Shailene Woodley made waves when she discussed her affinity for eating clay, calling it “one of the best things you can put in your body.” Even those of us who favor alternative medicine were a bit taken aback by this seemingly oddball snack. Turns out the actress is on to something, and with brands like Juice Generation launching clay-infused drinks, it may not be long before eating this natural ingredient is as common as your everyday wheatgrass shot (at least for those with a hardcore affinity for natural healing).
Note that it’s not any old clay from your local pottery shop that we’re talking about. The clay in question is a natural clay formed from volcanoes called bentonite. It’s only this particular clay that has been clinically proven to bind to toxins when ingested thereby preventing and treating various ailments. The downside? It isn’t exactly tasty, which explains why Juice Generation packed it into a single-ounce shot mixed with alkaline and rose waters.
Not up for taking a shot of clay that tastes, well, like clay? We understand. Luckily for those with more sensitive stomachs, clay has been proven to work effectively when applied topically as well. “Bentonite clay is definitely beneficial for unclogging pores,” says New York City dermatologist and author of Skin Rules Dr. Debra Jaliman. “It’s also a good exfoliator.” Another good clay for topical use is kaolin clay, which Jaliman says helps to take the oil out of the skin as well as green clay, which comes from decomposed plants and iron oxides, and is common in skincare for its detoxifying and skin plumping properties. Among the dermatologist’s favorite products are Clarisonic’s Deep Pore Detoxifying Clay Mask and Dermalogica’s Dermal Clay Cleanser, both of which are formulated with bentonite and kaolin clays.
Sarah Villafranco, MD and founder of Osmia Organics is quick to caution, however, that it’s important for consumers to shop wisely. “I would not use green clay or Fuller’s Earth clay by themselves — they are powerful oil pullers and when used too often or undiluted, can strip your skin of so much oil that it starts creating more oil to compensate. However, both of these clays are wonderful as part of a mixed clay product or used as overnight blemish treatments.”
Like Jaliman, Villafranco suggests trying bentonite and kaolin clays first as they are the gentlest. “Use them no more than once a week and be sure to remove the clay before it dries completely. My favorite trick is to keep a mineral water mister nearby and continue to mist the mask while it’s on my face. If you let it dry completely, it will probably irritate and dry your skin and it will be difficult to remove. Using a clay mask (like Osmia’s Detox Exfoliating Mask) a few hours before a special event can help shrink pores and give skin a very smooth, glowing appearance.”
As with any ingredient that is seeing its star rise, over-hyped marketing claims can be rampant. “Use common sense,” cautions Villafranco. “Anyone making broad, sweeping claims or using terms like ‘cure’ or ‘longevity’ or ‘secret to health’ is probably not to be trusted. Go with companies that are really doing their homework and researching the science behind their ingredients, rather than just parroting.”