What Is a Clay Mask?

It helps cleanse and smooth your skin

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Clay masks are a popular beauty product that's used help to cleanse, smooth, and brighten skin and hair. They are popular among people who have oily or acne-prone skin, and they are commonly used to reduce excess oil (also known as sebum) on the face and eliminate impurities that clog pores. Different types of clay masks are used on different skin types.

Not all masks are effective, and none can treat the underlying conditions that may be causing your skin symptoms. To choose the best clay mask for your skin type, chat with your dermatologist.

Teenage Girl Applying Facial Mask While Looking In Mirror At Bathroom - stock photo


Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Is a Clay Mask?

Clay masks are made from different types of clay that are believed to absorb oil and bacteria, leaving the user with clearer, cleaner skin. Clay masks are sold to treat acne and to give you tighter, more youthful-looking skin. 

The clays used in clay masks usually have a negative pH, while our skin has a slightly positive pH. This difference has been suggested as an explanation for how oil and impurities are pulled into the clay and washed away when you rinse off the mask. 

Clay Masks for Hair

Clay masks are also used as hair treatments for oily scalp and hair. It is suggested that clay absorbs excess oil and bacteria from the scalp. 

To use a clay hair mask, spread an even amount of the mask all over your scalp and to the ends of your hair. Let it sit for about five to 10 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water. To make sure that the mask won’t be irritating to your scalp, you could try it on a small patch of skin first. Because the mask soaks up dirt and oil from the hair and scalp, there’s no need to shampoo after using it. 

Limit your use to about once per week. Clay hair masks should be avoided if you have a sensitive or dry scalp since the mask could make those issues worse. 

Popular Types

There are several types of clay masks, and each one has its own mineral components and skin benefits:

  • Kaolin clay, also known as china clay, is a popular component of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. It is gentle on the skin, so it's recommended for sensitive skin or for starting with a mild clay option. Kaolin clay is usually white, but also comes in yellow, red, and brown. It gently absorbs oil and provides slight exfoliation of the skin. It may also brighten skin because it is thought to promote circulation. If you have experienced mild acne, kaolin clay could be helpful in gently absorbing the excess oil that leads to breakouts.
  • Bentonite is a swelling clay that expands when it's mixed with water. This ultra-absorbent clay is best for those with very oily skin because it easily absorbs excess oil and bacteria on your face. It is also believed to tighten skin because of its absorbing powers. Bentonite clay masks come in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, red, brown, and black. If you’re new to clay masks, try bentonite clay on a small portion of your skin first to see how you react before applying it to your whole face. 
  • French green clay gets its color from decomposed plant matter like algae or chlorophyll. It is known for its exfoliating properties and ability to pull dirt and impurities from skin pores. It’s also believed to improve blood circulation.
  • Fuller’s earth clay is known to be one of the most powerful absorbing clays and is probably not the best option for those with sensitive skin. It strongly pulls impurities and dirt from your pores and should not be used more than once per week. It can also have a slight bleaching effect on the skin.
  • Rhassoul clay is rich in minerals and has powerful absorption properties. If you tend to have skin that’s on the oilier side, rhassoul clay may help prevent and help remove blackheads.

How Clay Masks Work

Clay masks are made up of minerals that are considered beneficial for your skin. The clay is believed to bind to impurities in your skin, like dirt and bacteria. The impurities are pulled into the clay mask and washed away when you rinse it off. For this reason, clay masks can give your skin a deep cleanse while removing excess oil to help prevent acne.

Once you feel the mask starting to harden and tighten, it has done its job and you can go ahead and rinse it off. 

How Best to Apply and Remove Clay Mask

Before applying your clay mask, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat your skin dry. Scoop a small handful of clay into your hand and spread a thin layer over your face and neck while being careful to avoid your eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Most types of clay masks should be kept on for about 15 minutes or until completely dry. You will most likely feel the mask harden and tighten. It may also change colors slightly. Then rinse your face with warm water or gently dab at it with a wet washcloth. Pat your skin dry to finish. 

Benefits

The benefits of clay masks need further study, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they can improve skin complexion and may even aid in wound healing.

Improve Facial Complexion

Acne is caused by oil and bacteria clogging your skin’s pores. By opening your pores, clay masks can be a tool to help prevent blackheads and acne. Clay masks also absorb dead skin cells, leaving you with a brighter complexion. Finally, clay masks have been shown to increase the amount of collagen in your skin.

Relieve Other Skin Conditions

Clay masks may provide some relief for certain skin disorders. While the information is mostly anecdotal, it's been suggested that clay masks could promote blood circulation beneath the skin. Bringing more blood flow to your skin could help to heal wounds faster and relieve some symptoms of sensitive skin.

A 2017 study found that lotions with bentonite clay could help prevent and manage hand dermatitis in those with sensitive skin.

Risks

Does Not Treat the Cause of Skin Conditions

While clay masks can remove oil and blackheads, they don’t treat the cause of these bumps. Your dermatologist may be able to help you develop a regimen for preventing acne and other skin conditions. Rather than simply treating the symptoms on your own, talk with your doctor about addressing the underlying cause. 

Could Irritate Sensitive Skin

Each type of clay differs in its mineral composition and strength. It’s best to always try a new mask on a small patch of skin to make sure you won't experience a reaction before putting it all over your face. Those with sensitive skin may not be able to tolerate certain types of clay masks that may cause redness or irritation. If you have sensitive skin, start with a gentle type of clay, like kaolin. 

Avoid Complications with Skin Infections

If you suspect that you’re experiencing a skin infection, such as cellulitis, hold off on using a clay mask. The minerals could be irritating to the skin and may even worsen the infection. See your primary doctor or dermatologist if you have a fever, skin redness, swelling, warmth, pus, or pain.

Causes of Acne

There are several myths about what causes acne, such as eating too much chocolate. However, dermatologists agree that clogged pores are what lead to acne. Some of the most common reasons for clogged pores include:

  • Excess oil (such as during the adolescent years)
  • Using oily products on your face, such as certain types of makeup or sunscreen
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Eating certain foods 
  • Smoking
  • Stress could make acne worse

A Word From Verywell

Clay masks are safe for most people and may leave you with brighter, clearer skin and shinier hair. Try the mask on a small patch of skin to make sure it isn't irritating before applying it to your whole face. Remember that the evidence for clay masks' benefits is mostly anecdotal. If you do decide to start using a clay mask, limit your use to just once or twice per week to prevent drying out your skin, and talk with your dermatologist if you have questions about your specific skin type. 

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