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GOOD SKIN Blog

Sulfur Has Treated Skin for Centuries—Here’s How It Unclogs Pores

Sulfur as an element may ring a bell, bringing you right back to your seat in chemistry class attempting to memorize the periodic table. Sulfur as a skincare ingredient, however, was not quite as ubiquitously taught. Which is surprising, given it has been used to heal inflammation and treat acne for hundreds of years.


Today, sulfur is still a skin staple for unclogging pores and tackling bacteria. Read everything you need to know about the ingredient below: 

WHAT IS SULFUR?

Sulfur is a vital element to all living organisms. It’s also known to be a key player in the advancement of natural medicine, as it is one of the most abundant mineral elements found in our bodies. Primarily sourced from volcanic areas, sulfur also has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties

The layperson will probably recognize sulfur more for its yellow hue and funky smell. But sulfur alone is actually odorless; combining it with other elements is what causes it to stink. Some formulations may opt for artificial fragrance to cover up the scent, however this can trigger breakouts and inflammation for some. Luckily, most skincare that contains sulfur (us included) doesn’t have a noticeable scent at all.  

HOW DOES SULFUR BENEFIT THE SKIN?

Because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, sulfur has been used for centuries to treat a variety of skin conditions, from dermatitis to eczema to severe acne. Just like Cleopatra and her lactic acid, the Romans used to bathe in sulfur to heal their skin. 

If you’re currently dealing with a breakout, sulfur can be your best friend. Here’s how it works: Sulfur reduces the production of sebum (oily substances found in your body’s sebaceous glands) and dries up the excess oil. At the same time, it kills off bacteria and removes dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. This process helps unclog pores without stripping the skin, nipping whiteheads and blackheads in the bud without any dryness or sting. 


HOW AND WHEN TO USE SULFUR

Sulfur is usually found in acne medications, cleansers, masks, and spot treatments. It’s gentle on the skin and can be used during both your AM and PM routine. Our Game Over Acne Drying Treatment uses 10% sulfur (along with skin-friendly clays) to shrink non-inflammatory pimples. Its stay-in-place cream texture delivers the sulfur exactly where it needs to go to sop up sebum, eliminate bacteria, and flush out dead skin cells. Pro tip: you can also use it as a face mask to cover large areas of breakouts or opt for our Find Clarity Purifying Mask instead, which effectively unclogs pores.

If you have sensitive or dry skin, sulfur is a great option. It’s often recommended as an alternative to benzoyl peroxide, which can be drying. Like any ingredient, using more than what’s recommended can irritate the skin and cause flakiness, worsening acne. Start by applying it once a daily and see how your skin reacts first. 

CAN I MIX SULFUR WITH OTHER INGREDIENTS?

Sulfur can be effective when used alongside mild clays (like bentonite and kaolin) and sodium sulfacetamide. It can also be used with salicylic acid, but similarly to layering acids and retinol, this combination can be too abrasive for some skin types, particularly sensitive ones, leading to over-exfoliation, surface burns, and a damaged moisture barrier. If you’re concerned, wash with a salicylic acid cleanser, like Keep the Peace, in the AM and use sulfur at night. And don’t forget to always patch test a formula on your neck first if you’re prone to sensitization.

Shop most-loved products for acne-prone skin below.