Sulfur may seem like an outdated (and pretty stinky) option for rosacea treatment. However, it still has a place among more modern therapies for managing chronic skin inflammation. In a time when increasingly complex and costly pharmaceuticals are prescribed for managing various skin conditions, it’s good to know that some of the old-fashioned treatments are still useful. Yes, your dermatologist might still recommend some form of topical sulfur remedy for your rosacea – instead of or in conjunction with antibiotic therapy.
How Does Sulfur Help Treat Rosacea?
No one is quite sure how or why sulfur works for reducing rosacea symptoms. That’s because this topical medication doesn’t directly address the cause of rosacea. The ingredients in sulfur-based rosacea treatments have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti demodectic (mite killing) properties. Bacteria, candida albicans, and skin mites were all suspected at one time or another of being the underlying cause of rosacea. However, there’s actually no evidence that they are to blame. Instead, rosacea seems to flare up because of abnormal levels of certain inflammatory proteins in the skin – and no one knows what makes these proteins go awry in the first place.
That being said, antibacterial substances do help resolve the symptoms of this skin condition for many patients. This is why antibiotics such as doxycycline are commonly prescribed for rosacea sufferers. It’s the anti-inflammatory side effect of the medication that seems to help. Sodium sulfacetamide is an anti-bacterial agent that appears to confer some of the same benefits as antibiotics.
Sulfur itself can kill mites and fungus that might worsen preexisting rosacea or trigger symptoms in individuals who are sensitive to those specific environmental factors. Sulfur also has a keratolytic effect. This means it helps slough away dry, dead skin cells. This may help skin appear smoother and clear up rosacea lesions. Removal of dead skin may also reduce itching.
Should You Use Sulfur for Your Rosacea?
In clinical studies involving sulfur for rosacea treatment, patients experienced a significant reduction in both inflammation (redness) and lesion count (number of pustules). However, these studies used a very specific formula of 10% sulfacetemide and 5% sulfur. Over the counter products that contain sulfur for treating acne and dandruff aren’t necessarily right for rosacea. They may contain additional ingredients such as salicylic acid which irritate the skin and actually make rosacea worse. If you plan to use sulfur gels, creams, or cleansers for your rosacea, check with your dermatologist first for product recommendations.