It’s one of the oldest beauty treatments around, and not just in the sense that you (likely) slathered it on your face before you even knew the term blackhead. Clay has been used on skin for thousands of years — from the thermae of Roman spas to the mountainsides of Morocco. And, as with any good beauty folklore, it featured in the elaborate routine of Cleopatra, who was known to fashion a clay face mask from riverbeds of the Nile. The reason it’s starred in skincare for so long is simple: It’s a single ingredient, but clay has countless complexion benefits. Here’s just a few of the headliners.
Shop the Story
Clay Helps Control Oil
Clay is highly absorbent, notes Brendan Camp, M.D., dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery. “Because of its chemical structure, it has the ability to soak up excess organic matter on our skin, including oils.” That’s why you’ll often see clay listed on the ingredients of oil-blotting papers. But 5 minutes with a clay face mask beats anything a shine sheet can do: Third-party clinical studies demonstrated that glacial clay, used in the Pacific Glacial Clay Detoxifying Mask, reduces skin surface sebum by 95% after application.
Clay Masks Can Remove Impurities
But it isn’t just oil that clay picks up — it also goes to work on impurities, which is just a nice way of saying built-up dirt, pollutant particles, and dead skin cells. When they aren’t properly removed, they not only make your pores appear larger, but “they can clog pores and form comedones, which are whiteheads and blackheads, or acne papules,” says Dr. Camp. Beyond its absorbent structure, the glacial variety of clay has another property that makes it such an effective pore-clearer. While the dirt in our skin is positively charged, the clay is negatively charged, so it works just like a magnet to pull away the grime.
A Clay Face Mask Can Be Calming
Good news for anyone with sensitivity issues: Clay deep-cleans without stirring up irritation. In the same way it sucks up those impurities, Dr. Camp says it may “help remove bacteria from the skin that can contribute to inflammation.” And that inflammation can drive both breakouts and redness. Another important point — clay face masks “purify the skin of contaminants by simply soaking them up and rinsing them away,” explains Dr. Camp. “No peels, lasers, or acids required.” So, this high-impact, low-lift approach to detoxing skin doesn’t disrupt the skin barrier in the way other methods could.
Certain Clay Face Masks Can Support Moisture
Clay has (understandably) picked up a bad reputation for being drying. Depending on your age, the versions you used back in high school probably dried and cracked in a way that made you look like a Shar-Pei puppy. As Dr. Camp explains it, “some clays simply have more desiccating (drying) properties than others.” Here’s another way in which glacial clay truly shines — its mineral-rich composition helps to maintain skin’s hydration levels, not deplete it, preventing the dehydration and dryness that’s common with other clays. Just how moisturizing (or not moisturizing) a clay face mask is will likely come down to what else is in the jar besides the clay. For example, Pacific Glacial Clay Detoxifying Mask has the added benefit of squalane oil, a nourishing emollient that replenishes moisture without clogging pores. Skin that’s clear and super-soft? We’ll mask to that.