Once reserved for the privacy of sleepover parties, clay masks have made a major comeback. Offering solutions for every type of skin issue — from dry and oily pores to acne-prone and more — many are turning to these formulas for an extra hand. While it might seem like a recent development, board-certified dermatologist Nancy Samolitis, M.D., says clay masks have been around since ancient times, beginning with the original beauty guru, Cleopatra. She was known to apply Dead Sea mud masks to keep her skin glowing, and today, many modern women (and men) are following her lead.
When you are selecting between green, black, white, pink or other types of clay, you are not just conceptualizing your Snapchat selfie, but rather, choosing ingredients that treat various ailments. And although multi-masking is also a trend, it is important to focus on what you need so you can select the right formula. That is why understanding the difference between clays is essential to your skin’s vitality and health. Here, leading dermatologists and experts provide their best tips for optimizing your masking routine.
Moroccan Rhassoul Clay
Best For: All skin types and hair
Use: 1 to 2 times a week
Sourced from deep within the mountain range of Morocco, Samolitis says this type of clay is formed by natural volcanic and geothermal activity. With a more mineral component, this dirt-made clay mask has been a ritual of Northern African women for many centuries — and for good reason. Dermatologist and Chief Medical Officer at FaceMDPlus, Jenny Sobera, M.D., adds it is especially effective for removing dirt and impurities, thanks to its high concentration of silica and magnesium. For those who have acne-prone pores or uneven skin tones, it can help clear up spots and tighten pores, she adds.
Another fun fact? It is not only ideal for your skin but your locks, too, since it offers moisturizing, softening and soothing benefits. If you suffer from an itchy scalp or can’t seem to get those roots to stay healthy, Samolitis recommends this multi-tasking formula as your rescue product. As a hydrating clay, it offers the same benefits to your pores as it does to your hair — moisture, silkiness — making it ideal for those who have dry skin year-round or specifically in the winter when cooler temperatures wreak havoc. Samolitis suggests using this type of clay on your face once or twice a week, and the same for your hair if you need it.
French Green Clay
For: All skin types
Use: 1 to 2 times a week
Sobera says French Green Clay, or Seal Clay, is one of the most commonly used mineral clays in the world. How come? The laundry list of benefits, making it not only fun to apply but effective for your pores. The color comes from a high content of iron oxide, copper and decomposed plant matter, enriching the shade for beauty lovers. When you are wearing it, you will feel your face tighten as it works its magic with every minute it dries. Dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., F.A.A.D. says those with acne-prone or super-oily pores should invest in a twice-a-week green mask routine, since this formula is excellent at soaking up excess skin excretions. What is nice about green clay specifically, she adds, is it is not as drying as other clays so it does not induce rebound sebum production, which can happen when your pores are completely stripped of their natural moisture.
For: Acne-prone or oily skin
Use: 1 to 2 times a week
Though it is not exactly a glam mask color, bentonite clay works overtime for your pores! Samolitis says this highly-absorbent clay is derived from volcanic ash, which is typically sourced from Wyoming. As it dries to your oh-so-sensitive skin, it absorbs any toxic matters, bacteria or grime from your pores, giving you a major detox. Because of its ability to purify, Samolitis explains is has historically been used in internal and external medicine as a solid remedy. “Bentonite clay swells immediately with contact with water and can quickly draw out impurities from the skin including excess sebum and bacteria,” she says. In terms of how it can be used, you have a few options. Either mixed with water in a pure form or combined with acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid. “It has many reports in the medical literature touting its benefits to detoxify skin and provide a barrier for skin that is affected with inflammatory and infectious conditions,” she adds.
While it a the go-to clay mask for acne-prone faces, dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., notes this specific recipe can be tough on dry or overly sensitive skin.
When mixed with water, bentonite clay becomes negatively charged, explains King, which helps it draw out oil and other impurities, but it also makes it drying. And its porosity amplifies this effect. This is great if you often break out, but if you don’t, you might notice intense dryness after using it. If you still want to give it a go as a skin detoxifier, make sure you pair it with a heavy-duty moisturizer to lock in hydration.
Regardless of skin type though, Sobera adds that for a radiant, ‘I woke up like this’ complexion, bentonite is the way to go. “By removing dead skin cells on the surface, Bentonite clay has a glowing effect on the skin while also making skin softer,” she says. And hey, if you have scars or stretch marks, it will help alleviate their appearance, too.
For: Dry or sensitive skin
Use: 2 to 3 times a week
Pretty in pink or white, this type of clay dries a pastel color on your cheeks and t-zone. As a gentle concoction, this type of formula is ideal for those with dry skin and sensitive pores. On the milder side of the spectrum of masks, you will experience a slight exfoliation, revealing softer, brighter layers underneath. Made of fine minerals sourced from Mother Earth herself, the lighter feel makes it appropriate for multi-day use during the week. “The texture makes this product more cosmetically appealing to add to products and can be blended with water, oil or honey to produce a skin mask,” Samolitis says.
When you are applying this clay, do not expect that hard-to-the-touch feeling you get with most other options, Shainhouse warns. Because it is not a harsh or demanding product, it remains rather creamy and could take a face wash to rinse off your skin. “If oily skin types prefer to achieve a dry and tight skin feeling when they remove the mask, this might not be the mask they are looking for,” adds Shainhouse.