Mud-masking has been around since ancient times, and for good reason. Good old-fashioned earth has lots of skin benefits. While in recent times the stuff is bottled and sold (because traveling to the Dead Sea for a facial might be a wee bit impractical), the elementary ingredients intrinsically remain the same—and clay masks have become a huge part of our modern-day beauty routines.
Clay is the star component in so many masks because it absorbs impurities and helps heal your skin. As you may have noticed, clay masks come in a multitude of colors and a multitude of clays—all of which have different specialties. If you aren’t sure which one is the one to address your skin concerns, look no further than this elementary guide to clay.
This is a very popular clay for skin benefits—you probably have spotted this in many of your acne-addressing products. Because of its super absorbing capabilities, this is a great clay for oily skin since it can suck up all that excess sebum easily. Not only that, but it has electric properties that when mixed with water makes the molecules charged and attracts toxins out of your face and to the clay kind of like a magnet. This also goes for any skin ailments involving bacteria and fungus and impurities. Since bentonite clay swells when mixed with water, making it a highly porous substance, it can absorb more than its initial mass, including any swelling from excess sodium in your face. With its tightening, acne-clearing, and impurity-absorbing abilities, you can probably tell why bentonite is a go-to for any skin concerns.
Fuller’s Earth Clay
This is another powerful absorber of oil and impurities—so much so that fuller’s earth clay is also used in cat litter and automotive products to absorb oil spills on pavement. So you can tell… this means business. You can use it to spot-dry-clean fabrics too, in case you get any oily salad dressing on your silk blouse. There are SO many uses. For your face, however, this is a great oil-absorber on top of working well for addressing hyperpigmention, as it has mild bleaching properties. When combined with some rose water and used as a mask, it helps boost circulation. This is recommended for people with oily skin since it can be quite drying—but it wouldn’t hurt for normal skin if used no more than once a week.
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You may have seen this clay in a few different colors—white, yellow, red, and pink are the more popular ones, all of which vary in their abilities. White kaolin clay is the gentlest and thus great for sensitive dry skin. It doesn’t absorb so much as it does soften with super gentle bits for a mild exfoliation. Yellow kaolin clay is slightly more absorbent and exfoliating but still remains gentle enough for sensitive skin. This can be more circulation-boosting, so you’ll probably find it in a lot of brightening masks. Red kaolin clay has the most absorbing powers of the bunch and is best for oily skin. This is a great addition for acne/detoxifying masks for the face or body. Pink kaolin clay is pretty much a mixture of the white and red kaolin clays, making it an idea balance for those with sensitive skin that needs a bit of oil-vacuuming and gentle exfoliation.
French Green Clay
Found in France (duh), French green clay is your go-to for exfoliation and pore-tightening on top of oil-absorption. It can be called Illite Clay or Sea Clay, the green color comes from the amount of decomposed plant material and iron oxide and is a determining factor in the quality of the clay—it should never be gray or white, it should be very green. It’s so absorbent that not only does it drink up oils, it also pulls blood towards the surface of your skin, giving you a bit of a tingling sensation as it boosts circulation.
Unique in that rhassoul clay is great for both skin and hair, this ancient clay is mined from Morocco and is crazy-rich in minerals. It’s very negatively charged and most toxins in your skin are positively charged, so this clay is the perfect magnet for sopping up all those impurities—sebum plugs, blackheads, and oil around hair follicles. It doesn’t, however, leave you dry because of its elasticity and texture-improving effects. It’s gentle enough for daily use in small doses like in soap, makes a heavy-duty exfoliator when mixed with crushed oats or almonds, and is even great for absorbing excess build-up on hair, restoring volume, and shine.
Originally published May 2015. Updated June 2017.