If you have acne, the wide array of non-prescription products you can buy to treat your skin condition might seem bewildering. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that in the United States, acne sufferers spend upwards of $1.2 billion on acne therapies each year. Sulfur products, including sulfur masks, remain a tried-and-true option for treating mild and moderate acne, the AAD reports.
Simply put, a pimple develop when a pore collapses or becomes blocked, trapping oil behind it, according to the website Acne.org. But many factors, including your hormones, your genes, stress and even your diet can contribute to causing the initial pore blockages that leads to acne. Once your pores become blocked, bacteria can grow faster in them and on your skin, causing the inflammation seen in serious acne.
Sulfur masks and other topical sulfur products, such as soaps, ointments, gels and foams, help remove dirt and extra oil from the skin, which can assist in healing acne, according to Drugs.com. In addition, in many people sulfur causes skin to peel, which can help to clear out blockages from pores. Skin irritation can result from sulfur masks used for acne treatment, especially if you use the mask on already-tender skin.
Teens and adults have used sulfur masks for decades to treat mild to moderate acne, and medical research backs their use. In a study reported in 1981 in the medical journal "Cutis," researcher Dr. W. Elstein tested a sulfur mask in acne treatment against a placebo mask containing no sulfur. The study found that the sulfur mask worked significantly better than the placebo mask to control acne, and the study subjects liked its effects on their skin.
Most sulfur masks marketed for acne treatment contain 3 to 10 percent sulfur. For example, DDF Sulfur Therapeutic Mask contains 10 percent sulfur along with purified clays, and claims to clear pores along with blemishes. Peter Thomas Roth Sulfur Cooling Masque includes 10 percent sulfur along with eucalyptus oil to hydrate the skin. And University Medical AcneFree Sulfur Mask contains 3 percent sulfur, which may make it less irritating than more powerful products, plus vitamin C, zinc and copper.
It's critical not to use a sulfur mask product to treat acne on sunburned or chapped skin, or you'll risk severe skin irritation from it, according to Drugs.com. In addition, never combine sulfur mask treatment with another over-the-counter acne treatment, such as benzoyl peroxide, unless your physician instructs you to do so. The combination of two potentially irritating acne products can damage your skin.