I love state-of-the-art cosmetics with innovative ingredients in fine, high tech airless containers. But having said that, I still have a weakness for natural substances that have been used for centuries. Simple, pure and often cheap. One such age old ingredient taken from nature is clay.

Ancient trend

You can buy it in an expensive tube at the cosmetics counter, but the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans knew then that a mud bath of clay needn’t cost much. They used it for healing wounds and to stop bleeding. Even Hippocrates was a fan of the ‘supernatural powers’ from beneath, among other places, the Greek island of Samos. Clay has also been used throughout the rest of Europe for a very long time. During the Golden Age, in France, Italy and Germany, you could go to a Spa and have a clay treatment. And nowadays, you can fly to destinations such as Iceland where you can float around in a geothermal spring exotically named, the Blue Lagoon.

What does clay actually do for skin?

Much has been written about the favourable effects of clay on the skin, but one thing is for sure, clay is capable of killing bacteria and moulds. Additionally, clay can absorb excess oil/sebum. This makes a clay mask particularly effective for more oily skin with acne. However, I don’t think it is the best ingredient for cleaning pores. Clay does not possess the special properties of salicylic acid, which helps loosen dead skin cells. As well as this, clay masks can dry your skin out, stimulating an increase in sebum production in your skin. So, use in moderation!

Although there are literary indications that clay minerals can also stimulate the production of collagen, the evidence is not yet really very convincing. In my opinion, substances such as vitamin C and vitamin A acid are more reliable.

Which clay should you use?

There are many different types of clay, in all sorts of wonderful colours. Which type should you use on your skin?

Kaolin and bentonite are probably the most well-known sorts of clay. Bentonite is composed of volcanic ash and is principally grey to creamy in colour. It is considered the king of absorption. Not only of moisture, but also sebum. For this reason, it is also used (in products) for oily skin or acne prone skin. You therefore need to be aware that this clay can also dry your skin out.

Furthermore, Bentonite, also known as sodium (natrium) clay, contains two thirds montmorillonite. You can often find this name- after the French town of Montmorillon- in ingredients lists; for example, in green clay products (French green clay). And, incidentally, did you know that talc is also a clay mineral from the same group.

Green clay powders owe their colour to the iron oxides and plant material content. Anti-inflammatory properties are often attributed to green clay. A French study, for example, once found out that green clay powder could prevent umbilical cord infections.

Kaolin (also known as Chinese clay) is best known as white clay, even though this type can be found in all different colours. Because of the composition of the minerals and other (less absorbent) effects, kaolin is likely to be advised for the more sensitive skin.

Following on, is the still very popular beige-red Ghassoul clay from Morocco. This mild clay from the Atlas Mountains, also called Rhassoul, has been used on the hair and face for centuries. Ghassoul is also applauded for its cleansing and anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any scientific studies about face masks with this type of clay, which are again precisely characterised by high concentrations of silicon and magnesium. However, we do know that magnesium (baths) can soothe and strengthen the skin.
In general, mud baths and clays are, of course, used for their mineral compositions.

Do you want to try it yourself?

On account of their absorbing and binding properties, clay types, from talc to kaolin, are added to many cosmetic products. From toothpastes and powders to sun cream products. If you are looking for a clay mask, the choice is also vast. Because many pots and tubes with ready to use clay masks still contain perfume substances, which can irritate the skin, I prefer pure clay powders. I found these, among others, at Natural Heroes. There is a green (French green clay), a red (illite) or a white variety (kaolin). I also came across a bag of Ghassoul clay here.

The adding of water just before application, literally provides the required charge to the minerals in the clay. This negative charge ensures that the clay particles can do their work on the skin, such as binding toxins and sebum. Therefore, use a plastic or ceramic mixing bowl, not a metal one.

By the way, never leave clay masks on your face for too long. It is, in fact, best to remove the product before it has completely dried out. This will stop your skin from feeling tight afterwards or damaged. Make sure you use plenty of water when removing the mask anyway. Better still, add plant oil to the clay instead of water, then the mask will not harden out (quickly).

If you have a lot of blemishes on your body (e.g. spots on your back), you can add some clay powder to your bath water to make your skin nice and clean. And did you know that clay powder (loam powder) is also very good for nappy rash? Just dilute a little pure clay powder with a little jojoba oil…

Kind regards,


PS. For those who would like ‘to dive into the mud and clay’, there is more to read in this detailed review about medical uses through the centuries.

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