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How to Use Sulfur to Treat Acne

The smelly mineral once known as brimstone was for centuries the most popular treatment for acne. Sulfur can kill acne bacteria, but it is definitely not for everyone. There is one skin, type, however, that responds especially well to sulfur foams.

foaming sulfur for acne
Foaming sulfur can help moisturize the skin and kill acne bacteria.


  • Sulfur has been used to treat acne and other kinds of inflammation of the skin for thousands of years.
  • Foaming sulfur kills acne bacteria and moisturizes the skin.
  • Many people who have acne on Asian skin respond well to the combination of foaming sulfur in the morning and topical tretinoin at night.
  • If you have fair skin, foaming sulfur treatment will probably may pimples “come to a head” so that they drain quickly.
  • If you have dark, oily skin, foaming sulfur treatment will probably shrink pimples and help blackheads fall out of their own.
  • Always test a dot of sulfur product on the skin of your forearm to make sure you are not allergic to it before putting it on your face.
  • Don’t get sulfur on clothes or jewelry.
  • Don’t use sulfur products that contain fragrances to cover up the sulfur smell. The fragrance can cause irritation that cancels out the benefits of the sulfur.

Sulfur for Treating Infections

From ancient times through the eighteenth century, sulfur was used as a fumigant to fight “vapors” that were thought to cause disease. Tossed on a open flame, yellow sulfur released noxious fumes that can kill bacteria, parasites, and people. As early as 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used a salve made with sulfur to treat both acne and eczema, and Traditional Chinese Medicine was using sulfur in skin care before the reign of the Yellow Emperor, some 2,200 years ago.

Sulfur is still used to treat acne. Since the 1950’s, sulfur has been available in the form of a 5% sulfur foam that is applied directly to broken skin. The foam also contains 10% sodium sulfacetamide to make the product emollient without clogging pores and moisturizing to the skin. The product kills acne bacteria fast while it softens the skin.

The drawback to sulfur foams is that they smell bad. And when they are mixed with fragrance to make the product smell good, the result is reddening and irritation of both healthy skin and acne-affected skin.

Who Benefits Most from Sulfur for Acne?

The best application of sulfur foams is for treating acne on Asian skin. Here are some real case histories of the the use of sulfur for treating acne on Asian skin.

A thirty-five year-old Asian woman came to see her doctor about acne that had been breaking out “on and off” ever since she was a teenager. Another doctor had tried to treat the acne by adjusting her oral birth control medication, but there was no change in the frequency of her outbreaks. Then she had tried to treat her acne with 5% benzoyl peroxide, but with no benefits to her skin.

When this woman went to see her second dermatologist, she had 27 pimples and 14 blackheads on  her face. The dermatologist suggested that she try a combination of:

  • 5% sulfur-10% sodium sulfacetamide form every morning with
  • 0.04% topical tretinoin at night.

In the United States, both products are available over-the-counter, although it is easier to find topical tretinoin in the 0.05% strength.

The first few days, this patient experienced mild itchiness, especially around her eyes. The itchiness stopped in the first week and she was able to continue both medications without interruption. At the end of eight weeks her complexion was not completely clear, but she had only three pimples and three whiteheads, all other blemishes having resolved.

A thirteen year-old Asian boy had had acne for a year that was not responding well to the combination of benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin. The doctor took him off these treatments, and prescribed sulfur foam in the morning plus 0.04% topical tretinoin in the evening. At the end of eight weeks, his 23 pimples had been reduced to 16, and his 31 whiteheads and blackheads had been reduced to 13.

A 29-year-old Asian woman had intermittent acne across her forehead and on her cheeks. She reported that she had been frustrated by the failure of 0.025% topical tretinoin plus 4% benzoyl peroxide to make any difference in her skin. Like the other two patients, this woman was told to use 0.04% topical tretinoin in the morning and sulfur foam at night.

At the end of two months, her acne was gone. She also reported that sulfur foam seemed to be a good match to skin tones in her face, and that previously existing acne spots were far less noticeable than they had been before.

Will Sulfur Foam Work If You Don’t Have Asian Skin?

Asian skin makes just one kind of melanin pigment, while other skin types make two or three. On other skin types, sulfur usually makes the skin look red, but on Asian skin, sulfur brings out natural skin tones. There is every reason to believe that sulfur foam and facials that include sulfur as an ingredient will kill acne bacteria on any kind of skin, but they are best at improving the appearance of Asian skin on the face.

Sulfur foams may be useful in treating back acne (also known as bacne) on other skin types. For treating back acne, it is usually not necessary to use topical tretinoin. A combination of sulfur-sulfur acetamide foam in the morning and benzoyl peroxide treatment in the evening peels dead skin around pores in the back, and kills acne bacteria so that the skin of the back can heal itself. Because sulfur foam is a moisturizer, it will work equally well on both pimples and blackheads on the back. This also helps it work well when it is used with topical tretinoin, which may dry out the skin.

Where Do You Find Sulfur for Fighting Acne?

Foaming sulfur is usually labeled as Pomada de Azufre. It is extremely cheap, less than US $4 for a month’s supply. Even though the product is a “pomade,” it is intended for the skin, not the hair.
A product called Bye Bye Blemish also provides 10% sulfur, and costs only US $6 for a one-month supply.

There are some precautions that are a good idea when using any product that contains sulfur. A few people are allergic to it. Test a dot of the product on the skin of your forearm, leaving it there for several hours, before putting it on your face. Don’t use the product on your face if it causes irritation on your arm.

Also, don’t get any kind of sulfur product on jewelry. It can blacken both silver and gold.

Some users report that sulfur foams and scrubs shrink pimples quickly, and others report that they seem to “bring them to a head” so that they pop open. Probably, the tighter your skin, the more likely you are to have a one-day increase in the size of pimples followed by rapid healing. Stop using the product, of course, if it makes your skin tingle, sting, or burn, or if redness is noticeably worse.

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peace oluchi ada onu Reply

is there any danger in using cream or lotion prepared with content of herbs and sulphur ?

August 19, 2015 at 4:08 pm Reply
Sarah Reply

I'm not Asian (I'm Caucasian) and had the same issue as the example of the first woman. Reaching my late 20s with acne and no creams/pills the doctor prescribing worked. I went to Iceland recently and within a week my skin was almost clear (which is very rare) the water there smelt of sulfer due to being a volcanic island. I've been using pure sulfer (a tiny amount) in my bath water every other day for the last 2 weeks and my skin has never been better!

July 27, 2016 at 9:59 pm Reply
Ankita Ahuja Reply

are you using sulphur soap or ointment? can you provide the link of the product u using?

December 26, 2016 at 11:42 pm Reply
Leslie Ligon Reply

About 10 years ago, I discovered Murad Acne Spot treatment, which provides 3% sulfur. It works wonderfully for treating my occasional pimples and acne. (It's the only thing that works for me.)

October 11, 2017 at 3:15 pm Reply

..... This website would be great if it didnt group skin types based on race...... Last time I check, Types of skin are: Oily, Dry or Combo AND Skin concerns are: Acne, Diclscoloration, Wrinkles ect..... NEVER in my 10 years of beauty education have I heard a professional refer to races OR skin color as A type of skin ..... #AlternativeFacts

March 13, 2017 at 2:54 am Reply
mary Reply

That is a very good point.

June 17, 2017 at 3:19 am Reply
J. Adams Reply

My thoughts exactly. I cannot say that this information is incorrect, but because skin color and ethnicity was used to determine skin type, I will be looking elsewhere for information on this subject. At least the author did put in the disclaimer that this was his/her personal opinion, not facts.

August 24, 2017 at 8:35 am Reply
China Doll Reply

Don't be pedantic. Anyone can see that every race (or "heritage" if you insist on being stupidly offended) has its typical features which can include facial structure, hair color, and -guess what!- skin tone. My pale, yellow-tinted skin is different from a redhead's pale, freckled skin, because I'M ASIAN.

September 12, 2017 at 9:45 am Reply
Leslie Ligon Reply

(I lean so far left in my ideology, I practically tip over! I'm older, though, so I'm a bit past the point of taking things on the chin EVERY SINGLE TIME.) This is an incredibly divisive issue and a critical tipping point [again] in racial/social issues; I do not want to belittle anyone who cares. But this is all talk that should be focused on everyone helping with FACIAL #emilylitellaSNL, not racial issues. I'm with you, CD! ; D P.S. I have a lot of yellow in my skin.

October 11, 2017 at 3:22 pm Reply
Christine Reply

"Asian" covers a lot and could we say that the reference to Asian here is all inclusive of East Asian, SE Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, parts of Russia, parts of Turkey?

November 16, 2017 at 8:40 am Reply
Venessa Reply

Gabby...different races have different pigment, and a yellow based skin tone reacts differently to products..hence, Asian bring the mist common yelloe skin tone..are you that desperate to turn a comment about acne, into a race issue? Keep reaching searching and blaming, you seem good at are SAD

September 1, 2017 at 9:21 pm Reply
Amiko Reply

Can I use Sulfur Soap as cleanser, together with Banzamycin and Retinoic Acid? Or would it be too strong to use them altogether?

September 5, 2017 at 2:23 pm Reply

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