This section is from the book "Materia Medica Pharmacy, Pharmacology And Therapeutics", by W. Hale White. Also available from Amazon: Materia Medica Pharmacy, Pharmacology And Therapeutics..
Sulphur itself has no action on the skin, but some of it is converted into hydrogen sulphide, and that is a mild vascular stimulant, causing slight dilatation of the vessels, and in some persons, eczema. It kills the Sarcoptes scabiei, and is therefore a parasiticide. When applied to raw surfaces it is converted into sulphurous and sulphuric acids, and is therefore a severe irritant.
Alimentary canal. - It has no effect on the stomach, and most that is taken is passed out in the faeces unaltered. A certain amount is, in the intestine, converted into hydrogen sulphide and other sulphides. These cause a mild laxative effect, increasing the secretion of intestinal juice, and slightly stimulating the muscular coat, producing soft semi-liquid stools, sometimes accompanied by flatus of hydrogen sulphide, which, if in sufficient quantity, makes sulphur an undesirable laxative.
Sulphur is absorbed as sulphides and hydrogen sulphide, which is a powerful poison, decomposing the blood, and thus producing symptoms of asphyxia. It also paralyzes the whole nervous and muscular systems, but sulphur is never given to man in sufficient doses to produce any remote effects. Patients taking sulphur get rid of some minute portion of it as hydrogen sulphide through the kidneys, the milk, the lungs and skin. The breath occasionally smells of it, and silver ornaments next to the skin may be discolored.
Sulphur is commonly used to kill the Sarcoptes scabiei and thus to cure scabies. The skin should be well scrubbed with soft soap and hot water to lay open the burrows. Then it is thoroughly rubbed with the ointment. The patient should do this before bedtime, sleep in flannel, and wash the ointment off the next morning. This proceeding repeated three or four times will generally cure the disease. Sulphur ointment was formerly applied as a stimulant to ulcers, and was rubbed in for chronic rheumatism; but these modes of treatment are now rarely used, and their value is doubtful. Mineral waters containing sulphur and its salts are useful for chronic rheumatism, as, for example, those of Richfield Springs. Mild sulphur preparations are applied for acne.
Alimentary canal. - Sulphur is a very good laxative, especially for children; as it produces a soft motion, but no pain, it is useful for cases of piles or fissure of the anus. Washed sulphur is contained in compound liquorice powder see Senna, which is an excellent and popular laxative. One or two sulphur lozenges of the B. P., each containing 5 gr. .30 gm. of precipitated sulphur and 1 gr. .06 gm. of acid potassium tartrate, taken at bedtime, often secure an easy evacuation of the bowels the next morning, in persons liable to slight constipation. These lozenges have been recommended for constipation associated with hepatic disease, and many mineral waters containing sodium and hydrogen sulphides have considerable reputation for hepatic disorders. Of these, Harrogate water has been shown to increase the amount of bile and the solids in it.
Sulphur has been administered internally for all sorts of skin diseases, generally without any good result, but occasionally chronic eczema associated with much itching appears to be benefited by it, so that the sulphur lozenge is a suitable laxative for these cases. Sulphur has been also given for bronchitis, for chronic rheumatism, and rheumatic myalgia, but it is very doubtful whether in these diseases there is much relief from this treatment.