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There will be mud

As a beauty go-to, clay has been used for centuries, as most articles about clay and skincare will tell you. But exactly why is it so effective for optimal skincare, and what should you know about it?

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern beauty regime that didn’t advocate some form of clay-based skincare: Of Harper’s Bazaar most recommended face masks of all time, a third contain clay; an obscure clay mask from Nevada has consistently held the title of Amazon’s top-selling beauty product; and you’ll find the mineral ingredient in the nighttime beauty routines of everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow and Glossier founder Emily Weiss to Gigi Hadid. Big Little Liars star Shailene Woodley even eats the stuff.

So, why so popular? The beauty in and of clay lies in the breadth of its attributes: It is an entirely natural substance, able to draw impurities from the skin while, at the same time, conditioning it. It’s exceptionally versatile as both a health product and a beauty product, as those with weekly regimes around clay hair masks and (edible) clay smoothies can attest. Best of all, clay’s range of accessibility is impressive: it’s surprisingly affordable, which means both the Gwyneths of the world and anyone in possession of eight dollars within a one mile of a Sephora can reap its mineral benefits.

What's your type?

There are many different kinds of clay, depending on your skin type and your preference for its exotic origins: Bentonite, the Alec Baldwin of the clay family, is a volcanic ash clay that you’ll find in most masks, popular because of its effectiveness in purging dirt and toxins from deep within the epidermis of most skin types (although those that lean toward normal to oily skin really reap the benefits of Bentonite). Kaolin clay, found mostly in China, ranges from a soothing white to pink, to a more absorbent red variant, which means it can help heal skin that is prone to inflammation, as well as address excess oil.

French Green clay is an illite clay that contains montmorillonite and other rich detoxifying minerals that help those with oily or troubled skin by tightening pores and stimulating blood flow. Finally, Rhassoul clay is a red clay variety from Morocco that does a magnificent job of drawing out dirt and blackheads, and is so mineral rich that it can be used to stimulate hair follicles for better texture and volume.

So yes, clay gets universal praise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you should look out for when choosing what to put on your face, particularly if you are environmentally-conscious about the products you invest in. “Look out for clays that come from a sun and air-dried source,” advises Guy Morgan, founder of Guy Morgan Unisex Natural Skincare in London. “These have a greener footprint as they are not using energy intensive ovens to dry them. This is one of the criteria I look out for when selecting clays for my products.”

Who should and shouldn't use clay?

Given its versatility and variety of type, clay can be used with almost all skin types. But does its omnipresence mean that all and sundry should lather up? The answer is yes and no. The common idea that clay should be avoided unless you have oily skin is in part misleading: highly absorbent clays should be avoided, but skin-sensitive options like kaolin clay are perfectly safe for skin that dries easily, so long as it doesn’t sit long enough to the point where it begins to crack and change shade.

Photo: Karen Maes

So, as a rule thumb: stick to white or pink kaolin clay if you have sensitive/dry skin, go with rhassoul clay and bentonite if you want to give your normal skin type some extra oomph once a week, and go to town with French green clay if you’re in need of some serious excavation. And, as always, don’t forget to cleanse and moisturise before and after using a clay mask at home.

Masks we love

Vital Clay Mask

We love this product mostly because it manages to blend three different clays types and 12 essential minerals to supercharge the skin’s cells, which accelerates the recovery process. It’s also a highly active weapon against irritation, enlarged pores and undernourished skin. Ingredients include montmorillonite clay, kaolin clay and salicylic acid.

$150, Immunicologie

Himalayan Salt Hydrating Mask

Morgan and his team developed this water-activated clay mask specifically for sensitive and dry skin, defying the belief that clay masks cannot be hydrating. The mask contains French red clay, organic marshmallow root powder and kaolin to heal skin and boost circulation.

£34, Guy Morgan

Himalayan Salt Hydrating Mask

This brightening mask combines rhassoul clay, French clay, rose petal powder and coconut milk extracts to detoxify and hydrate the skin simultaneously. The result is plump, radiant skin cleansed without nasty chemicals or heavy duty product application.

$55, Penny Frances Apothecary

Words: Kelly Doune

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