While I have yet to achieve Louis Litt’s levels of clay masking, the lure of a simple clay face mask that literally sucks out toxins from deep under skin that’s besieged with pollution, sweat, makeup and other kinds of pore-clogging grime is massively ooh-worthy!
That’s why this innocuous ingredient, which literally comes from the earth and has been used by some of history’s most gorgeous women (think Cleopatra, Yang Guifei and their ilk) since ancient times, is fast becoming one of the trendiest staples in today’s beauty circles.
From face masks and soaps to foundations and hair conditioners, clay seems to be just everywhere.
Cases in point: L’Oréal Paris Pure Clay Masks, Christophe Robin Cleansing Volumizing Paste, Fresh Umbrian Clay Treatment Bar, Tarte Clay Stick Foundation, Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip French Green Clay Cleanser, Kopari Pink Souffle Body Mask and Bumble and bumble Bb. Pret-a-Powder Tres Invisible Dry Shampoo with French Pink Clay... to name just a few.
I told you, everyone is calling upon clay face masks! And clay hair hair masks!
How to use a clay mask?
But not all cosmetic clays are made the same. Some are deep cleansing, while others nourish or moisturise. Then there are those that boost blood circulation or help reduce cellulite. There’s a clay mask for acne and there’s one to soothe inflamed skin. There’s another one to detox the scalp. And yet one more to soothe away fine lines.
Another major point of consideration: Is your skin oily or dry? Sensitive or on the mature side?
Clay masking is definitely not a one-size-fits-all beauty solution but there’s a clay mask to suit all kinds of skin types. And skin problems. And hair problems. You just need to know where to look.
So, which one to choose? Bentonite? Kaolin? Fuller’s Earth? Which one will work with your skin type and sort your specific complexion or hair issues?
Let’s figure it all out.
Best for: Deep cleansing, acne, water retention, oily skin
This fine-particled, grey-green clay (avoid the white variety — it’s over-processed) comes from volcanic regions and is rich in magnesium. Bentonite’s signature is its unique molecular structure, which develops an electrical charge and swells up like an open sponge when mixed with water.
This makes it particularly great at sucking out toxins, bacteria, fungus, oils and even excess sodium (hello water retention and puffiness) from the skin’s very follicles.
All properties that make bentonite the perfect clay mask for acne, excessive greasiness, enlarged pores, as well as complexions subjected to pollution or prone to chronic infections.
On the other hand, drier skin types should try and avoid bentonite clay — definitely don’t use it more than once a week.
Best for: Hyperpigmentation, deep cleansing, oily skin
This ancient volcanic ash sediment — also known as Multani mitti — is so absorbent that it’s even called upon to soak up small oil spills and draw out poisons from the body. It looks very similar to bentonite and is again great at drawing out toxins, excess oil and other impurities from the skin.
However, it has one additional property: Clay masking with Fuller’s earth is also great for treating hyperpigmentation, because of its mild bleaching action.
Best for: Softening, exfoliating, deep cleansing, dry skin
This finely milled clay is the gentlest of all and comes in many colours. White kaolin (which is also used to make porcelain) is the mildest. And rather than being absorbent, it’s a gentle exfoliant that’s great for softening the skin. This make a white kaolin clay face mask perfect for dry, sensitive complexions.
Yellow kaolin is a little more absorbent and exfoliating, with the additional benefit of boosting skin circulation.
Red kaolin is the most absorbent, making it perfect for oily, congested and acne-prone skin.
Pink kaolin is a mixture of red and white, which is great for oily yet sensitive skin that needs medium-level exfoliation and detoxification.
Best for: Fine lines, enlarged pores, acne, oily or damaged skin
Made of mineral-rich volcanic ash mined from the bedrock quarries of France, this green clay’s molecular structure helps pull out deeply seated toxins, bust blemishes, soak up excess oil, boost circulation and balance skin’s pH levels.
This clay face mask is also a great anti-ager, given its toning action, which boosts circulation to repair damaged skin, soothes out fine lines and tones enlarged pores.
Use a French clay for acne prone skin and oily complexions — it may be too drying for those on the other end of the spectrum.
Best for: Blackheads, calming, softening, deep cleansing, dry skin, scalp detox
Mined from Morocco’s lava fields, Rhassoul clay has a dual action: It contains a super-potent blend of minerals and is negatively charged. Since most skin toxins are positively charged, the latter quality literally helps suck out blackheads (it’s seriously the best treatment for blackheads!), excess sebum and other debris out of skin pores.
The inherent minerals simultaneously tone, calm and soften the skin. This means Rhassoul is not as drying as bentonite or Fuller’s earth, making it a great clay masking option for dry skin as well.
Rhassoul also makes a super clay masking treat for our hair and scalp, since it sops up excessive oil, pollutants and product buildup. That’s why you will find it in so many hair formulations nowadays!
Best for: Soothing, calming inflammation, enlarged pores
Indigenous to the Umbrian region of Italy, this clay is super-loaded with minerals and is also highly absorbent. It’s not only great for detoxifying and de-greasing, an Umbrian clay mask benefits the skin by also helping maintain its pH levels, soothing irritation, calming inflammation and refining the pores.
Umbrian clay is best suited for normal to oily complexions, though drier ones that are tempted by its other benefits can also bring it out once a week. The trick is to not let it dry on your face completely; rinse off while the clay is still a bit wet to the touch, to stop it from dehydrating your skin.
Best for: Nourishing, anti-ageing, blood circulation, mature skin
One of the rarest cosmetic clays, blue clay is found in Siberia and has an exceptionally high mineral content. Besides being super-absorbent and drawing out impurities, it also nourishes the skin, stimulates blood circulation and tones the complexion.
This makes it the perfect clay face mask for mature skin, since it has a potent anti-ageing action, ironing away fine lines, stepping up cell metabolism to keep wrinkles at bay and restoring suppleness and elasticity.
Dead Sea mud
Best for: Calming, nourishing, enlarged pores, cellulite, sore muscles, dry skin, sensitive skin
Though this is technically not clay — mud is a mixture of soil, silt, clay and water — the terms are often used interchangeably in the beauty industry. And Dead Sea mud is one seriously cult skincare ingredients, revered for its super-high concentrations of salts and minerals (specially magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium).
This makes it a terrific clay face mask for deep cleansing and exfoliating, while killing acne, nourishing the skin, restoring pH levels, treating conditions like psoriasis and eczema, toning and clarifying the complexion, improving its texture and even smoothing out cellulite and stretch marks.
Clay masking with Dead Sea mud also has another huge benefit: It is great at easing out the pain of sore muscles, combatting inflammation and relaxing the mind and body, hence appearing in a lot of body masks and scrubs.
It is good for all types of skin, including dry and sensitive ones.
European moor mud
Best for: Detoxifying, soothing joints and muscles, cellulite
Also known as Balneoo peat, European moor mud actually contains almost no clay. Instead, it’s made up from the organic residue of multifarious flowers, herbs and grasses, which bestow it with the richness of natural enzymes, minerals, amino acids and vitamins.
Originating from Hungary and the Czech Republic, its high humic content makes European moor mud a potent anti-inflammatory and circulation booster, which helps detoxify the body, decongest the skin, soothe joint inflammation, ease achy muscles and smooth away cellulite.
European moor mud is highly soluble in water, so it won’t clog up your bath tub either.