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Sulphur and skin: from Satan to Saddam!

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Since the dawn of time, Beelzebub has been showering fire and brimstone (sulphur) on tortured souls, but the cutaneous effects of this have been poorly described.

Sulphur has also been used for centuries as a treatment for many skin conditions, such as fungal infections, scabies, psoriasis, eczema and acne. It has also been used extensively in cosmetic preparations and by cosmetic dermatologists treating conditions such as seborrhoeic eczema. Many natural bathing spas have high levels of sulphur; such balneology has been advocated by medical and cosmetic dermatologists as an effective treatment for cutaneous disorders for more than 500¬†years. Sulphur was often the active agent in many of the so-called ‘patent medicines’ that became popular in the mid-nineteenth century.

Time has not withered medical practitioners’ enthusiasm for sulphur. There are various reports in the medical literature of its current use. However sulphur treatment is not without its risks; a sulphur spring dermatitis has been described from a spa bath in Taiwan. With the satanic threat of bio-terrorism, some dermatologists may be treating the effects of contact with sulphur mustard all too soon.
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Keywords: balneology; brimstone; dermatological; history; homeopathy; sulphur

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, Norwich, UK

Publication date: 01 April 2004

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