What Is Clay?
Clay is a mineral-rich substance that naturally occurs in some soils. It has been historically used in pottery. However, clay also has traditional uses in skincare and ancient medicine due to the belief that it helps to draw out impurities and reduce oil production.
There are many different types of clay differing in colour, origin and texture. The main types of clay that are used in skincare are Kaolin, Bentonite, French Green, Fuller Earth and Rhassoul clay, often differing in colour and use. The different clays have different benefits to the skin, with some better for dry or sensitive skin and others better for supporting acne treatments.
While clay masks and cleansers are popular for their mineral-rich composition, containing minerals such as silicon oxide, aluminium oxide, potassium oxide and calcium oxide, they can be drying and sensitizing if not used properly.
the good: Helps to reduce excess oil production and may support the skin in its natural functioning. This as well as potentially providing the skin with minerals and acids.
the not so good: Clay masks can be drying to the skin if left on until they dry. This can cause both dryness and sensitivity in some skin types. The key is to use clay products carefully and properly, more on this later.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients: All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Keep an eye on: If you have sensitive or irritated skin, keep an eye out for whether the product your using is pure clay or contains other ingredients. Clay may increase the sensitivity of your skin to other ingredients.
What Are The Different Types of Clay?
Bentonite clay is the most common types of clay used in clay products. Bentonite clay has a long history of use throughout human history, being used in traditional hair care and skincare as well as helping to support the growth of wool.
Bentonite clay is derived from volcanic ash and is noted for having beneficial properties for the skin and hair due to the aluminium phyllosilicate clay that makes up its composition. Like all clays bentonite is highly absorbent and is mainly used to draw impurities and oils from the skin. This is where bentonite clay gets its reputation for being useful in helping to support acne treatments.
Fuller’s Earth Clay
Fuller’s earth clay is also known for its ability to absorb oils often being used to absorb oils spills on pavements and in detergents used for clothes. Fuller’s earth clay is one of the less commonly used clay’s in skincare as it can be quite drying but is often recommended for oily skin types.
Kaolin clay is the main type of clay that is used in skincare and cosmetic products. It comes in a variety of naturally occurring colours such as white, red and yellow, which vary in texture and benefits.
White kaolin clay is the gentlest of the kaolin clays, usually used for dry or sensitive skin types. White kaolin clay is best for drier skin types as it isn’t as absorbent as the other kaolin clays but has mild exfoliation benefits to the skin.
Yellow kaolin clay is slightly more absorbent and is a stronger exfoliants but is generally considered to be safe for sensitive skin types.
Red kaolin clay has the strongest absorbancy and is often used in brightening products and products for normal to oily skin or for the body. Many brands will also mix two or more of these clays to create a product that provides a number of different benefits to the skin. This includes the ever-popular pink kaolin clay which is a mixture of red and white kaolin clay.
French Green Clay
French green clay that is found in areas of France, it is often also called Illite or Sea Clay. French green clay is generally known for its strong exfoliating and oil absorbing properties, making it a great clay for normal to oilier skin types.
Rhassoul clay is a type of clay that has only recently begun to increase in popularity. Rhassoul clay is a type of clay, mainly found in Morocco that is known for its high mineral content. In terms of strength of exfoliation and absorbancy, it is usually considered to be of medium strength.
Is Clay Actually Good For Your Skin?
Clay is an interesting ingredient in that it has many beneficial properties but is easy to use incorrectly.
One of the main benefits of clays in skincare is that it may help to gently exfoliate the skin. Exfoliation can help to visibly improve the texture and appearance of the skin as well as remove dead skin cells that sit on the surface of the skin.
The other main benefit of using clay products is that as highly absorbent ingredients they may help to remove excess oil from the skin. This may help to balance the skin’s natural oil production. Although clay can be drying to the skin and it is important to use them carefully and properly.
Clay is also reportedly a great source of minerals which may help brighten the appearance of the skin. However, it’s important to note that the mineral benefits of clay has not been well studied.
How Do You Use Clay Products?
Clay products can be drying and sensitizing to the skin if they are not used properly. The main risk is with clay masks which contain a high percentage of clay. When using clay masks it is best to ensure that you don’t let them fully dry as this can dehydrate the skin, causing sensitivity. Dehydration can also undo all the benefits of using the mask, making the skin appear dull and potentially increasing the oil that the skin produces.
Is Clay Safe?
Clay, like many naturally-occurring ingredients, has not been well studied for its safety. However, the studies that have been conducted don’t suggest any negative effects other than sensitivity and dryness. Clay is also considered to be safe for oral consumption in small quantities.
Williams LB, Haydel SE. Evaluation of the medicinal use of clay minerals as antibacterial agents. Int Geol Rev. 2010;52(7/8):745-770.
Moosavi M. Bentonite Clay as a Natural Remedy: A Brief Review. Iran J Public Health. 2017;46(9):1176-1183.