Made from volcanic ash, and created deep within the earth as ancient-rich deposits of minerals, clay is renowned as one of the purest natural skin beautifiers in the world. It’s been celebrated for centuries, across many different cultures and civilizations, for its anti-inflammatory, purifying, and nourishing properties — and relied upon to detoxify, beautify, and refresh when applied as a facial mask since the times of Cleopatra. In this blog, we’ll explore the history using clay for skincare, why clay is used, the types of clay commonly used in skincare, and a few clean products containing clay to take note of.
The History of Using Clays for Skincare
From “band-aids” made from wet clay placed over a wound to mud baths frequented socially in ancient Rome and Greece, the topical use of clay for soothing and healing skin leaves its mark throughout ancient history. Aristotle even recommended the consumption of clay for internal medicinal uses as far back as the 4th century BCE.
Five thousand years ago in India, according to ancient Ayurvedic tradition, clay was used in the form of face and body masks as a skin treatment and during Indian religious rituals and weddings. Clay was also popular in Egyptian skincare as Cleopatra used it twice a week on her face to draw out impurities.
In ancient China, Yang Guifei, a notorious beauty and concubine of the great Tang emperor Xuanzong, often mixed pearls, jadeite, lotus root, and ginger into clay mud masks. These masks are among the first clay mud masks reported in history.
Clay has also been used by cultures spanning the Australian aboriginals, South and North American natives, and Central African tribesmen as an external and internal cleanser, known colloquially by names such as “the mud that heals.”
In more modern times, before the French Revolution, mud masking was featured in the famous health spas of Europe frequented by the rich and noble. In the 1920s, clay masks became even more popular when the first commercially-manufactured cosmetic face mask gained widespread use.
Today, backed with clinically-tested scientific proof, this ancient skin remedy remains a beauty staple and go-to detoxifier.
Science-Backed Benefits of Clay for the Skin
Clay is one of the most cleansing and detoxifying ingredients you can use on your skin. Rich in minerals, the benefits help to clear blemishes, draw out impurities, and leave you with a brighter complexion. Here’s a deeper look:
Clay Is an Anti-Bacterial
Hydrated clay binds with not just toxins but also harmful bacteria and pathogens. When hydrated clay is applied to the skin and left to dry, as in the case of a clay mask, it binds to bacteria on the surface of the skin and deep in the pores. It brings the dried-up bacteria to the surface of the skin to then be washed away.1, 2
This act reduces the overpopulation of pathogenic bacteria to friendly microflora, which is responsible for bacterial skin problems, acne, and even poison ivy. In other words, clay works as a natural antibiotic that can heal skin infections and even remedy issues like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. It’s known to be even more effective than most antibiotics, as it will not entirely wipe out the colonies of friendly bacteria that promote healthy skin immunity.3, 4
Clay Can Detoxify and Purify the Skin
Clay has a strong negative electrical charge, which binds to negatively charged toxins and pulls them from the skin when used topically. Any form of an environmental pollutant, nanoparticles, cacogenic, heavy metal, chemical, and essentially any unnatural impurity you could think of – can be eliminated from the body with the use of clay.5
Clay Can Oxygenate the Cells
Clay can not only pull toxins out of the skin’s pores but also hydrogen from the skin cells, which allows more room for oxygen to benefit the skin tissues and rejuvenate them. This leads to improved circulation and overall healthier skin.
Clay Can Regulate Sebum Production
The skin naturally produces oil, known as sebum, to protect and moisturize it. When the immune system is over-activated, be it from an infection, autoimmunity, stress, or toxic overload, the skin can overproduce sebum. This overproduction can result in acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and other skin blemishes.
While treating the root cause of sebum imbalances is an internal job accomplished via diet and lifestyle, clay is an incredible remedy for oily and acne-prone skin. Clay can “soak” up excess sebum and clean out clogged pores.
Clay Can Leave Your Skin Soft, Smooth, and Glowing
Clay is loaded with an essential beautifying nutrient known as silica. This trace mineral is one of the most abundant minerals in the body; it’s responsible for manufacturing connective tissues such as the muscle, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, collagen, skin, and bone. Silica also happens to make your skin very soft and smooth.
Clay Can Rejuvenate and Regenerate the Skin
Clay can be used to rebuild damaged skin fibers as well as promote youthful skin and prevent or eliminate wrinkles. Bentonite Clay specifically has been shown to promote blood circulation to the skin, thus increasing the healing and regenerating of skin tissue.
Clay Is Completely Natural
Many skincare products today contain very harsh ingredients. These ingredients like BPA, synthetic fragrances, parabens, phthalates, and other unnatural, toxic substances are linked to everything from chronic disease to skin irritation. Clay is a completely natural way to detoxify, cleanse, purify, exfoliate and beautify your skin without any negative side effects.
Types of Clay and Their Benefits
Depending on your skin type, one clay may be better suited for you than another. Here’s a look at a few of the most commonly used clays in skincare, along with their mineral type and specific benefits:
Pictured: Bentonite Clay Source: Jindeal
Bentonite Clay is formed from the weathering of volcanic ash in seawater, which converts the natural glass present in the ash to clay minerals. It produces a negative electrical charge upon contact with fluid which bonds to the positive charge of many toxins, heavy metals, impurities, and chemicals.
Mineral Profile: Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, and Zinc
Benefits: Bentonite Clay is particularly impressive due to its ability to absorb up to 700% of its mass in water from your skin. It’s perfect for absorbing deep oils and dirt and is the best clay for oily skin types. Bentonite’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties also can help heal breakouts.
Pictured: Kaolin Clay Source: Those Graces
Kaolin Clays are some of the most commonly used clays for face masks. In its purest form, it has a bright white color, though other varieties include shades of red, pink, brown, and yellow. This color change owes itself to the mineral content and where it’s from globally.
Mineral Profile: Kaolinite, Quartz, Mica, Iron, Muscovite, Illite, and Feldspar
Benefits: Kaolin Clay is one of the best options for sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin. White Kaolin Clay is exceptionally mild and great for absorbing oils and deep impurities without causing irritation or redness. Longer-term, routine use of Kaolin Clay can restore the skin elasticity and reduce fine lines.
Pictured: Rhassoul Clay Source: Farnatchi Spa
Meant for oily or acne-prone skin that also suffers from mild pigmentation, the cleansing action of Rhassoul Clay can almost be described as industrial-strength. In fact, it’s often used in kitty litter and to absorb oil spills on pavements; hence the reason it’s perfect for those who suffer from excessively oily skin.
Mineral Profile: Magnesium, Sodium, Zinc, Iron, Phosphorus, and Potassium
Benefits: Rhassoul clay draws out oils, dirt, dust, and pollutants deep within pores while reducing redness and inflammation. Long-term use can also help balance sebum production. Rich in magnesium and potassium, some studies show that the skin’s absorption of these minerals can help form a barrier to prevent breakouts.
There are an array of products on the market that utilize different clays for their benefits. From cleansers to masks to shampoo bars, the options are endless, making it easier than ever to add products formulated with clay to your regime. Here are a few to take note of:
To shop the NENA Natural Face Wash, click here.
To shop the Honest Beauty Magic Gel-to-Milk Cleanser, click here.
To shop the ERIGERON All-In-One Pink Clay Shampoo Bar, click here.
You can shop the C’est Moi Mellow Marshmallow White Clay Cloud Mask, click here.
To shop the Acure Brightening Facial Scrub, click here.
The Humanist Beauty Handcrafted Bar Soap Features Clay
Elevate your mood as you cleanse your skin. Humanist Beauty’s 100% vegan botanical bar soaps are artisan-crafted, essential oil-infused, and eco-conscious with no plastic wrapping or labels. While there are five different aromatherapeutic recipes to choose from, two are formulated with Kaolin Clay, Rhassoul Clay, and Bentonite Clay.
The Humanist Beauty Detox Handcrafted Soap is a purifying melange of crisp eucalyptus, rosemary, lemon, and activated charcoal. Formulated with Rhassoul Clay and Kaolin Clay, the Detox Soap acts as a gentle cleanser and can help absorb excess sebum, purify and detoxify pores, soothe sensitive, irritated skin, and gently exfoliate dead surface cells
The Humanist Beauty Soothe Handcrafted Soap can vaporize away the feeling of sore achy muscles and congestion with cooling notes of cedarwood, peppermint, balsam, and menthol. Formulated with Bentonite Clay, the Soothe Soap can help remove excess oil and toxins from the skin, address acneic conditions, gently exfoliate, and fight bacteria.
You can shop the Humanist Beauty Handcrafted Soap here.