After many interviews with leader experts, we've found out exactly what you need to know about clay cleansers. This article will cover:
- The benefits of clay cleansers
- The long history of clay in health and skincare
- A guide to different kinds of clay
- Which clay is best for your skin
- How to work clay into your routine
When you remove your makeup before you go to sleep, your goal is likely to wipe away all of the day’s built-up dirt, toxins, and oil. But slathering on a thick layer of clay might actually be a shortcut to skin that’s clearer and cleaner than ever.
Studies suggest that clay—technically a type of soil—has historically been used as a treatment for people suffering from stomach issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and nausea. Its powerful absorbing properties are thought to bind together toxins and keep them from being absorbed by the intestines.
Those same properties are what make clay facial cleansers so popular. Elite Daily’s Senior Fashion and Beauty Editor Alana Peden points out that “clay provides a natural deep cleaning that rivals the effects of harsher ingredients.” Just as it can prevent your stomach from absorbing harmful substances, clay can also help keep your skin from hanging onto leftover oil and toxins. That’s a powerful benefit from a very natural ingredient!
Before you choose the best clay facial cleanser for your skin, you should first understand the different types of clay:
- Bentonite: When you hear about clay’s health benefits, you’re likely hearing about the bentonite variety, which is a byproduct of volcanic ash. Its healing benefits are well-researched; a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, for example, found that bentonite clay contains minerals that can help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another notes that bentonite can be effective against things like poison ivy and poison oak. It also has moisturizing benefits that can help resolve dermatitis, and can even act as a barrier, further protecting healthy skin from toxins.
Aside from bentonite, there are three more popular types of clay that are commonly used in cleansers:
- Kaolin: The first is kaolin, a white clay that was first used in China centuries ago to make porcelain. Like bentonite, kaolin’s health and skincare benefits are also backed by scientific research.
- Charcoal: There’s also charcoal, which is carbon residue that has been burned or heated. You’ve probably heard of activated charcoal more recently used in things like toothpaste. That’s because charcoal can absorb stains and odors, along with purifying water and removing toxins from the air.
- Glacial: The final type of clay is glacial clay, which you're likely to hear more and more about in the near future. Created by the erosion and melting of glaciers, this type of clay is typically enriched with phytoplankton and is packed with powerful, detoxifying vitamins and minerals. This means glacial clay could work even harder for your skin than other clays, improving impurities and offering a revitalizing glow.
Knowing the dirt on all of the different kinds of clay could have you wondering, why not just use mud? You can—but for a different purpose. The main difference between mud and clay is that mud is mixed with water. But according to Pinky Elliot, a top 10 Seattle-based aesthetician at SkinSpirit, even masks that are marketed as "mud" masks tend to feature kaolin.
If you have oily skin, you’re going to find clay facial cleansers especially helpful. “Many types of clay, such as kaolin and charcoal, function by drawing out impurities and balancing oil production,” says Peden. “In general, clay cleansers can provide a cooling, tightening effect after use in which skin feels seriously clean, but not dried out.”
Whether you’re dealing with chronic acne, oily, or combination skin, she suggests finding a product that harnesses the “balancing properties” of kaolin and charcoal. If it’s dry skin you’re fighting, Peden suggests looking for something even more gentle, such as a cleanser that uses clay but also includes hydrating ingredients such as glycerin or essential oils.
Right now, kaolin and charcoal are the most popular clays, and for good reason: Peden says they’re super effective at reducing shine and managing oil production.
Grewal points to May Lindstrom’s Honey Mud mask, which she clarifies contains clay rather than mud—though most consumers probably don’t know the difference. Basically, mud is mixed with more water than clay. Another clay-based favorite of Grewal’s is One Love Organics’ Love and Charcoal mask.
If you’re trying to land on a product that’s right for you, Grewal suggests choosing brands that use medical-grade ingredients and looking at the order they’re listed in on the label—the most concentrated ingredients will appear first. Beyond that, she recommends staying away from anything with parabens and other hormone disruptors.
Should You Use it in the Morning or Night
Clay’s skin-cleansing powers work any time of day or night, but Grewal says she tends to reach for these products when she has more time to enjoy them as part of a relaxing ritual. She’s incorporated clay masks into her nightly shower routine, allowing it to sit on her skin while she’s in the shower and then rinsing it off right before she gets out.
Ultimately, it’s up to what works best in your personal routine, though Grewal points out that if the mask you choose has strong exfoliating properties, it’s best to use it only at night.