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If you’ve ever applied a clay face mask to help cleanse your skin, it may have contained kaolin clay.
Kaolin, also known as white clay or china clay, is a soft clay that’s been used in China for centuries to create porcelain products. It’s also used widely in skin care products, toothpastes, and hair products.
Clay face masks that contain kaolin are thought to have several benefits, such as preventing acne, managing dry skin, and absorbing excess oil or sebum. Kaolin is also thought to be the mildest and most gentle clay used in skin care.
Although most of the evidence that backs clay masks is anecdotal, some studies suggest that these masks may have skin benefits.
Kaolin clay is commonly used in skin care products due to its ability to absorb oil and smooth skin.
Because kaolin clay is gentler on the skin than other types of clay, you can also use it as an exfoliant.
Because of its anti-inflammatory benefits, kaolin clay may be beneficial in treating rashes and irritation, but more research is needed to prove its effectiveness.
Whether it’s a tried-and-true skin care regimen, how often you wash your hair, or the cosmetics you’re curious about, beauty is personal.
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Sensitive and dry skin
Kaolin clay is fairly gentle and safe to use on sensitive skin. Still, it shouldn’t be used if you have dry skin.
“Kaolin clay can be excessively drying, and therefore irritating, for already dry skin,” Murphy-Rose says.
For sensitive skin types, it’s always best to do a patch test on your neck or on the inside of your wrist to see how your skin reacts before applying it to your face.
Oily and acne-prone skin
While a kaolin clay face mask isn’t ideal for dry skin, it may help those with oily skin and those who are acne-prone.
“Kaolin absorbs sebum and prevents pore clogging. It’s used to draw out impurities and toxins from the pores. [It then] clears the skin of excess oil, dirt, and pollution without causing any redness or irritation,” says Alessandra Caceres, a licensed aesthetician and founder of Lavender Facial Bar.
Because of its antibacterial properties, kaolin clay may be useful in treating acne, too.
The minerals in kaolin clay can remove oils, secretions, and contaminants from the skin. They serve as cleansing and refreshing agents by absorbing moisture and impurities and by reducing blemishes.
There aren’t many studies available regarding the benefits of using a kaolin clay mask for anti-aging (or, as we like to say, pro-aging).
Besides porcelain and skin care, kaolin clay has several other purposes.
Ingesting kaolin clay is thought to help with the treatment of diarrhea, but there is no conclusive evidence.
As a hair product
Kaolin clay has been used in some hair care products to help detoxify the scalp.
As a teeth cleanser
Kaolin clay has been used in some natural toothpastes or as a tooth powder, but its effectiveness at cleaning teeth is unclear.
More studies are needed to prove that kaolin clay is an effective alternative to traditional toothpastes.
As a deodorant
Because kaolin clay is able to absorb excess oil and impurities, it’s also used as a deodorant alternative.
“Kaolin clay can absorb sweat and neutralize body odor,” Murphy-Rose says. “It’s used in many natural and hypoallergenic deodorant formulations.”
If you’re curious about clay deodorant, you can try Primal Life Organics Stick Up Natural Deodorant with bentonite clay.
- Mix 2 tsp. of kaolin clay with 1 tsp. of an oil of your choice, such as jojoba, apricot, or squalane.
- Wet your face, and apply the mixture to your skin.
- Massage mixture into your skin for 30 seconds, then rinse with warm water.
Neutrogena offers a Skin Balancing Mattifying & Conditioning Clay Cleanser that’s available online and at most drugstores.
- Mix 1 1/2 tsp. of kaolin clay with 3/4 tsp. of witch hazel, rose water, or purified water.
- Wet your face, and apply the mixture to your skin.
- Exfoliate using gentle circular motions for 30 seconds, then rinse with warm water.
Try the Eve Hansen Turmeric and Cranberry Facial Mask for a two-in-one mask and exfoliant.
- Mix together 1/2 tsp. of Manuka honey, 2 tsp. of kaolin clay, and 1/2 tsp. of witch hazel, rose water, or purified water.
- Apply the mask to clean, dry skin.
- Leave on for 10–20 minutes.
- Wash the mask off with a cleanser and towel dry.
The INKEY List Kaolin Clay Mask is also a popular choice.
- Mix 3 tbsp. of kaolin clay, 1 1/2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp. of an oil of your choice, and 2 tsp. of rose water.
- Apply mixture to the scalp and hair shaft.
- Leave on for 5–15 minutes.
- Wash the mask off with shampoo.
Try Ion Wellness Nourishing Masque with kaolin clay, yogurt, and honey.
There are no known dangers or side effects of applying kaolin clay to the face. However, if you have very dry skin, you may want to avoid it. It’s also important to avoid inhaling the clay.
Kaolin clay has been used for centuries for a number of health concerns. While there is some research that suggests kaolin clay is useful for the skin, more studies are needed.
Still, anecdotal evidence suggests kaolin clay may be beneficial in unclogging pores, preventing acne, and promoting clearer, brighter skin.
Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She’s a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. You can see more of her work on her website.