Is Sulfur the Key to Curing Your Breakouts for Good?

A definitive expert answer.

If you've watched even 30 seconds of TV or walked down the skincare aisle of any drugstore in the last few months, then you've definitely seen that sulfur, the egg-smelling, fire-and-brimstone mineral, is officially being touted as the latest and greatest "miracle" cure for acne.

Though sulfur has been used since ancient times to treat both skin conditions and, you know, plagues and evil spirits, it's recently jumped on the trend train and has been rolling out in creams, cleansers, masks, and moisturizers that pretty much beg you to buy them. But is it really that good?

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"It can be," says Yale dermatologist and all-around acne queen, Mona Gohara. "Sulfur has natural antibacterial properties, so it not only works to eradicate acne-causing bacteria in your pores, but it also helps prohibit new bacteria from growing when you use it regularly."

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 And if that vaguely sounds like the same thing as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, you'd be (almost) correct, as they do have similar effects, but with a few caveats: "A defining feature of sulfur is its keratolytic properties, which allows it to break down the keratin in your skin," says Gohara. "When excess sebum and bacteria clog your pore, causing a zit, the lining of the pore can't shed properly, resulting in keratin build up. Sulfur helps regulate the shedding."

In comparison, benzoyl peroxide only kills acne-causing bacteria on your skin (which is great for classic white-tipped pimples, though it tends to be more drying and irritating), while salicylic acid doesn't kill bacteria, but instead exfoliates oil-filled pores, which can help with blackheads and closed comedones.

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So what's the benefit of switching to sulfur-based products? "Sulfur is topically much more mild than other forms of acne medications, making it pretty tolerable for most people," says Gohara, adding that if you've consistently faced irritation with traditional acne treatments in the past, sulfur could be a good pore-unclogging and oil-sucking ingredient to try.

Just make sure to go slowly, if you have dry or sensitive skin, and start with a face wash, first, to see how your skin tolerates it. "If there's no stinging or flaking, you can experiment with masks and spot treatments, and see how they suit your skin," Gohara says.

And to get you started on your glorious sulphuric journey, we handpicked the four best sulfur-based skincare products, below.

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1. Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Masque, $47; BUY IT: amazon.com (opens in new tab). 2. Indie Lee Blemish Lotion, $26; BUY IT: dermstore.com (opens in new tab). 3. Kate Somerville Eradikate Daily Foaming Cleanser, $38; BUY IT: dermstore.com (opens in new tab). 4. X Out Spot Corrector, $25; BUY IT: ulta.com (opens in new tab).

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Chloe Metzger
Chloe Metzger

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.