Sulfur for Psoriasis: Is It Safe and Beneficial? | MyPsoriasisTeam

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Sulfur for Psoriasis: Is It Safe and Beneficial?

Medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Written by Anika Brahmbhatt
Posted on April 25, 2023

From bathing in mineral water to using sulfur soaps or shampoos, there are a variety of ways people have used sulfur to treat their skin. Many over-the-counter products contain sulfur as an active ingredient. If you’re living with psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune condition that causes skin cells to grow faster than usual, you may have wondered about using products with sulfur to manage your symptoms.

Read on to learn how sulfur affects the skin and whether it’s a safe and effective way to manage psoriasis symptoms.

What Is Sulfur?

Sulfur is an element with antifungal, antibiotic, and keratolytic (helps remove excess skin) properties. It’s been used to treat many skin conditions, including dandruff.

Chemical reactions in your body produce hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide molecules work in the body to regulate many processes that can affect your skin, such as inflammation. Differences in your body’s hydrogen sulfide levels could be linked to skin diseases like melanoma and psoriasis.

How Has Sulfur Been Used for Skin Conditions?

Sulfur-based skin treatments have been used for centuries. Folk medicine is a traditional healing system that includes practices and remedies passed down through generations, but their safety and effectiveness have not been scientifically proven. Bathing in thermal mineral waters has been used in some forms of folk medicine to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis.

Modern studies have examined this as well. For example, a small clinical trial found that 10 out of 10 people with psoriatic plaques had a significant improvement in skin elasticity after the plaques were treated with sulfurous water.

In a 2014 study of skin cells, sulfurous thermal water seemed to help the skin with its antioxidant response. The study used cells from human skin tissue to test how sulfurous water could reduce the effects of ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure. Results suggested that the thermal water might have helped the skin cells’ DNA protect the skin against UV irradiation.

However, studies like those discussed above are not necessarily enough to determine whether the sulfur content of mineral waters is the cause of these positive skin effects. A 2018 study suggested that the anti-inflammatory effects of mineral water could be due to its silica content, rather than sulfur content.

Despite the uncertainty regarding how sulfur may or may not directly affect the skin, it’s still used in dermatology products for the treatment of psoriasis. These products, like sulfur-based soaps, shampoos, and creams, are thought to reduce inflammation and scaling on the skin. Although sulfur may not work for everyone, it’s still a popular choice for those seeking natural or alternative treatments for psoriasis.

Sulfur and the Skin

Hydrogen sulfide is a molecule that helps to regulate several skin functions: the widening of blood vessels just under the skin’s surface, increases in the number of cells, cell death, and inflammation.

Because sulfur has these properties, it is sometimes used as an active ingredient in skin care products. Sulfacetamide is an antibiotic treatment used to treat a variety of skin conditions, such as acne and rosacea. Sometimes, sulfur is used in combination with coal tar and salicylic acid to treat scalp psoriasis. Scalp psoriasis may also be treated with selenium sulfide shampoos.

How To Use Sulfur Products

Sulfur products you might look for include soap, shampoos, or powders. Or, you might want to mix and match different products to make your own sulfur-based treatment.

One MyPsoriasisTeam member shared, “Today is without any pain, just the scalp psoriasis. … My dermatologist prescribed shampoo. We’ll see if it is better than my Sulfur 8 (hair product) plus one-half teaspoon of sulfur.”

Another member wrote, “I have some remedies that work quite well for me: take Sulfur 8, found in grocery stores, and add a teaspoon of pure sulfur to it. Wrap it with Saran wrap for 20 minutes. Rinse very well to get the sulfur completely off your body, especially if it is in your scalp.”

Sulfur Soap

According to Mayo Clinic, you should use warm water to lather sulfur soap. Then, rinse it off thoroughly, before lathering your skin again. The second time you lather, rub in the soap gently before wiping off excess product with a towel or tissue. This time, don’t rinse the soap out with water. Wash your hands before and after using the product.

Sulfur Shampoos

According to MedlinePlus, some shampoos with sulfur are:

  • Selsun
  • Selsun Blue
  • Exsel
  • Head & Shoulders Intensive Treatment

The main goal of sulfur shampoos, which often come in a lotion form, is to lessen the flaking and itchiness on your scalp. Because of sulfur’s antifungal properties, these shampoos can also be used to treat fungal infections. (Many of these shampoos are also marketed as treating seborrheic dermatitis, another skin condition that is a subtype of eczema.)

Talk to your doctor about the proper dosing and treatment regimen for prescription-strength sulfur shampoo, which may contain higher concentrations of sulfur.

Potential Risks

As with any change to your skin care routine, keep in mind the potential risks of adding sulfur to your treatment plan. According to Mayo Clinic, some things you should not use at the same time as topical sulfur products are:

  • Harsh soaps
  • Skin care products with alcohol
  • Topical acne products and peeling agents
  • Products that dry out your skin
  • Medicated cosmetics
  • Other topical medicinal products

According to MedlinePlus, potential side effects of sulfur treatments include:

  • Excessive oiliness or dryness of your scalp
  • Hair loss
  • Hair discoloration

Look out for scalp or skin irritation after using sulfur products, as this could indicate an allergic reaction. Keep in mind that sulfur may damage jewelry, so it’s best to remove it before using sulfur-based therapies. Also, there is a distinct rotten egg smell associated with many of these topical sulfur products, which may be off-putting to some people.

Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about having an adverse reaction to your skin care products or medications. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your doctor should also be aware of this before prescribing sulfur products.

Sulfur-based remedies have been used for centuries to manage psoriasis symptoms. Although it’s not fully understood how they work, these products are a popular choice for people looking for natural psoriasis treatments. However, keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s crucial to work closely with your health care provider to determine the best treatment plan for you. By doing so, you can develop a personalized approach to managing your psoriasis and hopefully find relief from your symptoms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

By joining MyPsoriasisTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with psoriasis, you gain a support group of more than 116,000 members.

Have you tried sulfur products to treat your psoriasis symptoms? Has it been an effective treatment for you? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on MyPsoriasisTeam.

Posted on April 25, 2023
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Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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