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Clay is an Odd Thing to Put on Your Hair

14 October, 2019

Sandstone Ridges Death Valley

Read Time: 5 minutes

Clay is dirt. Dirt is something we try and get rid of in our personal care routines. So why would you put dirt on your hair? Or on your face for that matter?

Not all dirt is the same. Clay is a very particular type of dirt and there are many types. Clay is finely ground rock. And that is about it. Well it is a little more complicated than that. The ground rock is usually associated with various minerals and quartz in varying types and amounts. Different clays have different mixtures of the main elements, rock, minerals and quartz. It’s these differences in composition that give the different clays their particular properties. It’s their different properties that makes them interesting to companies and artisans in the body care arena.

So, what are these properties that clays have that makers of personal care products find fascinating and useful? It comes down to three main things. (Doesn’t it always?). Three words: Absorb, adsorb and C.E.C. Let’s take each in turn.

Absorb – easiest of the three. We are all familiar with this. If something absorbs water it ‘soaks’ it up. Like a kitchen towel soaks up spilled water. Clays that are absorptive take things in, they absorb, and they swell.

Adsorb – OK. If something adsorbs it ‘sticks’ to the surface. The charcoal in your water filters, adsorbs unwanted chemicals from the water on to its surface and removes them from the water, purifying it.

CEC – I cheated with this one. CEC actually stands for cation-exchange capacity. A little more complicated this one. Bear with me. CEC is defined as the ability to which clay (which is negatively charged, anion) can adsorb positively charged particles (cations). Think opposites attract. Like two magnets, the positive will ‘stick’ to the negative.

So why are clays useful in cosmetics and personal care products? It’s the combinations of the different properties and varied mineral content that give clays their variety and usefulness. Clays can absorb water which makes them great at making into pastes and masks. They adsorb impurities from the surface of the skin, or hair, like toxins and bacteria but they can also exchange their good mineral content for these impurities. This is how clays really work their magic. When you remove the face mask, or wash out the sculpting clay from your hair, it leaves behind the good stuff (minerals) and takes away the bad.

The main types of clays found in personal care products are broadly, Montmorillonite, Illite and Kaolinite. There will be another blog, or two, that goes into each of these in more detail. Examples of the better known clays, some of which you may have heard of are, Bentonite, Rhassoul, Kaolin, Sea, French Pink, Fuller’s Earth.

The skin benefits from clay use in a number of ways. In very broad terms normal to oily skin is best served by using clay because clays draw moisture and unwanted oils from skin. Dry, or sensitive, skin may feel uncomfortable after clay use. Clay packs, or masks, are the most common uses of clay but clays are also found in some soaps and scrubs. Clays are fantastic at nourishing skin with all sorts of different trace minerals. One of these is silica. Silica is very important in strengthening connective tissue and is required to make collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is super important, especially in skin. Collagen is known as the ‘glue’ that hold the body together.

Which brings us back to hair. Clay has become an increasingly important ingredient in hair sculpting products. Bentonite clay is a gem when it comes to hair. Not only does Bentonite clean hair follicles and stimulate their growth, but it cleans the scalp and gives hair important minerals that are essential for hair growth. Bentonite is a bit of a clay superstar.

So yes. Putting dirt on your hair is definitely an odd thing to do. But there’s dirt, and there’s dirt. Beneficial clays are the kind of dirt I’m happy to be wearing.


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