People have flocked to mineral springs throughout the ages for their health and wellness benefits. Sulfur, one of the healing minerals found in hot springs and volcanic regions, is reputed to treat skin irritations, arthritic pain, allergies, inflammation, and more. It should come as no surprise then that balneotherapy, the treatment of disease by bathing, is considered a medical science in Europe and beyond. Although the American Medical Association has yet to recognize the treatment, sulfur is proving to be a beneficial ingredient both in and out of the bath. Referred to as “brimstone” in the Bible, this somewhat smelly ingredient (think rotten eggs) has long commanded attention from beauty and wellness enthusiasts. According to the Balneology Association of North America, sulfur is known as “nature’s beauty mineral,” because the body needs it to produce collagen. As a result, it’s turning up in numerous products and treatments, providing a host of skin-saving benefits to spa-goers.
“Sulfur is a fantastic natural mineral for the skin,” says Janae Muzzy, vice president of research and development for Epicuren Discovery. “When used topically and in treatments, spa-goers may see improved cell turnover; an increased release of dead skin cells, allowing pores to remain clear and unclogged; a reduction in oil; and a smoother feel and texture. In addition to supporting natural skin development, sulfur can also improve the appearance of acne, eczema, and psoriasis.” According to her, it is gaining in popularity on account of its high efficacy and natural origin. While it’s found in nature, sulfur also makes up amino acids in the body and is necessary for insulin production. It’s in keratin, which helps produce strong hair, nails, and skin. “It’s an abundant mineral essential for life and offers so many benefits to the skin and body,” says Muzzy.
One area that it’s gaining a lot of traction is in the treatment of acneic skin. “Sulfur is one of the most recommended natural ingredients by dermatologists to fight acne and blackheads, because it is gentle, yet effective,” says Szilvia Hickman, owner of Ilike Organic Skin Care. In addition to being an anti-inflammatory and keratolytic, it helps reduce acne symptoms, as well as irritation and redness. According to Hickman, it does all this while balancing oil production of the sebaceous glands. “It is also effectively used against highly inflamed skin conditions, such as scabies on babies, cystic acne, keratosis pilaris, and even rosacea,” she says.
It’s no wonder it’s a key ingredient in the Deep Cleansing Facial ($95, 50 minutes) at River Rock Spa at Seven Feathers Casino Resort (Canyonville, OR). It incorporates Ilike Organic Skin Care’s Sulphuric Exfoliator, Sulphuric Balancing Serum, and Sulphuric Whipped Moisturizer. “We developed these three products with sulfur as the main ingredient to treat mild to severe acne,” says Hickman. “The sulfur gets to work immediately purifying pores, reducing inflammation, drying blemishes, and removing unwanted surface cells while enhancing new cell reproduction. Working beyond the surface of the skin, the sulfur corrects and balances the skin from within.”
According to Elyse Blakey, corporate educator for Image Skincare, sulfur helps to reduce the bacteria that causes blemishes. “Sulfur can also be used as an exfoliant, which is why it’s often used in masks,” she says. “When used this way, it has a two-for-one purpose—to exfoliate and battle acne—so it is a key ingredient to look for when dealing with acneic skin.” Using an organic form of sulfur, the Clear Cell Medicated Acne Masque featured in the Be Clear Purifying Facial (starting at $85, 50 minutes) combines alpha and beta hydroxy acids with gentle micro crystals to eliminate dead skin cells. “Kaolin and sulfur draw out impurities, and soothing botanicals calm irritated and inflamed lesions,” says Blakey.
Benefitting the body, as well, sulfur also offers a variety of therapeutic benefits. “Sulfur is a brilliant anti-aging agent, and the application of sulfur onto the skin aids in firming,” says Ana Lilia Magno, director of health and wellness at Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort (Soufriere, St. Lucia). “When absorbed into the body, it is a great hormone stabilizer.” Taking advantage of its proximity to the island’s Sulphur Springs, the spa offers the Sulphur Seduction ($429, 3 hours 25 minutes), which involves an excursion to the springs to bathe in the healing water. While there, spa-goers are treated to an application of sulfur mud and then bask in the sun while it dries. After bathing under a tropical waterfall and a visit to the Interpretation Center, they are transported to town for a quick visit and then back to the Rainforest Spa for a 20-minute massage. According to Magno, the treatment helps to detoxify the skin, leaving it soft and exfoliated. “The Sulphur Springs in St. Lucia are a focal point for both tourists and locals,” says Magno. “People are drawn to the springs for recreational and medicinal-healing purposes.”
The same can be said of the Jefferson Pools (Warm Springs, VA) down the road from The Omni Homestead Resort (Hot Springs, VA). According to spa director Joyce Owens, the pools, which have attracted visitors, such as Thomas Jefferson, for more than 200 years, contain the healing mineral. “While we at The Spa at The Omni Homestead make no health claims, many guests have told us that soaking in the springs has helped minimize the pain of arthritis along with the irritated skin associated with eczema and psoriasis, among others,” says Owens. “Skin is extremely soft after an hour soak in the springs, not to mention the overall feeling of relaxation and wellbeing.”
Masking the Scent
Despite its healing benefits, sulfur isn’t always the most enticing mineral thanks to its smell. “Sulfur has a distinctive aroma that fades away as the product penetrates the skin,” says Hickman. “However, some people dislike this rather unpleasant odor.” As a result, many product manufacturers counteract the smell with essential oils. “The overpowering rotten-egg smell of sulfur is easily identifiable in most products,” says Muzzy. “When formulating with sulfur, we combine it with a blend of fresh essential oils, such as eucalyptus, lavender, and lemongrass, to offset and balance the aroma.” Ilike Organic Skin Care products incorporate lemon and peppermint essential oils to not only mask the aroma but also complement the ingredient’s benefits. “We also put notes on the inside and outside of the box of our sulfur products that explain the unique aroma and the therapeutic benefits,” says Hickman. “In addition, we provide tester and sample programs to our spa partners in order to support the introduction of these products to their clientele.”
A Word of Caution
When introducing sulfur-related products and treatments, keep in mind that some people might be allergic to the ingredient. It’s also contraindicated for those on prescription-strength acne medications. “Sulfur’s powerful properties can prove to be too active for some skin types, resulting in redness, flaking, and irritation,” says Muzzy. “If these symptoms are experienced, reduce application frequency and duration.” Hickman also recommends that you ask about any other topical treatments the client might be using, such as astringents, benzoyl peroxide, retinoic acid, and salicylic acid, so as not to over dry the skin.
For most others, the mineral provides a wealth of benefits. Whether it be soaking in sulfur-rich water, coating the body with sulfur mud, or applying a topical sulfur product, spa-goers are sure to enjoy the purifying benefits. The time-tested anecdotal evidence certainly speaks for itself.
Check out these skincare products featuring sulfur, the natural mineral that is ideal for treating acne, eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.—Darby Radcliff
1. BelleCôte Paris Drying Lotion: Heal pimples and reduce redness and swelling with this soothing overnight acne spot treatment made with sulfur. www.bellecoteparis.com
2. Biologique Recherche Lotion P50: Prevent breakouts and reduce oil with this exfoliating formula containing sebum-regulating active ingredients, including sulfur. www.biologique-recherche.us
3. Dermalogica Charcoal Rescue Masque: Featuring activated binchotan charcoal and sulfur, this detoxifying treatment absorbs impurities and promotes cell turnover for instantly brighter skin. www.dermalogica.com
4. HydroPeptide Spot Correction: Created to treat and prevent adult acne, this spot treatment relies on lactic acid, peptides, and sulfur. www.hydropeptide.com
5. Ilike Organic Skin Care Sulphuric Exfoliator: Purify pores, calm irritation, and invigorate the skin with this gentle exfoliating treatment made with peppermint oil and sulfur. www.szepelet.com
6. Image Skincare Clear Cell Medicated Acne Masque: Containing an AHA/BHA-blended complex with antioxidant nutrients and sulfur, this purifying mask soothes acne lesions and eliminates excess oil. www.imageskincare.com
7. Jurlique Blemish Cream: Help rebalance oil and reduce the appearance of blemishes with this tinted, natural coverage complex made with clay, orange peel and witch hazel extracts, and sulfur. www.jurlique.com
8. Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix: Featuring a combination of salicylic acid and sulfur, this powerful, fast-acting spot treatment helps reduce pimple severity, acne-causing bacteria, and redness and irritation. www.murad.com
9. Nature Pure Labs Sulfur Botanical Soap Wash: Clear acne-related conditions and repair the skin with this creamy cleanser infused with calendula, chamomile, sage, and sulfur. www.naturepure.com
10. Naturopathica Moss Blemish Treatment Mask: Help clean clogged pores and reduce excess oil with this purifying spot treatment made with moss extract and sulfur. www.naturopathica.com
11. Saian Vital-K Dark Circle Control Creme: Reduce bruising, calm redness, and soothe rosacea with this paraben-free topical formula featuring arnica, sulfur, and vitamin K. www.saian.net
12. YG Laboratories Zinc & Sulphur Masque: Quickly cool reactive skin and decongest pores with this deep-cleansing mask containing eucalyptus essential oil, sulfur, witch hazel, and zinc oxide. www.yglabs.com