Not everyone remembers their first time, but I certainly do. My maiden voyage was with May Lindstrom’s The Clean Dirt soon after the line launched in 2013. That was the first time I tried cleansing with clay. I say “tried” because it was one mishap after another with most of the powder spilling into the sink somewhere between
delicately sprinkling it nearly dumping the entire bottle into my palm and reaching my face. Yet there was a magic about the encounter that kept me coming back for more…even three years later.
Ancient rituals, modern twist
The experience of using clays to wash my face has not been all roses considering my clumsiness and the dust cloud rising from the sink or its thereabouts. But by now most green beauty insiders hold May Lindstrom’s downright sexy exotic blend of spices and earth with something like reverence. The concept bridged ancient use of clays with twenty-first century grit. By 2017, dirt, mud, and dust have become positively chic.
May Lindstrom redefined clay cleansing with The Clean Dirt’s innovative formula, the classy, dark-as-midnight bottle, and the ironic—now iconic—name. Her sensual rituals splashed across videos on her website and helped launch a self-care movement. Success notwithstanding, I can’t say that I was sold on the virtues of clay cleansing from the get-go—partly because that particular cleanser didn’t quite do it for my temperamental skin—though I am certainly a sworn clay user today. It was a question of finding the right formula for my skin’s needs. And as anyone will attest, that can be as changeable as the seasons.
Using clay or calcium carbonate is like pressing a refresh button.
~ Supadra Geronimo, Siam SEAS
No wonder May Lindstrom isn’t the only line to release a breakthrough earthen blend. Once primarily a pre-mixed product, the latest cleansers and masks are bottled in powder form and require activation with water. This allows supreme versatility both in the way the product is used—whether as a mask, an exfoliating scrub, or a cleanser—and in customizing the liquid—be it with water or a hydrosol. An anhydrous product usually has an extended shelf life, since the absence of water eliminates the issue of a preservative that may irritate skin. With no fillers, binders, or additives, clays are highly concentrated, mineral-rich matter which optimizes performance.
“Clay has so many benefits for the skin,” Leah Klasovsky explains as the reason why she incorporates clay into several Leahlani Skincare products, her uber-popular Hawaiian line, including Kalima, Kokoleka Detox Mask, Meli Glow, and Honey Love. “Cleansing with clay is a gentle yet effective way to cleanse the pores, draw out oils and debris, and increase circulation—not to mention that it leaves your complexion incredibly soft.”
“Cleansing with clay is a gentle yet effective way to cleanse the pores, draw out oils and debris, and increase circulation—not to mention that it leaves your complexion incredibly soft.”
~ Leah Klasovsky, Leahlani Skincare
Clay cleansing = time out
With impressive results like that, the resurgence of beauty clays is not surprising. An added bonus: the ritual provides a chance to unwind before retiring for the night or begin the day with a much-needed skin reset.
Since my initial awkward attempts, I’ve actually become quite adept at cupping the clay powder in my dampened palm and s-l-o-w-l-y trickling water into it. The key is not to hurry the process, which is perhaps the whole point. After all, why rush through what may be the only self-care portion of the day?
Products like the highly acclaimed De Mamiel’s Brightening Cleanse & Exfoliate with its dreamy hot cocoa scent and Leahlani’s Kalima with notes of exotic citrus and vanilla coax my attention the moment I pop them open. When using a luxury powder formula, it actually seems unnatural to allow cleansing to slip by without paying attention to what I’m doing. It’s also hard to miss those immediate results.
When I use clay
Cleansing with clay has made a big difference to my skin with skin-smoothing effects noticeable right from the start. In fact, my experience of regularly using the following products prompted this post. I couldn’t wait to share it with you, albeit months of use later!
For a quick skin fix, I love using either De Mamiel’s Cleanse & Exfoliate or Leahlani’s Kalima especially in the morning. The gorgeous powders are comprised of a complex of clays and other ingredients. Kalima actually froths and turns into an effervescent mousse once water is added to it. Each product gently exfoliates and enlivens my skin, purging occasional congestion that shows up as unsightly bumps under makeup.
I find that rinsing with a washcloth works best, as sometimes there’s a slight residue that remains on my face without it. It is a thoroughly effective and enjoyable ritual that prepares my skin for hydration. I can use these cleansers at least once or twice a week without experiencing dryness.
If it’s anti-inflammatory benefits that I’m seeking—or whenever it’s time to overhaul my uneven skin—I’ve been combining a spoonful of Siam SEAS Head-to-Toe Herbal Mask with one spoonful of Blue Labelle’s Moroccan Rhassoul Clay and mixing with water, then using the paste as a face wash. My skin has been responding so well to this treatment. The Rhassoul clay turns into a creamy-slippery consistency when it’s wet. It’s like nothing I expected and different from other clays. The fine grains provide manual exfoliation which help slough off dead cells, the culprits of dull looking skin. The result is completely refined skin that looks as radiant as a polished gemstone and feels just as smooth. We’re talking obsession here.
Clay for makeup removal
While I cling to micellar water most nights for speedy and efficient makeup removal, followed by optional cleansing with a creamy cleanser (this one is a favorite this winter), clays can absolutely be used too.
When removing makeup, Pascale Edwards-Labelle, founder of UK-based Blue Labelle Skincare, advises starting with an oil-based cleanser to clean the face first. Alternatively, she says, “You could add a little oil to your clay paste to double up the natural cleansing methods. Oil cleansing followed by a Rhassoul mask is a gorgeous combination to warm the skin removing dirt and makeup before a further detox and replenish with the mask.”
Leah agrees. “I always double cleanse in the p.m.,” she says. “In the a.m., I don’t find it necessary to do so. I recommend cleansing first with Bless Balm. Emulsify the tiniest amount of Bless between your fingertips and gently massage into damp skin. You can step into the shower with Bless on your face for an extra treat, allowing the rich oils and organic butters to melt into your skin, softening the complexion. Remove with a warm cotton washcloth. Then, follow by cleansing with Kalima or if you are wanting to exfoliate, the Honey Love.”
Can clay be used every day?
Not every formula will be suitable for everyone. Supadra Geronimo, founder of Siam SEAS who is fast becoming the go-to resource on acne-prone skin, reminds everyone who wants to use clay or calcium carbonate (which is more like an earthy chalk) to know their skin. Skin’s appearance fluctuates due to hormones, stress levels, and the environment, so she says to pay attention to its condition.
If your skin is dull but toward the dry side, she recommends starting with once a week for masking and limiting the time you leave on the mask or start with using it as a cleanser every other day, taking time to massage and allowing the ingredients to work on the pores. Then see how your skin feels. If skin feels oily, she suggests extending the mask time or increasing the frequency of use as a cleanser.
For my skin which can be oilier in the summer, I determine use according to the climate. If it’s clogged and in need of the drawing power of a clay, then that’s what I use, even in winter when my skin tends to get drier. But I definitely don’t cleanse with clay as often in the colder months.
Why pH matters
If you’re still thinking that using clay would only be good for oily or blemish-prone skin, then you’re in for a surprise. While it’s true that the clay’s naturally absorbent properties make it ideal for sopping up excess oils, even sensitive skin can use certain types of clay.
Pascale finds Rhassoul clay to be gentle enough to use on all skin types including sensitive, especially if it is being washed off right away instead of as a leave-on mask. For sensitive skin, she said, leave a clay mask on for five minutes only.
The key is that the clays could lead to over-drying the skin and need to be balanced with other ingredients to work with the pH factor.
“Proper formulation and overall pH of the end product is of utmost importance when it comes to using clay or calcium carbonate as they are alkaline and can be disruptive to your skin barrier when not properly formulated or used,” said Supadra.
She incorporates calcium carbonate in the Head-to-Toe Herbal Purifying Mask because it’s very rich in minerals in their elemental form and functions similarly to clay. In order to adjust the pH of the product, Siam SEAS Head-to-Toe Herbal Mask uses a synergy of active herbal powders, like turmeric, wild turmeric, pueraria, and thanaka, to heal skin and tighten pores. It is unbelievable at drawing out toxins and absorbing excess oil.
While anyone can use it, Supadra finds her formula to be most beneficial for problematic, acne prone skin types. But as I mentioned, I used it once or twice a week in the summer with absolutely no dryness or any issues and about once a month in the winter to give my skin a break.
Kalima’s naturally alkaline combination of bentonite, kaolin, and rose clays are balanced out with a number of moisture replenishers and exfoliators like organic coconut milk, colloidal oatmeal, wildcrafted banana, organic brown rice powder, and rosehips.
Not every brand offers a blend however. Blue Labelle Skincare singles out Moroccan Rhassoul Lava Clay for the traditional Moroccan Spa Facial, a gorgeous set that includes the single ingredient mask and cleanser. She explains why:
“I love washing my face with Rhassoul clay because it’s a totally unprocessed ingredient that’s been used and loved for millennia with multiple functions: through ionic exchange it draws positively charged toxins from skin whilst replenishing skin with important elements such as Zinc and Magnesium—both great for breakout-prone skin. It absorbs excess oils and leaves skin really clean without the need of irritating surfactants.”
“Rhassoul clay absorbs excess oils and leaves skin really clean without the need of irritating surfactants.”
~ Pascale LaBelle, Blue Labelle Skincare
Find your clay
To understand the properties of each type of clay, I’ve broken them down individually here so you can make an educated decision the next time you choose one.
Bentonite Clay (also known as Montmorillonite) is best for oilier skin types and can be used internally too. This ancient clay has been in use for centuries and is known for its ability to absorb and remove toxins, heavy metals, impurities, and chemicals, as well as assist in mineral deficiencies. Bentonite produces an electrical charge when hydrated, but it should not come in contact with metal because it will reduce its effectiveness. The clay should be a grey/cream color, not pure white.
French Green Clay (also called Illite or “marine clay”) is rich in magnesium, mineral oxides, calcium, potassium, dolomite, silica, manganese, phosphorous, silicon, copper, and selenium, and is great at removing impurities and tightening the pores, toning the skin, exfoliating dead skin cells, and reducing inflammation.
Fuller’s Earth Clay is primarily used on oily skin because it literally draws oil from the skin. It is a sedimentary clay that has been widely used as a skin-lightening agent and is best known for its ability to be applied as a “facial bleach.”
Do you dig a little dirt when you wash your face too? Has this ancient ritual captured your modern sensibilities? Tell all in the comments!
**First photo designed by Figmint Design