Sulfur powder, also known as Liu Huang, is one of mineral drugs that are traditionally used in dermatology because of its excellent insecticidal, fungicidal properties. And sulfur soap, as its name implied, is made of this mineral. This kind of sulphurous soap is often used to get rid of acne since it is good at removing facial oil, allaying inflammation, and killing parasite, fungi, mites, and germs. More than that, it has some preventive and adjuvant therapeutic action on a variety of skin problems, e.g. athlete’s foot, eczema, scabies, psoriasis, tinea versicolor, etc.
What is sulfur powder?
Medicinally it refers to the powdered form of mineral native sulfur or sulphur. In China it is mainly produced in Shanxi, Shandong, Shaanxi, Henan and other places. But the native sulfur is not suitable for direct use medicinally. After the excavation, it needs to heat and melt in order to remove the impurities. Another way to get this drug is by processing the sulfur-containing minerals. Please note that the raw sulfur is for external application only and for oral administration it needs to be cooked with tofu in the first place and then placed in the shade to dry.
Its crystal structure is orthorhombic. Crystal is in the shapes of cone cylinder, slab column, clintheriform, or needle cylinder. The aggregates present dense or porous lumps, sinter, cryptocrystalline earthy block, hull, or film. The color is yellow, honey yellow, brownish yellow, or mixed with gray, black, green, or red because of the impurities contained. Crystal face is with adamantine luster and fracture surface is nearly transparent to translucent, and with turpentine or grease-like luster. Hardness is 1 to 2. Relative density is from 2.05 to 2.08. It is brittle, fragile, and easily cracked when heated. The ignition point is 270 ℃ and the flame is blue when it is on fire and emit a pungent odor that smells like rotten eggs. It is soluble in carbon disulfide, turpentine, kerosene, but insoluble in water, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid. And it will be oxidized to sulfuric acid when met with strong nitric acid and aqua regia. And native sulfur formed mainly near volcanic craters and hot springs. Volcanic sulphur contains a small amount of arsenic, selenium, zinc and thallium. Native sulphur naturally found in sedimentary rock or zone of weathering contains clay, organic matter, asphalt and other foreign matters.
Main chemical composition are S, As, Se, Te, and so on.
Sulfur powder benefits
Today sulfur or sublimed sulfur powder can be used for a number of purposes, such as to keep snakes away, to help hair growth, to make explosive, to prevent hair loss, to fumigate Chinese herbs, to kill bed bugs, chiggers, dog mange, etc. And the health benefits of pharmaceutical grade sulfur cannot be underestimated. For example, psoriasis is an auto-immune skin disorder and currently there is no cure for it. But sulfur powder seems to be one of promising part in the psoriasis treatment solutions. It is quite interesting to look at its healing properties from the point of view of tradition Chinese medicine, which defines it as the “fire extractive” and it is first mentioned in the beginning of the famous Nineteen Medicaments of Mutual Antagonism. The reason behind this is twofold. First, it has a short-term effect on heating up the body and regaining strength quickly right after the oral administration. No wonder it was once used as the basic ingredient in making pills of immortality by Taoist alchemists of ancient China. And secondly, herbalists consider it as hot in nature, which is really intuitive since it is a volcanic mineral that forms during volcanic eruption. And it deserves that name because in theory it contains the powerful heat of volcano. On the contrary, the psoriatic lesions can be deemed as ice. As a result, the ice of psoriasis can be melted by the fire of sulfur. Of course this is not a scientifically proven theory but at least it provides another perspective to look at this embarrassing skin condition.
Modern pharmacology of sulphur powder
1. Skin contact can generate hydrogen sulfide and pentathionic acid, which could dissolve keratin, and kill sarcoptic mite, bacteria, and fungi;
2. It has a therapeutic effect on animal experimental inflammation since it can relieve chronic inflammatory cell infiltration in the bronchial glands, and increase bronchial secretion and thus make expectoration easy;
3. In oral administration part of it can form hydrogen sulfide in the intestines to stimulate the intestinal peristalsis, and thus lead to laxative effect.
Selected sulfur powder recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica tells that it is acid in flavor and hot and toxic in properties. And it goes to 4 meridians, including kidney, spleen, liver, and large intestine. Basic functions are tonifying fire and helping yang, warming spleen to relax the bowels, and killing parasites to relieve itching. Main sulfur powder medical uses and indications include ED (erectile dysfunction), nocturnal emission, frequent urination, morbid leucorrhea, cold-induced panting, crymodynia in heart and abdomen, chronic diarrhea or dysentery, constipation, scabies, stubborn psoriasis, favus of the scalp, pemphigus, dampness sore, erosion of vulva, dorsal furuncle, and malignant sore. Recommended sulfur powder dosage is from 1.5 to 3 grams in pills or powder. For external use, it can be used by casting, spreading with oil, and fumigating.
1. Liu Huang San from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Comprehensive Records of Sagely Help). It treats scabies along with weathered lime, Qian Dan (Minium), Qing Fen (Calomel), and lard oil.
2. Chou Ling Dan from Yi Zong Jin Jian (Golden Mirror of Orthodox Medicine). It treats the itching of stubborn psoriasis by combining with Calomel, Ban Mao (Cantharides), Bing Pian (Borneol), sesame oil, and flour.
3. Yong Ju Fa Bei Fang from Ren Zhai Zhi Zhi Fang Lun (Renzhai’s Comprehensive Prescriptions). It works with buckwheat flour and wheat flour to cure carbuncle-abscess.
4. Hei Xi Dan from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is used with Fu Zi (Aconite), Seeds), Rou Gui (Cinnamon Bark), and Chen Xiang (agilawood) for the treatment of syndrome characterized by dyspnea due to kidney dysfunction in qi holding.
5. Ban Liu Wan from Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary. It couples with Ban Xia (Pinellia) for constipation caused by cold and deficiency.
Sulfur powder side effects and contraindications
Sulfur powder is toxic and the toxic dose by mouth is 10 to 20 grams. In intestine sulfur can form hydrogen sulfide, which is a dramatic nerve poison and can inhibit the activity of some certain enzymes. If taken orally the unpurified or unprocessed sulfur may lead to arsenic poisoning too. In comparison, arsenic content in raw sulfur is 8 to 15 times of that in the one processed by tofu, which proves that the processing works. (Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1997, 6:344). So, it is highly recommended to use the processed one in oral administration. Nevertheless, long-term use and large dosage is still inadvisable. In addition, clinically it shouldn’t be used during pregnancy and in the patients who are diagnosed with fire excess from yin deficiency.