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Sulfur

What other names is Sulfur known by?

Atomic number 16, Azufre, Enxofre, S, Schwefel, Soufre, Sulfur, Sulphur, Zolfo.

What is Sulfur?

Sulfur is a chemical element that is present in all living tissues. After calcium and phosphorus, it is the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Sulfur is also found in garlic, onions and broccoli.

People take sulfur by mouth for shortness of breath, allergies, swelling in the back of the throat (pharyngitis), high cholesterol, clogged arteries, menopause, and upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold.

Sulfur is applied to the skin for acne, hayfever, skin redness (rosacea), dandruff, scaly and red skin patches (seborrheic dermatitis), an itchy skin infection caused by mites (scabies), lice, cold sores, warts, and poison oak, ivy, and sumac infections.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Dandruff. Sulfur is an FDA-approved ingredient used in common over-the-counter products to treat dandruff. However, available research on its effectiveness is limited. Some research shows that using a shampoo containing sulfur and/or salicylic acid twice daily for 5 weeks reduces dandruff. Shampoo containing both sulfur and salicylic acid seems to be most effective.
  • Itchy skin infection caused by mites (scabies). Applying a jelly containing sulfur to the skin appears to be an effective treatment for scabies in most people. But, this treatment is not pleasant due to the smell. Sulfur treatments are usually applied overnight for 3 to 6 nights.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Acne. Sulfur is an FDA-approved ingredient used in common over-the-counter products to treat acne. However, there is limited research available on its effectiveness. Most products include sulfur in combination with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sodium sulfacetamide.
  • Hayfever. Early research shows that using a nasal spray containing homeopathic (diluted) amounts of sulfur, luffa, Galphimia glauca, and histamine for 42 days is as effective as common cromolyn sodium nasal spray.
  • Common cold. Early research suggests that taking a homeopathic (diluted) product containing sulfur and German ipecac (Engystol, Heel GmbH, Baden-Baden, Germany) by mouth for up to 2 weeks during a cold helps relieve symptoms.
  • High cholesterol. Early research suggests that drinking water from a sulfurous spring three times daily for 4 weeks reduces total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. However, it's not clear from this study alone if sulfur might reduce cholesterol.
  • Redness on the face (rosacea). Early research suggests that applying a cream containing sulfur to the face once daily for up to 8 weeks reduces fluid-filled bumps on the face and other symptoms caused by rosacea. Some early research shows that sulfur cream may be as effective as the antibiotic tetracycline.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Allergies.
  • Swelling of the back of the throat (pharyngitis).
  • Clogged arteries.
  • Menopausal symptoms.
  • Lice.
  • Cold sores.
  • Warts.
  • Scaly and red skin patches (seborrheic dermatitis).
  • Poison oaky, ivy, and sumac infections.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate sulfur for these uses.

SLIDESHOW

Vitamin D Deficiency: How Much Vitamin D Is Enough? See Slideshow

How does Sulfur work?

Sulfur is present in all living tissues. It is the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Sulfur seems to have antibacterial effects against the bacteria that cause acne. It also might help promote the loosening and shedding of skin. This is believed to help treat skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or acne.

Are there safety concerns?

Sulfur is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately, short-term. Products containing sulfur in concentrations up to 10% have been used safely for up to 8 weeks. In some people, sulfur products may cause the skin to become dry.

There isn't enough reliable information available to know if taking sulfur by mouth as medicine is safe. Sulfur might cause diarrhea when taken by mouth.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Sulfur is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately, short-term. Products containing sulfur in concentrations up to 6% have been applied safely nightly for up to 6 nights.

Children: Sulfur is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately, short-term. Products containing sulfur in concentrations up to 6% have been used safely when applied nightly in children and adolescents for up to 6 nights. Products containing sulfur in concentrations up to 2% have been used safely when applied for 3 hours daily for up to 6 days in infants.

Sulfa allergy: It is commonly thought that people who are allergic to sulfa drugs might be allergic to sulfur containing products. This is not true. People with an allergy to "sulfa" react to the sulfonamide in some antibiotics and related drugs. They do not react to elemental sulfur.

Dosing considerations for Sulfur.

ADULT

Applied to the skin:
  • For dandruff: Shampoos containing 2% sulfur, alone or with 2% salicylic acid, have been used twice weekly for 5 weeks.
  • For scabies: Treatments containing between 2% and 20% sulfur in jelly have been applied overnight for 3 to 6 nights.

CHILDREN

Applied to the skin:
  • For scabies: Treatments containing between 2% and 6% sulfur in jelly have been applied overnight for 3 to 6 nights in children and adolescents. Treatments containing 2% sulfur have been applied for 3 hours daily for 3 days in infants.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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Reviewed on 9/17/2019
References

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