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Organic sulphur, everything you need to know about this renowned mineral.

Even though it's somewhat sidelined in the cosmetic world due to its distinctive rotten egg smell, sulphur is not a revolutionary ingredient for skincare. It turns out that it can address a myriad of skin issues due to its numerous properties, whether you're suffering from acne, eczema, scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, or simply wish to enhance your complexion. Incorporating it into your skincare routine can thus make a significant difference. Discover what you should know about this natural element, from the benefits of sulphur to its mode of action.

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Sulphur: What is it?

Sulphur is a mineral supplied in the form of a finely ground pale yellow powder, which emits a sharp, volcanic odour. Essential for all living cells, it is found in rocks, volcanic regions and minerals (iron pyrites, galena, gypsum, Epsom salts etc.), and is also necessary for plant growth. Naturally present in the human body, it also plays an important role in our body's physiology, as it is found in amino acids, vitamins, skin and hair. After oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and potassium, it is the seventh most abundant element by weight in the human body.

Sulphur has a long history of medicinal use. Indeed, the medical use of sulphur dates back to the time of Hippocrates, who mentioned its use for treating plague, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, scabies, psoriasis and pityriasis versicolor. Some evidence suggests that it was used in ancient Egypt, Rome and China. The Romans bathed in water filled with sulphur - among other things. At the time, its use was intended to soothe joint pains and skin inflammations. Experts assert that because it is so readily available, people used it for all sorts of skin diseases. Unfortunately, due to its foul-smelling nature, it is less popular today.

The various types of sulphur used in cosmetology.

Sulphur can present itself in various forms, where each form differs in their physical properties (colour, solubility, particle size, therapeutic efficacy, etc.).

  • The flower of sulphur, or sublimated sulphur is the natural, non-purified form. It is obtained by direct conversion of raw sulphur from the solid phase to the gaseous phase (sublimation). The sulphur vapour is then cooled (condensation) to take on the particular form of yellow flakes, reminiscent of flowers. This variety of sulphur has been used in traditional and alternative medicine for humans and animals, as well as in alchemy and in the sulphuring of fruits before drying.

  • Colloidal sulphur is the most commonly used form of sulphur in skincare due to its anti-acne properties. It is a highly reactive intermediary of traditional sulphur. It is prepared by repeated precipitation: first from polysulphides with proteins, then from a slightly alkaline solution with ethanol or acetone. Compared to other forms of sulphur, colloidal sulphur dissolves more easily in water, has a less unpleasant smell, and is slightly milder in terms of side effects.

    The colloidal sulphur used in our skincare formulas is an active content of 75% hydrophobic sulphur within a protective Senegal acacia gum colloid. In this form, the sulphur is easier to disperse and penetrate into the skin, and its natural odour is diminished.

  • Precipitated sulphur or milk of sulphur is prepared by boiling sublimated sulphur with calcium oxide (lime) and water, followed by a precipitation with hydrochloric acid, resulting in the appearance of very fine particles of sulphur.

  • Purified sulphur is prepared by washing sublimed sulphur with water and treating it with ammonia to remove impurities it contains, such as arsenic. It was once used for its mild laxative effect, attributed to the formation of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) by reduction by the bacteria of the intestinal microbiota, which then increases peristalsis in the intestine. However, this application has become rare today.

Colloidal SulphurPrecipitated SulphurPurified SulphurSublimated Sulphur
Synonym Sulphur Milk Sulphur Flower
Particle SizeParticles of around 35 micrometres (µm)Fine particlesFine particlesLarge particles
ColourPale YellowWhiteYellowYellow
SolubilityWater-solubleInsoluble in waterInsoluble in waterInsoluble in water and alcohol

What are the benefits of sulphur for the skin and hair?

Sulphur, used alone or in combination with other ingredients (sodium sulfacetamide, salicylic acid, resorcinol, etc.) has proven its effectiveness in the treatment of numerous dermatological conditions. Its precise mechanism of action is not yet well understood, but it is known that its effectiveness depends on its direct interaction with the skin surface, which means that the smaller the particle size, the greater the effect. Sulphur thus offers a wide range of beneficial characteristics for the skin and the hair.

  • Drying out spots: When sulphur is applied to a blemish, it absorbs the excess sebum, which contributes to spot outbreaks, and dries out the skin's surface, thereby unclogging the pores.

  • Promoting exfoliation: Sulphur also acts as a gentle yet effective exfoliant, meaning it aids in the breakdown of dead skin cells, to prevent the clogging of pores and the formation of blackheads and whiteheads, as well as to prevent and fade brown marks left by skin eruptions.

  • Combatting Microorganisms: Sulphur, being antibacterial, has the ability to slow down the growth of bacteria on the skin, thereby helping to control acne outbreaks. The topical application of a product containing sulphur also appears to be an effective treatment against scabies, rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis due to its anti-parasitic and anti-fungal properties. Indeed, the effectiveness of sulphur applied to the skin is attributed to the gradual production of hydrogen sulphide and pentathionic acid, which are toxic to the infectious agent (bacteria, fungi, parasites).

  • Preventing and controlling dandruff: Beyond skincare, sulphur is commonly used in haircare products to combat dandruff due to its exfoliating and anti-fungal properties. However, the available research on its effectiveness is limited. Some studies show that using a shampoo containing sulphur and salicylic acid twice a day for 5 weeks reduces flaking.

  • Reducing visible irritation: Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, sulphur can also help to soothe other skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea, by minimising inflammatory reactions. This anti-inflammatory property thus helps to calm irritated skin, reduce inflammatory lesions and surrounding redness that may appear, and relieve itching.

  • Delaying the effects of skin ageing: Sulphur promotes the production of collagen, which can help to delay or even reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, thus giving you a more youthful complexion. A study has shown that oral supplementation can increase skin elasticity.

What are the contraindications for organic sulphur?

Sulphur is potentially safe when applied to the skin in an appropriate manner. In clinical studies, products containing sulphur at concentrations up to 10% have been safely used for 8 weeks. However, this element may cause slight sensitisation at the site of application, reported as mild (adverse events associated with sulphur are rare). Indeed, some people may suffer from temporary dryness, redness, peeling, warming or mild itching when using sulphur topically, which can be a source of discomfort especially for sensitive to dry skin types.

Due to its drying and irritating nature for some, sulphur is typically prescribed as a short-contact cleanser (a rinse-off product), to be used once a day, usually at bedtime, due to its distinctive smell. However, in case of an adverse reaction, stop using the product and consult a healthcare professional. Nevertheless, sulphur has fewer drying effects than benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

Any precautions for use?

  • Before applying sulphur-based products over a large area of the skin, it is crucial toconduct a patch test to ensure the absence of skin reactions or potential sensitivities.

  • Follow the recommended usage instructions on sulphur-based products closely to ensure safe and effective use.

  • If you have very sensitive skin, start with a lower concentration of sulphur and gradually increase the amount over time.

  • If you have never used sulphur, start by using it once or twice a week and gradually increase the frequency as your skin adapts.

  • Sulphur can be drying, so it is crucial to follow a product containing sulphur with a moisturising cream.

  • Do not use sulphur-based topical products while you are using other acne treatments on your skin, unless your doctor tells you that it is safe to do so.

  • Do not apply sulphur to skin that is damaged, wounded, or sunburned, or otherwise irritated, as this can exacerbate the irritations.

  • Do not layer a sulphur product with other topical blemish treatments that may dry out or exfoliate the skin, such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, as this could potentially lead to further skin dryness and trigger skin inflammation.

Is sulphur comedogenic?

It has long been reported that sulphur was comedogenic after experimentation on a rabbit ear model, as well as on the back of a human. However, another study re-examined the comedogenic potential of sulphur and it was concluded that there was no correlation between the presence or absence of sulphur in the formulation and the occurrence of comedones. This randomised double-blind study involved the application of patches containing 5% sulphur on the skin of healthy volunteers with or without active acne, patches that were replaced three times a week for six weeks.

Please note that while sulphur can be beneficial for many people, it may not be suitable for everyone. It is always best to consult a healthcare professional or a dermatologist before altering your skincare routine.

Our purifying facial scrub made from sulphur.

At Typology, we offer you our purifying face scrub with 2% of colloidal sulphur. This grainy exfoliant is a powerful yet gentle product, specifically formulated for oily and blemish-prone skin. This formula harnesses the blemish-fighting power of sulphur and the purifying effects of clay, cellulose microparticles, andnettle extract (INCI: Urtica Dioica Leaf Extract), which work together to effectively exfoliate dead skin cells, unclog pores, and control excess sebum. As a bonus, the glycerine works behind the scenes to alleviate feelings of irritation and promote skin radiance. We recommend using this scrub only once or twice a week.

Pure sulphur has no odour, but its compounds, such as hydrogen sulphate, do. Our purifying scrub has a reduced sulphur odour intensity compared to other formulations, and this is achieved without the use of odour-masking and potentially sensitising additives, such as fragrances.

Sources

  • Supplier document.

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  • NOLAN R. A. Sulfur soap paste in the treatment of scabies. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology (1937).

  • CRAIG G. E. & others. Benzoyl Peroxide and Sulfur: The Basis for Acne Treatment. Canadian Medical Association Journal (1966).

  • KLIGMAN A. M. & al. Is sulphur beneficial or detrimental in acne vulgaris? British Journal of Dermatology (1972).

  • GANS E. H. & al. A reassessment of the potential comedogenicity of sulfur. Archives of Dermatology (1978).

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