121: Is Sulfur Good For My Skin?

If you’ve ever heard of taking MSM or sulfur for your skin, you might not fully know why it’s helpful for your skin.

Sulfur is a really critical nutrient — it’s actually one of the top three minerals stored in your body.

And it serves a vital role in helping to maintain and repair skin as well as being involved with antioxidant activity.

Even though sulfur is found in a lot of foods, it’s easier than you think to become deficient!

Believe it or not, many of my clients with chronic rashes are deficient. They are shocked to discover this despite eating lots of cruciferous vegetables, onions and garlic.

There are important reasons why a sulfur deficiency can happen and I’m going to dish on that today!

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In this episode:

  • Why is sulfur helpful for your skin?
  • What food contains sulfur? 
  • Best options for supplementing sulfur
  • MSM supplementation’s effect on allergies
  • How you become deficient in sulfur
  • What about a Sulfa allergy?

Quotes:

Certain medications deplete sulfate — specifically acetaminophen. It’s well known that longterm Tylenol use can cause liver damage and deplete your glutathione.

The amount of sulfur found in vegetables and legumes is drastically less than the amount found in animal products!

Woman wondering if sulfur is good for her skin

Is Sulfur Good For My Skin? (FULL TRANSCRIPT)

Welcome back to episode #121 of the Healthy Skin Show

In today's episode, I want to share with you why Sulfur could be helpful for your skin. 

I actually get this question about sulfur a lot so I figured I’d dive into it on the show! 

Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in your body.(1) It is a crucial building block for glutathione, which is an important antioxidant. Some people have actually called glutathione the master antioxidant. 

Sulfur also is important to make Homocysteine and Taurine

It is necessary for DNA repair because of its role in methylation. And you need it for Phase 2 Liver Detox pathways that require glutathione conjugation and sulfation. 

Sulfur is converted to sulfate in your body so that it can help you deal with salicylates as well. It also supports the integrity of the skin, ligaments, and tendons.(2)

You may have also noticed that some of your skincare products contain sulfur. There are some uses for topical sulfur in certain skin conditions.

I'll talk more about that in another episode because today I want to focus on dietary sulfur and why it's good for your skin.

Sulfur-rich foods

What Foods Contain Sulfur?

Knowing that sulfur is important for your skin means you need to know good sources of sulfur-rich foods. 

Sulfur is actually derived from two specific amino acids, methionine and cystine.(3)

They are each then used in your body to create sulfate (as I mentioned above) which is the form used in your body to basically do everything. 

Unlike cysteine, methionine is not made in your body, so it's considered to be an essential amino acid. That means it must be consumed in food.(1)

Methionine-rich foods include (4): 

  • Ground Turkey
  • Beef
  • Tuna
  • Pork
  • Tofu
  • Milk
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Brazil nuts

Cysteine-rich foods include (5): 

  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Tuna
  • Lentils
  • Oatmeal
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Sunflower seeds

I figured I would take this a step further and also give you a list of high sulfur-containing foods too! They include (6): 

  • Eggs
  • Shellfish (crabs, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops)
  • Fish (cod, salmon, sardines) 
  • Meat (beef, chicken, pork, rabbit) 
  • Organ meats
  • Certain dairy products (cow’s milk, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, stilton)
  • Nuts and some legumes (almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts)
  • Vegetables (cabbage, brussels sprouts, onions, spinach)

If you want to see a direct comparison of each food compared to each other based on sulfur content in this list, you can see the source HERE.

One important thing to be aware of is that the amount of sulfur found in vegetables and legumes is drastically less than the amount found in animal products

This probably explains why clients who eat these sulfur-rich veggies all the time are baffled when they discover through testing that their sulfur level is low! 

You might not be able to meet the high demand for sulfur just from those plant-based sources. Also, worth considering is that poor protein digestion impairs the absorption of amino acids — like methionine and cysteine which are derived from food.

Another point worth making is that sulfites found in certain foods and alcohol can also be converted to sulfate. This includes foods such as dried apricots and dried figs.(3,6)

Sulfur supplement tablets

Best Sulfur Supplement Options

Though many high-sulfur sources of food exist, there can be times when supplementing sulfur is important.

Most people supplement without ascertaining their sulfur reserve. It is possible to get data on how much you have available to you through a urine test called the Comprehensive Organix Profile

I have a lot of experience with this test in my clinical practice. It provides great insight into glutathione production and recycling in addition to your sulfate reserve. 

Supplementing based on testing is obviously best, but it may be warranted if your diet is low in sulfur-rich foods. The highest at-risk groups for low sulfur are those who eat a vegan or plant-based diet as well as the elderly.(1)

Certain medications deplete sulfate — specifically acetaminophen. It’s well known that longterm Tylenol use can cause liver damage and deplete your glutathione.(3)

The most common supplement that you’re aware of is called MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane). It is considered to have anti-inflammatory properties. 

MSM can be found in both capsule and powder form. I know from experience the powder is tasteless and can be added to liquids or creams. I've previously added it to protein shakes. 

You can also find sulfate in supplements with ingredients that have the word sulfate in the name such as chondroitin sulfate, which is often used to help joints. 

Another option to increase your sulfur reserves include N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). It provides cysteine directly into your system.

Woman with no allergies in field of flowers

Can Sulfur Help With Your Allergies?

A lot of my clients with eczema also have issues with allergies. What’s interesting is that MSM could be helpful in reducing the severity of symptoms when it comes to dealing with allergic concerns.

I came across this really interesting small study that gave MSM supplementation in those with allergic rhinitis.(7)

The researchers recruited 18 people with allergic rhinitis into this study. Each participant was given an initial high dose of 12 grams of MSM.

Then participants were separated into three groups that were advised to take the following daily doses of MSM: 1 gram, 3 grams, and 6 grams. 

Researchers found that 3 grams per day of MSM appeared to be the most consistently helpful and noted that “a longterm daily dose of MSM can significantly improve nasal breathing.”(7) 

They went on to share that “MSM produces fewer side effects than prescription medications such as antihistamines.”(7) 

Pretty neat, right?

Talking to a doctor

Can I Take Sulfur If I Have A Sulfa Allergy?

It’s not uncommon to hear someone say “I can’t take MSM because I have a sulfa allergy.”

I get it… the words sulfa and sulfur (or sulphate) sound a lot alike!

But they really aren’t the same thing.

According to WebMD, “people with an allergy to sulfa react to sulfonamides in some antibiotics and related drugs. They do not react to elemental sulfur.”(8)

While yes there are certain drugs that contain sulfur, sulfa drugs are the class of antibiotics that contain sulfonamides found in the formulation.(9)

If you have any concerns about supplementing with sulfur due to a sulfa allergy, talk to your doctor first and get their two cents.

We’re all unique which is why I believe that before starting any supplement, you should speak with your doctor or practitioner first. Especially to avoid potential interactions between supplements and drugs you’re taking.

I know it’s really tempting to just dive right in because you read a supplement online and everyone seems to feel that it works for them. But here's the thing — you're not them. 

You are unique. Your case is unique.

My recommendation is to start by increasing sulfur-rich sources in your diet that obviously you're not allergic to (since some of those foods can be problematic for certain individuals). 

If you discover that you need more sulfur, then supplementation may be warranted. 

I hope that this has been helpful! 

Got questions or comments to share? Leave them below in the comment section so we can keep the conversation going. 

And if you know someone who has been wondering if MSM could be something good to add to their diet, please share this episode with them!

Thank you so much for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode!

Woman reading reference book in library

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2198910/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-with-sulfur#what-sulfur-is
  3. https://www.nap.edu/read/10925/chapter/9#427
  4. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-methionine-foods.php
  5. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-cystine-foods.php
  6. http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/info/books-phds/books/foodfacts/html/data/data5g.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6293242/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1527/sulfur
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6258578/

Certain medications deplete sulfate -- specifically acetaminophen. It’s well known that longterm Tylenol use can cause liver damage and deplete your glutathione.