Sulfur (spelt sulphur in Europe) is a yellow, non-metallic
element. It is considered as one of the building blocks of life. Sulfur is
present in most of the proteins, vitamins and hormones, and it is a major
component of keratin, which is present in our skin, hair and nails. Sulfur
contains antifungal, antibacterial and keratolytic properties, and as such
is one of the oldest traditional skin medications. Sulfur is safe to use
and most people opt to use sulfur more than other chemicals as acne treatment
Mechanism of Acne Treatment with Sulfur
Sulfur is effective in removing dead surface skin cells, and it also controls
the production of sebum. The combination of sodium sulfacetamide and salicylic
acid sulfur has been found to be very effective in treating acne. Sulfur,
when applied to the skin, creates a pentathonic acid that’s deadly
to fungi and works as a reactant to cysteine, which in turn produces hydrogen
sulfide that breaks down keratin and makes keratolythic activity not possible.
It also inhibits propionibacterium acne.
Studies have been made to prove the effectiveness of the sulfur. In one
case study they used 10% sulfur cream against systemic tetracycline
in the reduction of papules and pustules in acne patients, and
the sulfur cream reduced a greater number of inflamed lesions. Compared
other medications such as oral antibiotics, tretinoins, antimicrobials
sulfur provides comparable results with significantly milder side
effects. It is also better absorbed by the human body that that
It is said that sulfur takes only twenty-four hours to penetrate
completely into the skin.
Earlier studies showed that sulfur was comedogenic when applied on rabbit
ears and the human back. This was disproved by further tests, however,
leading to the conclusion that there was no correlation between comedone
developments and whether or not sulfur was used in the applied formulation.
Sulfur with sodium sulfacetamide
The antibacterial properties of sodium sulfacetamide inhibit the action
of paraaminobenzoic acid, which causes bacterial growth. It also suppresses
the growth of propionibacterium acne, and the absence of any major side
effects makes it an attractive treatment option.
The combination of sulfur and sodium sulfacetamide is an effective therapy
for acne lesions without excessive erythema, as shown in clinical trials
conducted with sulfur 5% and sodium sulfacetamide 10% formulations. 70-80%
of comedones and inflamed lesions were reduced, and side effects (dryness
and itching) were uncommon, mild, and short-lived. These formulations are
currently available as lotions, topical suspensions, and cleansers.
Sulfur therapy is every bit as effective as other acne treatments, but
has an advantage in terms of safety. Its mild side effects should make
it the preferred mode of treatment in most cases. Sulfur therapy has suffered
a decline in use recently, but is still widely accepted as a good option.