Clay masks are a popular beauty product that's used help to cleanse, smooth, and brighten skin and hair. They are popular among people who have oily or acne-prone skin, and they are commonly used to reduce excess oil (also known as sebum) on the face and eliminate impurities that clog pores. Different types of clay masks are used on different skin types.
Not all masks are effective, and none can treat the underlying conditions that may be causing your skin symptoms.
What Is a Clay Mask?
Clay masks are made from different types of clay that are believed to absorb oil and bacteria, leaving the user with clearer, cleaner skin. Clay masks are sold to treat acne and to give you tighter, more youthful-looking skin.
Clay mask materials can differ and are typically described by their pH. This is a measurement of how acidic or basic/alkaline a substance is. A neutral pH—in which a substance is neither acidic nor alkaline—is 7 (the pH of pure water).
Your skin has a pH of between 4 and 6, making it slightly acidic. The clays used for masks are typically alkaline, meaning that they have a pH greater than 7.2 At this alkalinity, the mask will counter the acidity of the skin and strip some of the oils that can clog pores. The drying effect will also tighten the skin, albeit temporarily.
Clay Masks for Hair
Clay masks are also used as hair treatments for oily scalp and hair.3 It is suggested that clay absorbs excess oil and bacteria from the scalp.
To use a clay hair mask, spread an even amount of the mask all over your scalp and to the ends of your hair. Let it sit for about five to 10 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water. To make sure that the mask won’t be irritating to your scalp, you could try it on a small patch of skin first. Because the mask soaks up dirt and oil from the hair and scalp, there’s no need to shampoo after using it.
Limit your use to about once per week. Clay hair masks should be avoided if you have a sensitive or dry scalp since the mask could make those issues worse.
How Clay Masks Work
Clay masks are made up of minerals that are considered beneficial for your skin. The clay is believed to bind to impurities in your skin, like dirt and bacteria. The impurities are pulled into the clay mask and washed away when you rinse it off. For this reason, clay masks can give your skin a deep cleanse while removing excess oil to help prevent acne.4
Once you feel the mask starting to harden and tighten, it has done its job and you can go ahead and rinse it off.
How Best to Apply and Remove Clay Mask
Before applying your clay mask, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat your skin dry. Scoop a small handful of clay into your hand and spread a thin layer over your face and neck while being careful to avoid your eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Most types of clay masks should be kept on for about 15 minutes or until completely dry. You will most likely feel the mask harden and tighten. It may also change colors slightly. Then rinse your face with warm water or gently dab at it with a wet washcloth. Pat your skin dry to finish.
The benefits of clay masks need further study, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they can improve skin complexion and may even aid in wound healing.
Improve Facial Complexion
Acne is caused by oil and bacteria clogging your skin’s pores. By opening your pores, clay masks can be a tool to help prevent blackheads and acne. Clay masks also absorb dead skin cells, leaving you with a brighter complexion. Finally, clay masks have been shown to increase the amount of collagen in your skin.5
Relieve Other Skin Conditions
Clay masks may provide some relief for certain skin disorders. While the information is mostly anecdotal, it's been suggested that clay masks could promote blood circulation beneath the skin. Bringing more blood flow to your skin could help to heal wounds faster and relieve some symptoms of sensitive skin.
A 2017 study found that lotions with bentonite clay could help prevent and manage hand dermatitis in those with sensitive skin