Sulfur revisited

J Am Acad Dermatol. 1988 Mar;18(3):553-8. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(88)70079-1.


Sulfur is a time-honored therapeutic agent useful in a variety of dermatologic disorders. Its keratolytic action is due to formation of hydrogen sulfide through a reaction that depends upon direct interaction between sulfur particles and keratinocytes. The smaller the particle size, the greater the degree of such interaction and the greater the therapeutic efficacy. When applied topically, sulfur induces various histologic changes, including hyperkeratosis, acanthosis, and dilatation of dermal vasculature. One study showed that sulfur was comedogenic when applied onto human and rabbit skin, findings that were not reproduced in other studies. About 1% of topically applied sulfur is systemically absorbed. Adverse effects from topically applied sulfur are uncommon and are mainly limited to the skin. In infants, however, fatal outcome after extensive application has been reported.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / drug therapy
  • Epidermis / drug effects
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Sulfur / adverse effects
  • Sulfur / pharmacology
  • Sulfur / therapeutic use*


  • Keratins
  • Sulfur