Is Sulfur Soap Safe for Acne-Prone Skin?

Sulfur soap reduces oiliness in your skin that contributes to acne.

Photo: Dave J. Anthony/Photodisc/Getty Images

Who knew that stinky chemical that nearly knocked you out in chemistry class could be a beauty solution. Sulfur is no newcomer when it comes to treating acne. It’s an ingredient in soap as well as other products such as acne lotions or gels. However, don’t rely on sulfur soap alone to treat acne-prone skin. You’ll get the best results with a well-rounded acne action plan that includes topical and oral remedies and a healthy diet.

A Little Background

Before benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and tretinoin—all common modern treatments for acne—there were mixtures containing sulfur. Dermatologists in the 1940s and 50s used them because sulfur helps to dry out the skin, which enables it to tackle one of the main causes of acne: excessive sebum, or oil, in your skin. Sulfur also has antibacterial properties and may help fight acne-causing bacteria. However, sulfur fell out of favor as an acne remedy in the 1980s when other topical remedies came on the scene.

Side Effects

Because sulfur soap is a drying agent, it can cause some of the same symptoms you may experience when using drying medications such as benzoyl peroxide. Besides dryness, these symptoms include redness, burning or stinging and irritation. When these symptoms become too severe, they can actually set your acne treatment back, as irritated skin is more likely to break out. Another possible unpleasant side effect is smelly skin as sulfur is quite pungent. But don’t worry, the odor shouldn’t last too long.

Using Sulfur Soap

Just about any medicated acne treatment can cause side effects, but you can minimize them by taking a few precautions. Use cold or lukewarm water and gentle, circular motions when washing your face with sulfur soap. Pat your skin dry and wait 10 or 15 minutes before applying a topical acne medication, such as benzoyl peroxide or clindamycin.


If you aren’t having any success using sulfur soap for your acne-prone skin, consider a few alternatives. For instance, dermatologists often recommend mild cleansing lotions that don’t irritate the skin. Also, it’s possible that you may see stellar results when you first use sulfur soap, but the soap may become less effective with time as your skin becomes used to the chemical. Your relationship with your acne remedies isn’t like the one you have with your hairdresser; you can switch at any time without feeling guilty.

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