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Cosmetic Clays - What Are They and How Do You Use Them?

If you’re like me, you might be afraid of putting new things on your face… or making skin care products at home… or entering and navigating an apothecary or herbalist’s store.  But a dear friend of mine recently picked up the book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and promptly signed us up for a class in making body masks.  Amazing how a little class can completely demystify the new ingredients as well as the apothecary.  Thank you, Sarah!

The following information is collated from a course taught by Katya Difani.

The Benefits of Clay

Each type of clay has its own unique properties due to its origin, mineral content and texture.  In general, clay:

  • Absorbs excess oil
  • Binds to toxins
  • Cleans away dirt
  • Exfoliates
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces swelling and inflammation

Bentonite Clay

Bentonite is from volcanic ash and is high in trace minerals like silica, aluminum, iron, sodium and magnesium.  It is a mild clay, used both internally and externally.

Internally, it’s used to treat mineral deficiencies, anemia, ulcers, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and more.  It also binds to toxins from intestinal bacteria.  A lot of people drink it during a cleanse or detox – a friend of mine said she did it and it felt like a lump of clay in her stomach.

  • If you want to try drinking it, take 1-3 teaspoons of bentonite clay in 8 ounces of water per day.

Externally, you can add it to your bath or body/face mask.

  • For the bath, add 2-3 ounces of bentonite clay to running water and mix thoroughly.
  • Add one part clay to 3 parts water, mix thoroughly – adding extra water or clay as needed to create an even paste, and apply to your skin.

French Green Clay

French green clay – also called Illite or Sea Clay – is green colored from chlorophyll.  It contains mineral oxides, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, copper (antioxidant), selenium (antioxidant), and much more.

Green clay is one of the more drying of clays, so it’s good for oily skin in particular.  Also, it is a better absorber of impurities, dust, oil, toxins, and makeup – which is why you’ll see it in a lot of spas.

French Red Clay

This is similar to French green clay, but contains higher amounts of iron oxides (thus the red color).  It’s slightly less drying and more balancing than green clay, but is also good for oily skin and can even be used in place of soap as a cleanser.

Moroccan Red Clay

Moroccan red clay is highly absorbent, drawing oils from the skin as it stimulates circulation.  It contains naturally occurring dolomite, silica (good for hair, nails & skin), ferric oxide, and mineral oxides.  It smells very earthy and lovely.

This clay also mixes well with water and oils you might add to your masks.  When mixing with water, mix at a ratio of about 1 to 1.

Rhassoul Clay

Rhassoul clay was my personal favorite.  It’s used a lot in spas because of its balancing effects:  it reduces dryness and flakiness, while a the same time reducing oil and improving skin clarity.

This clay contains high percentages of silica, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.  It’s used as a shampoo, cleanser, skin conditioner, and body relaxer.

White Kaolin Clay

White kaolin clay is the mildest, most gentle, least drying clay – which is why it is the one found in most cosmetics, according to Katya.  It is high in calcium, silica, zinc (antibacterial), and magnesium.

Because of its high drying and disinfecting properties, it can help heal blemishes and inflammation.  It is also used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera.  Plus it is used in making paint, paper, fiberglass, porcelain, ceramics, and toothpaste.  It’s the Kao in Kaopectate – and Rolaids, Mylanta, Maalox, etc.

You don’t need to add much water to this clay so add little bits at a time.

My Favorites

In order, my favorites were:

  1. Rhassoul
  2. White Kaolin
  3. French Green
  4. Moroccan Red

I have very sensitive skin that is more dry than oily, however.  My friends who attended with me were more on the oily side and liked the French Green best.

Where to Buy Clay

  • Health food store
  • Apothecary
  • Herbalist
  • Or if you can’t find it locally, do an internet search for “cosmetic clay”- there are several online resources

Recipe: Quick Green Clay Mask


  • 2 tablespoons french green clay – absorbs oils and impurities
  • 2 large lemon wedges – pH balancing, gentle exfoliant
  • 2 teaspoons honey – anti-microbial (raw is best)


Mix ingredients, apply to skin, leave on 5-10 minutes, rinse with warm water.

Also check out How To Make A Simple Facial Mask, which also lists other ingredients if you want to experiment.

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3 comments to Cosmetic Clays – What Are They and How Do You Use Them?

  • Again drawing on my LUSH knowledge, you can make a cleanser. The simplest, most gentle cleanser that LUSH has (Angels on Bareskin) uses six ingredients: kaolin, ground almonds, lavender oil, rose oil, glycerin, and lavender buds. The lavender and rose are really calming and balancing to your face, while the rose also reduces any redness. The kaolin draws the dirt out of your skin. The ground almonds act as a gentle exfoliant and the glycerin is a humectant and pulls moisture out of the air into your skin.

    The consistency at LUSH is that of marzipan (but crumblier) and you mix it with water into a paste to use.

  • Elizabeth

    I have about 13,000 lbs of White Kaolin Clay. Can i make makeup with it? What kind of things can i make with it at home?

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