Resorcinol and Sulfur (Topical)

Available in a number of forms including ointment and lotion, this medicine is available without a prescription and is applied topically to disinfect and dry out the blemishes that result from acne and related disorders.


Resorcinol is an isomer of benezenediol, found in coffee, cane molasses and alcoholic beverages. It has antiseptic and disinfectant properties which make it useful in the treatment of skin infections and conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, eczema, calluses, warts and corns. It has kerotyltic or skin thinning effects, and helps to remove scaly, hard or rough skin. Sulfur has kerotyltic and antibacterial properties. The Food and Drug Administration has approved resorcinol and sulfur as active ingredients in over the counter (OTC) preparations where the resorcinol is present in a concentration of 2 per cent, combined with sulfur in a concentration of between 3 and 8 per cent.

This medicine may be marketed in Canada under the name of:

  • Acne-Aid Gel
  • Acnomel Skin Tone
  • Acnomel Vanishing
  • Night Cast S

It is recommended that patients read the ingredient list of this medicine and its instructions for use carefully before application. If they are in any doubt whether the product is suitable for them, they should consult their physician before applying it.

Conditions treated

Type of Medicine

  • Antiseptic
  • Keratolytic
  • Anti-bacterial

Side Effects

Resorcinol and sulfur preparations have been known to cause drying or irritation of the skin. After a few days of use, the skin may turn red and peel off. As this medicine can be absorbed through the surface of the skin, resorcinol and sulfur should not be applied to large areas of skin, particularly the skin of babies and infants. Resorcinol should not be applied to wounds as this could cause methemoglobinemia, a blood disease.

In the event of abuse of the medicine or sensitivity to the product, resorcinol poisoning could occur. The symptoms are:

  • Diarrhea, stomach pains, nausea, or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness that is excessive
  • Headaches that are severe or ongoing
  • Nervousness, anxiety or restlessness
  • Slow heartbeat, trouble with breathing or general shortness of breath
  • Sweating profusely
  • Unusual feelings of great weakness or tiredness

There is also the possibility of other side effects that are not listed here. Please check with your physician if you become aware of any other side effects from using this medicine. Your physician can give you medical advice regarding any side effects you notice, and you can report these to the FDA on 1-800-FDA-1088.

This medicine is intended to alleviate the effects of certain skin conditions and in deciding to use this product the risks of applying the preparation must be weighed against the beneficial outcomes of using the medicine. This is a decision that the patient must make in consultation with their physician.


It is recommended that this type of preparation be used up to three times a day, with a thin layer applied after the area is cleaned thoroughly. If the preparation causes excessive dryness, it might be better to start with one application per day and build up to three under the supervision of your physician. If skin dryness continues to be a problem, the preparation should be used only once a day, or even reduced to once every two days.

Someone using this product for the first time should undergo a sensitivity test. Apply the product in a small quantity to one or two affected areas of skin over three days. If there is no discomfort, then the user can proceed to use the product wherever necessary. If the skin is irritated, or the condition grows worse, please consult your physician.

This medicine is available as a:

  • Cream
  • Paste
  • Liquid
  • Lotion
  • Ointment

Lotions and liquids are generally applied twice a day, creams, pastes and ointments once to three times a day. However, the dosage depends on the severity of the condition and the strength of the preparation. If in doubt, please consult your physician.


When more than one pharmaceutical product or drug is used at the same time, they can interact with each other, and alter the effects of each. It is possible that one or more medications could be rendered ineffective, or a reaction could occur with negative consequences for the patient. To avoid this happening, it is vital that patients always keep a meticulous and up to date list of the drugs and pharmaceutical products that they are using, including the dosage of each and how frequently they are administered. Sometimes patients think that preparations purchased over the counter without a prescription do not need to be included in this list, however, it is absolutely vital that your physician is aware of all medications that are being used, whether they were obtained with a prescription or not.

Some medicines may interact with certain types of food, alcohol or tobacco. Please discuss the use of resorcinol and sulfur with your physician in conjunction with your eating habits and use of alcohol and tobacco.

When using a preparation of resorcinol and sulfur, also avoid using any of the products on the following list at the same time unless directed otherwise by your physician:

  • Abrasive soap or cleansing products
  • Alcohol as an ingredient in other preparations
  • Any other kind of topical acne product, or a product that contains a substance that will cause peeling, such as Tretinoin (or Vitamin A acid), Benzoyl peroxide or Salicylic acid
  • Cosmetics, soap or cleansers that will cause drying of the skin
  • Medicated make-up and cosmetics
  • Other kinds of topical medicines for the skin


The patient should always share their full medical history with their doctor and tell their physician about any allergies they have or any other medications that they are taking. Resorcinol and sulfur should only be used externally, and in the areas of skin affected. It is not to be used on broken skin, or on large areas of skin. This medicine should not come into contact with delicate areas such as the lips, mouth, nose and eyes, and if it does, rinse with cool, clean water immediately.

If used in conjunction with other acne medications, some irritation or increased dryness of the skin may become apparent. In this case, use only one type of acne medication unless specifically directed to do otherwise by your physician. If dryness or irritation becomes excessive, stop using the medication and discuss the effects with your doctor. If ingested accidentally, call 911 for medical assistance or telephone the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) for advice straight away.

If you have experienced shortness of breath, rashes, wheezing, coughing, hives or swelling of the tongue, throat or face when using a medicine containing sulfur, then you must inform your physician. This preparation may also not be suitable for patients with kidney disease. Tell your doctor if you are currently pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and if you are breastfeeding.

Avoid using any kind of topical product that contains mercury, for example, an ammoniated mercury ointment, where resorcinol and sulfur has been applied. If a patient does this, a strong odor may result, and the combination may irritate the skin and stain it black. Please discuss any queries regarding this with your physician.

Depending on which type of preparation you are using, resorcinol and sulfur products may cause pale hair to turn darker. Please address any questions regarding this with your physician.

Affected areas should be cleaned before application of resorcinol and sulfur, and hands should be washed afterwards.


This medicine should be stored safely out of the reach of children, ideally in a medicine cabinet or cupboard. It should be kept at room temperature, away from direct light, moisture and extremes of heat or cold. Medicine that is no longer needed or has expired should be disposed of, and your healthcare professional can advise on the safest way to do this.


This product is available in a number of forms for topical application, and when used correctly, resorcinol and sulfur can assist with reducing and healing the effects of acne and similar skin disorders. Using this product in conjunction with other topical skin products should be avoided as this could cause skin irritation and dryness. It is also not suitable for use on broken skin. New users should test this product on a small affected area to see if there is any reaction before applying it to large areas of skin. If there are any adverse reactions or symptoms of resorcinol poisoning, please consult your doctor as soon as possible. This product is not designed to be taken internally, and if ingested seek medical assistance immediately. If it comes into contact with the eyes or mouth, rinse with fresh water. This product is available without a prescription and dosage is dictated by the severity of the condition and the strength of the product.


Last Reviewed:
January 29, 2018
Last Updated:
January 27, 2018
Content Source: