of skin, starve acne-causing bacteria, and keep your pores clear and looking healthy.
One of the final factors that could be causing your pimples is dead skin cell buildup. Your skin constantly sheds dead cells and replaces them with new ones in cell turnover. Typically, youthful skin completely replaces itself every 28 days.
Most of these dead skin cells flake off, but some stick around and build up on the surface of your skin. These dead skin cells can also enter your pores and contribute to the plugs that cause whiteheads and blackheads.
Sulfur helps to combat this by gently polishing away dead skin cells to reveal the newer, brighter-looking skin underneath. Sulfur not only exfoliates the layer of dead skin cells but also dries out and exfoliates the outermost layer of your skin.
Your skin has eight micro-layers to it, so removing the top layer also helps to smooth the appearance of fine lines over time. This is similar to how other chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs work.
Unclogs Stubborn Pores
Pores are supposed to keep themselves clean naturally, but sometimes bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells can create plugs that take longer to clean. In this case, it’s nice to have a product that can sink into your pores and clear them out.
Sulfur does just this. Similar to salicylic acid, sulfur is keratolytic. This means that this ingredient dissolves hard plugs to help clear even the most stubborn of pores.
May Help Fade Scars
Addressing a breakout is always a two-part job. First, you’ll need to clear your pores and eliminate your blemishes. Second, you’ll need to address any scarring or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation left behind.
Because sulfur is an exfoliant, it can also help fade breakout scars. Your skin has three main layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer.
Many fine lines and shallow scars lie in the epidermis. As your skin renews, the damaged skin cells die off, and these shallow blemishes fade with time.
However, sulfur helps support this process by buffing and polishing the top layer of skin. While some scars may never fully heal, it’s worth a shot to see if sulfur can help even out the appearance of your complexion.
Gentle for Sensitive Skin
Many acne products contain ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients are highly effective, but they can sometimes irritate sensitive skin.
Sulfur is one of the most common elements in the human body, so your skin already knows exactly what it is and how to use it. This means it is much less likely to cause a reaction in sensitive skin. Since blemish-prone skin can often be sensitive, sulfur is an ideal product.
Although it is sensitive, sulfur is typically combined with stronger blemish-reducing ingredients. This is because sulfur is so gentle that you will see faster results by combining it with more potent ingredients if your skin can handle them.
How Should I Use Sulfur?
When incorporating a new skincare ingredient into your routine, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why I have put together the essential sulfur skincare routine so that you can get your best skin yet.
The first product in every good skincare routine is a cleanser. Cleansers help gently clean off dirt, debris, and leftover makeup or SPF from your skin.
If your skin can tolerate stronger skincare ingredients, I recommend pairing sulfur with an exfoliating face wash like Cosmedix Clarify Salicylic Acid Foaming Cleanser. This cleanser uses Salicylic Acid to clear away excess oil and support healthy levels of oil production and can also provide extra support against blemishes.
Serum or Mask
Follow your cleanser with a nightly serum or a weekly mask with sulfur to help beat your breakouts. Since sulfur is so gentle, it’s a great ingredient to layer with other soothing serums.
I recommend Control Corrective Sulfur Calming Mask. This calming mask uses 10% sulfur to dry up oil and clear out pores and also features kaolin and bentonite clay to tighten the appearance of pores.
As a bonus, aloe vera and chamomile work behind the scenes to reduce the appearance of irritation and promote glowing skin. We recommend only using this mask once or twice a week, although you can apply it nightly as a spot treatment for blemishes.
Since sulfur works by drying out the skin, it’s incredibly important to follow a product containing sulfur with a moisturizer. If you’re using sulfur to combat oily skin and blemishes, we recommend using a lightweight moisturizer that won’t cause irritation.
My favorite moisturizer for oily skin is my Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer. Featuring hyaluronic acid and hydrolyzed collagen, this moisturizer infuses hydration without clogging pores so that you can get glowing skin while avoiding breakouts.
The final step of your morning skincare routine should always include sunscreen, especially if you’re combining sulfur with stronger breakout-busting ingredients like BHAs. These ingredients can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, increasing your likelihood of sun damage without a daily SPF.
Daily sun damage can add up, so we recommend always applying sunscreen with at least SPF 30 before leaving for the day. If you have oily skin, it’s important to look for a sunscreen marked as “oil-free,” “for oily skin,” or “non-comedogenic.” These descriptors indicate that the sunscreen won’t clog your pores, which is key to preventing breakouts.
Sulfur is a natural ingredient that was used in ancient medicine. This ingredient is great at fighting breakouts because it neutralizes bacteria, absorbs excess oil, and polishes away dead skin cells.
Sulfur is an ideal option for anyone who struggles with breakouts and sensitive skin because it is gentle and highly effective. To find out if sulfur is right for you, contact your dermatologist and schedule an online consultation with one of my skincare experts! We’ll help you find the right products for your skin to get the glowing, healthy-looking skin you deserve.
The Use of Sulfur in Dermatology | Journal of Drugs in Dermatology
Sulfur Revisited | Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Are we Getting Enough Sulfur in our Diet? | Nutrition & Metabolism | NCBI