The Skin Benefits of Clay Masks

Clay Masks are one of the gentlest cleansers and exfoliants available. Kaolin clay, in particular, is the best choice for cleansing skin due to its skin compatible pH levels. Kaolin is made up primarily of the mineral kaolinite. The name is derived from the Chinese village Gaoling, located in the southeast province of Jiangxi. Kaolin in its natural pure form is often white, however it can be an array of colours depending on the minerals and plant material. Red hues are from the iron oxide content of the clay and green clays are from plant material. Kaolin is vegan and has been shown to be hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skins. Unlike soap, Kaolin does not foam and does not strip vital lipids from the skin. It does not interact with the skin's natural barrier function, in fact helps restore balance to the skin.

Kaolin is adsorbent rather than absorbent.  So why is this important?

Adsorbent means it just attaches on the surface level to dirt, oil and debris. Absorbent means it integrates into the skin and can pull out vital lipids that the skin needs to maintain health. Foaming cleansers, in general, are absorbing and remove lipids from the skin, this includes good lipids as well.


Kaolin can help control oily skins without making them feel dry and dehydrated. Kaolin has been shown to have benefits for acne skins due to its detoxifying and purifying properties. Clay helps to reduce inflammation and redness, making it a gentle natural exfoliant. Kaolin has also been shown to refine and reduce the appearance in pore size. That immediate smoothness and pore refinement after a clay mask is what many traditional clay masks are relying on for sales.

Some documented studies show that certain red clays help to improve elasticity and tone of the skin. Clays are not just for those who have blemished skin but can also play an integral part of managing ageing skins who are also dry. Clay masks have been shown to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, along with smoothing the texture and surface of the skin.

Are all clays the same?

No, they are not, there are different types of clay including, but not limited to:
  • Kaolin Clay
  • Illite (French Green Clay)
  • Montmorillionite
  • Bentonite aka Fullers Earth
  • Fullers Earth

A popular bentonite clay is Aztec Clay which is sold in its pure form for use as a cleanser or mask.  However, the pH of this clay is 8-10, which is not the correct pH for a healthy skin cleanser; this is a similar pH to Bicarbonate of Soda which is destructive to skin. Whilst the skin may feel initially super smooth, over the coming days the damage becomes evident. The skin becomes irritated and red. 

One of the reasons include the dehydration in the skin; Bentonite absorbs 300-700% its own weight in water. Normal usage of a mask is 1-part clay to 1-part water, so the remaining water is going to be drawn from your skin. 

French Green clay is another clay with purported health benefits yet tends to be dehydrating for the skin. I remember doing my ITEC Diploma of Aromatherapy and being mesmerized by French Clays but could never work out why my skin always felt so dehydrated afterwards.  It was not until I found out that French green clay has been shown to absorb over double its weight in water that I made the connection. French Green Clay is also alkaline, which is not the normal pH of the skin.

Kaolin on the other hand only absorbs 65% water which means it does not dry your skin out as you are using kaolin with a 1:1 ratio with water or a hydrosol. Kaolin is the perfect choice for healthy skin. Kaolin has a pH of 6 which is also skin compatible.

The pH of your skin is crucial for skin health and repair. High pH products make your skin vulnerable to microbial attack and take hours for the normal pH to return. It also leaves your skin vulnerable and unable to repair itself properly. The higher the pH of the product or clay the more damage it does. The natural choice for a clay facial mask is kaolin, due to its skin biocompatibility and anti-inflammatory effects.