Clays have been used in many beauty and wellness routines since before we could record history.
Ancient style icons like Cleopatra and Yang Guifei, who was known as one of the Four Ancient Beauties of China, were both rumored to have used clay masks regularly. Even the lay women, and men, in many cultures are known to have utilized clay to maintain a beautiful complexion.
Clays were not only used to enhance physical beauty, but also to reduce pain. For example, in the 1800s in America, natural mud baths were used to soothe sore muscles.
SO WHAT EXACTLY ARE CLAYS?
Clay is defined as a finely-grained organic rock or soil with a grain size of less than 4 micrometers. Within that definition there are many different categories that clays can fall into and each have their own benefits!
DIFFERENT CLAY TYPES
The first clay type is the most common: bentonite! This powerfully absorbent clay is able to draw out oil and sebum to decrease the appearance of pores and assist in clearing acne. Bentonite does this due to its negative charge that attracts anything with a positive charge, like all the dirt and impurities on your skin. In addition to all of this, bentonite clay has been found to give collagen production a helping hand!
This volcanic ash-based clay is most beneficial for oily and acne prone skin. However, it can be drying to other skin types and should be used carefully and mixed with something more moisturizing.
Kaolin clay is another commonly used facial clay. Kaolin is one of the best options for sensitive skin. It’s stimulating to the skin, supports good circulation, and provides cleansing with some mild exfoliation.
This variety can be broken down into different colors: white, yellow, and red.
White kaolin is the most gentle of the three and is helpful for supporting sebum balance, and it comes with the added benefit of slight gentle exfoliation.
Yellow kaolin clay is a good option for sensitive skin, as it is able to support good circulation and is only slightly absorbent.
Red is the most absorbent of the kaolin clays and is another good option for oily skin.
Another clay type with a few different varieties within the category is French clay, which comes in green, red, and pink varieties.
Green French clay is stimulating to the circulatory system and is highly absorbent.
Red French is able to increase oxygen flow to the skin by providing nutrients that increase and support hydration, cell turnover, and breakdown of wrinkles. It is also a powerful cleanser, detoxifier, and exfoliator. While it might not be the best option for sensitive skin, when used carefully it’s a great clay for folks with oily or breakout-prone skin.
One of the more attractive clays is French pink clay. Besides having a stunning pale pink color, this clay packs a powerful punch of iron oxide and silica that supports cell regeneration, elasticity, and healthy circulation. That makes French pink a great clay for more mature or sensitive skin.
My personal favorite clay is Rhassoul clay from the beautiful Atlas mountains in Morocco. This clay is packed with goodness like magnesium and silica to support skin health, as well as internal health if used as a bath. Rhassoul clay absorbs excess oil and toxins on the skin and clears pores, while also being very gentle on sensitive skin. There’s a reason that the women of Morocco have been using this clay in hamams for thousands of years.
FULLER’S EARTH CLAY
Fuller’s Earth Clay, or Multani Mitti, is used outside the world of wellness by mechanics to soak up spilled oil! That should be a good indicator that this is a great and powerful clay for oily skin types that should be used carefully. Fuller’s Earth clay is also slightly bleaching, so it’s a great option for anyone dealing with hyperpigmentation.
DEAD SEA CLAY
Like the Dead Sea itself, Dead Sea clay is rich in many salts and minerals like magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium. This clay is cleansing, toning, exfoliating, and supports a healthy pH balance on the skin. Cleopatra believed that this clay had healing powers - and she was probably right, as this clay has been found to relieve stress and soothe sore muscles due to its high mineral content.
HOW TO USE CLAYS
Now that you know a little bit about each of the different clays and what type might be best for you, how do you use them?
Mix up a clay mask! You can go with the obvious choice and mix your chosen clay with water and have yourself a lovely self-care moment with your clay mask. Or, you can mix with apple cider vinegar for some added acne-busting power, raw honey to soothe redness, yogurt for moisture, oil to cleanse, or pumpkin to do some chemical exfoliation.
If you’re unsure about what to mix with a clay or want an easier non-DIY option, Oil +Water’s Herbal Clay Mask uses both bentonite and French green clays along with a host of other lovely ingredients. The Oil + Water Sea Clay Soap features Dead Sea clay and kaolin clay, as these clays are great not just for the face, but for the whole body too.
Add clay to your bath! I love a good long soak in the warm tub (with a glass of wine and maybe an audio book or Netflix) but it’s even better if there’s some magnesium-heavy clay like bentonite, rhassoul, French green, or Dead Sea to soothe sore muscles and reduce stress.
Try a clay pack! Concentrated clays on the body offer wonderful support for the lymphatic system and detoxification processes in the body. Clay packs have been used to relieve muscle soreness, joint pain, period cramps, and headaches. To make, simply choose a clay and mix with water to make a thick mud. Spread this on a warm and damp muslin cloth in a 1/2 inch layer and then fold the cloth over to encase the mud in the fabric. Apply this to the affected area for about 30 minutes to feel the effects.