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Clay has been used as a powerful skincare tool and wellness remedy for thousands of years - and with good reason. It can soothe skin, hydrate, clear impurities, and generally lead to healthier, happier skin.
Today, it’s as popular as ever, and you can find clay treatments and masks in pretty much every pharmacy, beauty salon, or luxury store (not to mention at hot springs and “natural” spas around the world).
But, with so many colors, types, places of origin, and purported benefits, things can be confusing. What’s the real difference between each type of clay? And what are the overall benefits for your skin?
Let’s dive in.
Clays are soft, fine-grain mineral substances that vary in their composition based on where they’re from. Overall, they work by absorbing moisture out of the skin, leaving a clearer, brighter, more balanced complexion. They can also help pull out impurities, heal allergic reactions, ease the effects of sunburn, boost elasticity, and balance oil production.
That said, not all clays were created equal. In fact, there can be huge differences in clay composition depending on things like:
Because of this variety, there are certain types of clay that are more suitable for certain skin types or certain therapeutical needs.
Here are the major players and what they can do for your skin.
Good for: All skin types. Suitable for sensitive skin.
Unlike many other clays that actually absorb impurities like a sponge, kaolin clay adsorbs them, holding impurities on its surface like a magnet. Although it’s usually white, kaolin can be found in many other colors, including pink, red, or yellow depending on what trace minerals are mixed inside. Yellow kaolin, for example, is combined with feldspar, while pink or rose kaolin generally gets its color from naturally occurring iron oxide.
Of these varieties, rose clay is the most popular. It’s ideal for those with sensitive skin that have some excess oil they would like to gently exfoliate away.
Overall, white kaolin is the softest and least drying of the clays - it’s even been used in all-natural baby powders to prevent diaper rash! It can:
Good for:Normal, oily, and combination skin types
Named for a large deposit found in Fort Benton, Wyoming, Bentonite clay is the most widely used clay and a perfect go-to if you’re not sure what kind of clay to use. It’s a powerful healing clay composed of volcanic ash. It has a high percentage of montmorilllonite, a group of soft minerals, along with iron and magnesium ions (which give it a subtle green-grey color).
It can simultaneously draw out excess oil and tighten skin. Surprisingly, it also has internal healing properties and is often used to treat digestive concerns. Overall, bentonite can help:
It also draws out product buildup and removes dead skin cells from the scalp, making it an excellent balancing hair mask.
Good for: Normal and combination skin
French green clay, originally quarried in the south of France, is an illite clay that gets its green color from kelp and algae. It’s known to remove metals in the skin, and it’s both highly absorptive and adsorptive, acting as a magnet for impurities.
It stimulates blood flow to the skin, removes oils and impurities and exfoliates dead skin cells. As the clay dries, it causes the pores to constrict, producing a firmer feeling skin. Overall, French green clay can:
Good for: Pigmentation issue, extreme congestion
Like bentonite clay, Fuller’s earth clay is a montmorilllonite clay. A sedimentary clay, it has lightening properties for pigmented and aging skin. It’s also extremely effective at drawing out oil and impurities. In fact, it’s so strong that it’s used in cat litter and in industrial contexts to soak up automobile oil - wow!
That’s why, when it comes to skincare, it’s often combined with small amounts of bentonite clay to create a more soothing composition.
Good for: Aging, combination, oily skin. Suitable for sensitive skin
Rhassoul clay gets its name from the Arabic verb “rhassala,” which means “to wash.” It’s a natural mineral clay extracted from deep deposits inside the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. As a result, it hasn’t been exposed to surface contaminants like many other clays.
Rhassoul clay is extremely rich in magnesium and silica, trace minerals that give the clay a smooth texture and make it a top choice for luxury small treatments. It also contains high percentages of potassium, calcium, and sodium.
Overall, the clay is firming, revitalizing, and supremely hydrating. It can help:
Remember - you may need more than one clay to address your various skin concerns, and it's ideal to switch between two or three options depending on what your skin needs. You can even use different types of clay on various areas of your face at once (like french green clay on your t-zone and bentonite around the perimeters of your face)!
Here's to healthy, great skin!