Salicylic acid was my go-to for pimples for years. If you had told me one day I’d stray from it, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Then ZO Skin Health Oeffects Sulfur Masque came into my life. It changed EVERYTHING.
Salicylic acid does a lot to prevent pimples but takes its sweet time to get rid of them once they’ve made an appearance. Sulfur kicks them off your face way faster.
But… Where’s the catch? Something can’t be THAT good and have no side effects, right? Well…
Sulfur is a natural mineral that plays an essential role in the health of connective tissues, skin, muscles, bones, teeth, and hair. It helps your cells make an efficient use of oxygen, gives strength to your hair, and is even part of your DNA. It’s quite the multitasker!
You can find sulfur in areas of high volcanic activity as well as many foods, including beans, meats, onions, eggs, fish, and garlic.
You know when sulfur’s around. It smells like rotten eggs. Eww!
Struggling to put together a skincare routine that really fights both acne and wrinkles? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Acne + Aging Skin” cheatsheet to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):
Sulfur Benefits: What Does It Do For Skin?
Sulfur has plenty of skincare benefits:
- It has antibacterial properties, so it kills the bacteria that cause acne
- It helps prevents acne-causing bacteria from spreading
- It helps exfoliate dead skin cells, accelerating cellular turnover and preventing breakouts
- It helps dry out blemishes
- It helps reduce oiliness, keeping breakouts at bay
Related: Adult Acne: What It Is And How To Treat It
Does Sulfur Have Any Side Effects?
Well, since you asked, there IS a problem.
Sulfur has a high pH, which can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier. When this happens, moisture evaporates until your skin gets all dried out. Bacteria and germs can now get inside your skin too, making it more prone to irritations. Bummer!
Related: What Does pH-Balanced Really Mean?
How To Use Sulfur To Treat Acne
Just because sulfur can be drying, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it. You just have to use it responsibly. Here’s what it means.
Lots of brands will tell you their sulfur masks can be used all over your face. DON’T believe them. Slathering sulfur where it’s not needed isn’t a good idea. You don’t want to dry out your skin just to get rid of one small pimple.
Let me say it again: sulfur isa spot treatment for pimples only. if you don’t have them, don’t use it.
What Are The Best Products With Sulfur?
- Epionce Purifying Spot Gel ($38.00): available at at Dermstore
- Kate Sommerville EradiKate Mask Foam-Activated Acne Treatment ($54.00): available at Cult Beauty, Nordstrom and Sephora
- ZO Skin Health Oeffects Sulfur Masque ($45.00): available at ZOSkinHealth
The Bottom Line
Sulfur is a powerful weapon in the fight against acne and pimples. It’ll kill the nasty buggers super quickly. Just don’t use it anywhere else or you’ll fix one problem only to cause a worse one!
Agreed! Sulfur is an excellent acne spot treatment. I use a drugstore brand and it takes about two applications and the inflammation is gone 🙂
Monica, it’s incredible how quickly it works, isn’t it?
When using Paula’s Choice 2% BHA, I never break out, so don’t need the spot treatment. I guess I’m lucky it works so well for my skin!
Sherry, that exfoliant is awesome, isn’t it? I still love BHA, but I think it’s better for prevention. When you already have zits, sulfur works much more quickly.
As I saw the headline of this I was sat here with sulfur smeared all over my face hahaha
Nia, hahaha 🙂
I’ve had this Malin & Goetz Sulphur Paste on my beauty wish list for June – have you tried it before?
Annette, not yet. But, judging from the ingredients, it’s pretty powerful. My only concern is that it contains alcohol. But, as long as you use it only on pimples, you should be fine.
I use Kate Somerville’s acne pink sulfur suspension for spot treatment (obviously, I forget its actual name). I always find that sulfur works better for me than salicylic acid. I have read some articles mentioning sulfur works the best for Asian skins a while back ago. I’m not sure whether this is the reason why sulfur also work the best for me. I do use benzoyl peroxide sometimes, but the problem is if I use lightening serum with niacinamide and kojic acid, I don’t like to put benzoyl peroxide on.
Selene, I’ve never heard that about sulfur and Asian skin. Do you remember the source? I noticed, though, that sulfur works best for me too. Salicylic acid is great at preventing breakouts, but when I get a pimple, sulfur gets rid of it more quickly. 🙂
I’m so happy to find an article that talks about the risks of sulfur as well as the benefits! Seems like every article is one sided.
I have found my new holy grail mask for acne, and it’s the SheaMoisture Problem Skin Mask (here it is on ulta: http://www.ulta.com/african-black-soap-problem-skin-facial-mask?productId=xlsImpprod12081135)
I think you may be especially interested in this one since you mentioned in your review of the ZO mask that you have dry skin. This mask has sulfur and bentonite and kaolin clays, but it also has jojoba oil and shea butter so it’s amazing at counter-acting the drying effect that those things have! I have oily skin so I was a bit worried about the moisturizing ingredients being too oily, but they aren’t at all. They are just moisturizing enough to make my skin feel smoother. It takes a bit to get used to a clay mask that doesn’t dry to a crackly, powdery finish lol. I feel like anyone, whether dry, normal or oily could use this mask for acne, both as an all-over treatment or as a spot treatment! so far it has dramatically reduced the size and redness of my breakouts, and I’ve only used it about 3 times.
The only downside to this mask is that it’s in jar packaging 🙁 I’m thinking of taking it and maybe decanting it into a pump bottle or something lol. Sometimes jar packaging can be unsanitary. This stuff is precious gold to me, and it’s only $11.99! Plus Ulta always has coupons 🙂
Haylee, thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like the perfect clay mask. I so need to try it! 🙂
Re the packaging, maybe it has something to do with the texture? I know some products come in jars because they would be hard to squeeze out of a tube.
I’ve seen skin care products with Sulfur and it scares me. I also use Salicylic Acid as my spot treatment for acne but I am more excited to try this new one out, thanks to your blog. Does this work on cystic acne too? I usually get that a lot and it hurts a lot. Thanks!
Jenny, yes, sulfur is a good treatment for cystic acne, too.
Thanks for your reply – I’ll definitely try Sulfur ^__^ I’m considering Murad Acne Spot Treatment. Btw, your article is awesome – I love how concise it is and it actually helped me a lot!
So glad it helped, Jenny. I love sulfur as a spot treatment. It gets rid of the pimples faster than anything else I’ve tried before.
I’ve had bad skin from the age of 12 and still battle with adult acne. My dermatologist always prescribed sulfur products to me, but they made my skin itchy with red blotches. I don’t know which was worse, the pimples or rash! It makes sense now. I should use sulfur rarely instead of daily.
Tina, oh no! Your doctor should have warned you about the side effects. Sulfur is great for acne but should be used in moderation only.
Yeah I’m having the same experience! But I only have samples right now, while lower concentrations of sulfur (2%) felt really nice and clean on daily use, the 4.5% one gave me irritations like you said within the second use! I’m definitely gonna relax and cut down.
The blotchiness, itchiness, and small rashes make it all feel counter productive…
Yura, sorry you’re experiencing side effects too. Sulfur is definitely something that should only be used in moderation.
I actually just came across this article in an attempt to find a way to reduce sulfur on my skin. Apparently, sulfur helps with hair growth. I have unwanted facial hair, so I want to reduce the sulfur, But!, I also get acne 🙁
It is tricky finding a balance! But, I feel so good finding ways to do it naturally, like using sulfur instead of a product with a long list of chemicals I have never heard of that could be upsetting my balance and hormones.
Katie, sulfur is great for skin, but it’s definitely something you need to use in moderation. Have you tried tea tree oil? It’s another effective anti-acne remedy.
I bought the ZO Sulphur Masque a few weeks ago on a recommendation. Since then, I have used it as a masque once or twice a week on my t zone and my skin is less red, less oily and I’m not breaking out. I honestly didn’t expect much because I’ve spent a lot on products that don’t work but this does so far. It stinks but I don’t care. I love Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant for spot treatments, it draws out the gross guts of a zit within hours rather than drying it out. It also stinks but again, don’t care if it works on my problematic 40yo skin. At this point I don’t even trust facial products with lovely scents!
S, I was sceptical about this mask too but it’s best anti-pimple treatment I’ve found. I hear ya about lovely scents. Fragrances are some of the most irritating ingredients in cosmetics and can wreak some serious havoc on the skin.
I am currently using Murad Acne Spot Treatment and it greatly helps me with acne breakouts and heals my blemishes. I won’t consider using any products yet unless it is prescribed by a dermatologist. Salicylic acid is good at healing acne too. Thanks!
I agree, they’re both great treatments. I prefer salicylic acid to prevent and sulfur to heal. 🙂
I’m definitely trying sulfur! No matter what I do, I get hormonal acne every single month.
I was a big fan of skinceutical’s blemish+age defence serum, until I realised the alcohol content is quite high. Do you know if there are any dupes out there? I stopped using it and got Paula Choice’s 2% salicilic acid but it irritates my skin. Is azelaic acid as good as salicilic acid? I have just started to use The Ordinary’s one and it’s amazing!
Trin, I hear ya! I was prone to hormonal acne too but lately it seems I’ve got it under control *fingers crossed* I’ve shared my tips in this post: http://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/ultimate-guide-dealing-hormonal-acne/
I’m afraid I don’t know any dupes for that serum but I will keep looking for one. 🙂
Azelaic acid and salicylic acid are both good acne treatments but there’s a key difference. Salicylic acid is soluble in oil so it can penetrate the pores and unclog them from within, while azelaic acid can only treat pimples. I recommend to use SA for prevention and azelaic acid or sulfur for treatment.
I’ll definitely check that post 🙂
I think blemish+age and Paula’s Choice both have a similar amount of salicylic acid, do you know why it could be that my skin was happy with one but reacted badly to the other one? I was only using it once or twice a week… Are there any other brands with salycilic acid you recommend? I want to keep using salycilic acid in my skincare but can’t use Paula’s!
It’s probably one of the other ingredients in the formula that was causing the problem. I know The Ordinary makes a Salicylic Acid exfoliant. It’s a pretty basic formula so it shouldn’t upset your skin.
I always thought exfoliants would work less than creams or products you leave on… But I guess it’s not the case! I will look into it, thanks! 🙂
I have used sulfur to treat my acne since 4 years ago. Using benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and tretinoin never worked for me, instead worsened my acne and make it more irritated. I used local brand sulfur lotion for my whiteheads and the spot treatments for papules and nodules / cystic / hormonal ones. It only takes 2-3 days to dry even for cystic that very painful. Even after my pregnancy when those hormonal gigantic acne invaded my skin, sulfur worked like wonders in my skin. When I popped my acne, applying the spot treatment make the open wound less painful, stop bleeding and heal faster than ever. I used the sulfur lotion for the acne marks because it dried out the scar and make new skin formed. I never used any moisturizer while using sulfur because it just make my skin more oily. I never exfoliate my face when using sulfur, only after all my acne heal completely which takes 2 weeks I exfoliate my face twice a week using st. ives apricot scrub for blemishes to take down all the dead skin from the acne scars.
Leah, thanks for sharing your experience. Glad to hear sulfur is working so well for you.
I’m using Sulphur Ointment and it really helps me,it’s just that when I don’t use it a lot or if I use it incorrectly I have a breakout,but I’ve only been using it for 3/4 weeks and my skin is almost clear.
And I’m not Asian,and it works.
Shamark, glad it’s working for you. Have you tried salicylic acid? That may help prevent breakouts so you won’t have to use sulphur so often.
Hi I was wondering if sulphur helps with acne marks and hyperpigmentation. I still get breakouts but my main problem is the acne marks that have been left behind
Oh and I have pretty sensitive skin I’m quite afraid if sulfur would be too strong for me
Angelica, sulphur it doesn’t treat dark spots. Glycolic acid is the best treatment for dark spots left behind by acne. If your skin is sensitive, start with a low concentration (around 5%) twice a week and see what happens.
I suffer from cystic acne and sulfur soap was recommended by my dermatologist. I use it every night I wash my face. I think it is drying my face out too much. Sometime I think I make my face worse instead of better.
Wendy, definitely stop using it! There are many alternatives to sulphur, ask your derm to prescribe you one.