Skin-Care Tips

‘I’m a Dermatologist, and This Is the Best Ingredient for Fighting Acne on Sensitive Skin’

Zoe Weiner

Photo: Getty Images/ Boy_Anupong
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Treating acne on sensitive skin can often make you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. Though the usual blemish-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids can help keep your pimples at bay, they run the risk of causing irritation, leaving you with an entirely new issue to deal with. The fix, according to dermatologists, is to opt for an ingredient that will target your acne without rubbing your complexion raw, which they say comes in the form of sulfur.

“Sulfur calms inflammation and lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria without causing inflammation, so it’s useful if you have sensitive skin,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in NYC, said in a recent Instagram video about the best acne ingredients for different skin types.

And it’s true: Derms have long thought of sulfur as a “triple threat” for getting rid of acne thanks to the fact that it targets breakouts at every level, all without irritating your skin. “It contains natural anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and keratolytic properties, thus addressing the three main components causing acne and breakouts,” Libby Rhee, DO, a board-certified dermatologist, previously told Well+Good. “In other words, this single ingredient can improve redness, combat the Propionibacterium acnes bacterium in the skin, and help the skin shed and reproduce itself more efficiently, which decreases pore clogging.”

To integrate sulfur into your routine, look for a face wash formulated with the ingredient. Because cleansers have short contact with your skin, they’ll deliver an effective dose of sulfur without causing irritation. You can also opt for a mask or spot treatment, as long as it’s non-comedogenic (which means it won’t clog your pores). Ideally, you’ll find a formulation that’s between two- and four-percent sulfur to help avoid irritation, but if you’ve got something more intense on your shelf already, not to worry: Just mix it with a little bit of moisturizer, which will help cut down on the irritation.

Shop our picks below, and you’ll be able to clock a win on your acne/sensitive skin battle once and for all.

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1. Kate Sommerville Eradikate Daily Facial Cleanser

Aside from sulfur, this daily cleanser is formulated with sensitive-skin-friendly ingredients like honey, rice bran, and oat extracts which will calm and soothe skin. It also has sebum-balancing properties, which will help quash future breakouts before they even start.

2. Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask

This mask combines sulfur and tea tree oil to clear sebum and bacteria out of your pores and is great for using as a spot treatment for those pesky, cystic suckers that seem to have minds of their own. It’s also got niacinamide, another great acne and inflammation fighter that will help calm any redness around your breakouts.

3. Lancer Skincare Clarifying Detox Mask with Green Tea + 3% Sulfur

With a three-percent concentration of sulfur, this mask is just what the doctor ordered. You can use it as a spot treatment or all over (depending on what type of breakout you’re dealing with), and the combination of sulfur, azelaic acid, and green tea will get rid of your pimples and make your skin appear brighter and more even overall.

Adult acne is *real,* y’all. Check out the video below for everything else you need to know about dealing with it.

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