When you consider all of the potential skin care ingredients you are willing to put on your face, sulfur probably isn't very high on the list. I've put some weird things on my skin: snail mucus, charcoal, and red algae extract just to name a few — but even I was tempted to draw the line at sulfur. After all, when you think of sulfur you think of rotten egg smell and demon-possessed politicians, right? OK, maybe just the former. So why would anyone want to rub sulfur on their face?
I spoke to expert Dr. Craig Kraffert, Board Certified Dermatologist and President of Amarte about the benefits of sulfur, and here's what he said: "Sulfur is a periodic table element that is an essential part of all living organisms. A broad spectrum antimicrobial with unique anti-inflammatory and exfoliative properties, purified sulfur is very effective in the treatment of acne, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis. A multi-tasker, this element is also a skin brightener that helps decrease sebum production."
Motivated by the recent surge of trendy sulfur products, plus the opportunity to soothe my rosacea and keep acne at bay, I decided to try a sulfur-infused product for two weeks. Here's what happened.
First off, there are lots of beauty products that contain sulfur these days. Just typing the keyword "sulfur" into the search bar on Sephora's website yielded 27 product results, and I've also noticed a few skin care products with sulfur on drugstore shelves as well. There's really no limit to how you can deliver sulfur to your skin, whether it's in the form of a cleanser, a mask, a spot treatment, or even a BB cream.
For my experiment, I used Amarte Daily Exfolipowder. It contains purified nano-sulfur, as well as antioxidants and botanical extracts to brighten and cleanse skin.
Here's my skin before I started using sulfur, for reference.
Let's begin by talking about my first impressions of this sulfur-infused cleanser. I like the packaging because not only does the light pink bottle fit into my aesthetic, but more practically, the bottle is designed so that just the right amount of powder comes out easily.
I noticed the fragrance right away. I was worried that it would smell like sulfur, but luckily any sulfur scent is completely masked by a light "summer fruit" fragrance. Awesome! Now I don't have to worry about walking around smelling like rotten eggs.
Once I knew it wasn't going to smell bad, it wasn't so hard to put it on my face. With this cleanser, you simply tip a small amount of the powder into your hand, add some water, and massage it onto wet skin. I was surprised that the powder didn't feel rough on my skin at all, despite being an exfoliant. Dr. Kraffert explains, "Amarte uses two nanometer diameter pure sulfur particles to create revolutionary efficacy and cosmetic elegance." In other words, many exfoliants are too rough on my sensitive skin, but this one feels more like a foam cleanser than a gritty scrub.
After rinsing my face, I noted that my skin felt smooth and noticeably softer. My skin felt a little dry but I always moisturize after washing my face anyway, so that wasn't really an issue. It didn't look less red than usual, but it didn't look irritated either (always a risk for me with new products) so I was satisfied.
I washed my face with the Exfolipowder every day for a week, and by the end of the first week I didn't notice a huge difference in my skin. Below is my skin after the first week.
I didn't notice any negative effects either, however, so I willingly continued on to the second week of my experiment.
I started to get tired of using the powder every day. Some people's skin may be able to handle a daily exfoliant, especially a very fine powder such as this one, but I prefer to keep any physical exfoliation down to once or twice a week. Still, I persevered and my skin didn't protest — probably because this exfoliant is so gentle.
I also had to make sure to use moisturizer immediately after cleansing with this powder, lest my skin feel overly cleansed and dried out.
Below is my skin at the end of the second week.
By the end of the second week, I definitely felt like my skin seemed less red and just more even-toned in general. It was a very gradual change that wasn't noticeable day-to-day but comparing my skin to how it was before I started, both in look and feel, I think there was a slight improvement.
In the end I decided that I really liked this particular product and will continue to use it, if not every day — and I also plan to try other products that contain sulfur. I can't say for sure if the sulfur in this cleanser reduced my rosacea or prevented breakouts during the two weeks that I used it, but I did feel like my skin was calmer and less red than usual. Plus I usually break out at least a little bit before or during my period, but it didn't happen this time. It's possible that that could be because of the sulfur.
I would say that if you're curious about adding sulfur to your skincare routine, then the Amarte Daily Exfolipowder or a similar product containing sulfur would be a good choice. Then if your skin likes it, you can even ask your dermatologist for a prescription for something with an even stronger concentration of sulfur.
Images: Kelly Dougher