A little dirt never hurt anybody.
Okay, maybe that’s not totally true.
But, according to a bunch of science journals, rubbing the right kind of dirt on your face can actually boost skin health.
What Is Bentonite?
When you open your very first tub of bentonite, you might be surprised to find something that more-or-less resembles unmixed cement.
Well, looks can be deceiving.
And luckily, bentonite is way cooler than you could have imagined.
For one, it’s derived from weathered volcanic ash. Not just any volcanic ash—the kind that’s been around for millions of years.
Second, it’s a smectite—or what some people refer to as a healing clay. These clays are known for their high cation-exchange capacity, meaning that they’re capable of drawing out impurities.
Third, 70% of bentonite deposits can be found right here in good ole Wyoming—it was even named after a rock formation near Fort Benton.
Benefit #1: Sucks Up Toxins
Bentonite is a beast when it comes to handling toxins.
To understand how this works, let’s go over a quick chemistry lesson.
- Bentonite has a negative electrical charge
- Toxins (like bacteria, pollutants, etc.) have a positive electrical charge
We’re not out of the woods quite yet. Let’s look at two more concepts before moving on.
- Adsorption occurs when a molecule clings to the surface of a substance. Like how a magnet sticks to a refrigerator.
- Absorption occurs when a molecule enters the bulk of a substance. Like how a sponge holds onto water.
Now, imagine you slathered-on a healthy layer of bentonite clay.
What happens next follows is pretty similar to the plot of your favorite rom-com—that is, opposites attract.
Negatively-charged bentonite molecules attract positively-charged impurities (through adsorption). When those impurities reach your skin’s surface, bentonite will slurp them up (through absorption).
Not too shabby, huh?
Benefit #2: Speeds Up Healing
Have an open wound?
Put some bentonite on it.
In a 2006 study published by Acta Iranica Medica, researchers excised wounds on 48 rats.
Half the rats were treated with bentonite clay and the other half—the control—were treated with de-ionized water. After 10 days, researchers concluded that bentonite group experienced a rapidly improved rate of wound healing. Especially when it came to the size of the wound.
Excuse me while I add a little something-something to my first aid kit.
Benefit #3: Heals Eczema
If you’ve got eczema, bentonite’s got you covered.
Another study published in 2001 examined 33 adults who had occupational eczema on their hands. After being given a bentonite-ladled lotion, about half of the subjects showed an improvement of at least 50%. Some were even fully-cleared of their eczema altogether.
Sure, it’s not like bentonite outright cured eczema in 100% of the subjects.
But, it might be worth a try.
Especially since the study noted that the subjects didn’t exhibit any negative reactions to the lotion.
Benefit #4: Kicks Acne Breakouts To The Curb
Acne sucks—there’s no two ways about it.
But that doesn’t mean you should wallow in misery forever.
You just have to trial-and-error your way through it.
And bentonite is a great tool that can help you see the light.
Why is that?
Some strains of bentonite have antibacterial properties. Killing bacteria (specifically, Propionibacterium acnes) can stop the formation of certain types of acne.
Plus, it can suck up sebum which is often precursors to acne as noted by this study—mo sebum, mo problems.
Benefit #5: Softens Skin
Honestly, I don’t have any research to back up this benefit.
All I have is my personal testament—for what it’s worth.
The thing is, whenever I remove my bentonite mask, I notice that my skin feels as smooth as a baby’s bottom. If you’ve ever used bentonite, I’m sure you know the feeling too.
Whatever’s softening me up (is it you, silica?) is alright with me.
Benefit #6: Normalizes Oily Skin
When researchers want to study acne, sometimes they’ll examine sebum (i.e. oily secretions). And when they examine sebum, they’ll often use bentonite clay as a point of extraction.
After collecting sebum via a bentonite solution, one study found that the rate of oil production decreased and, consequently, stabilized for a 24-hour period.
While it’s impossible to change your skin type (curse you, genetics!), you can at least take the bull by its horns when it comes to buildup. Which makes a pretty big difference with continued use.
Related: Oily Skin Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Being A Greaseball
Benefit #7: Makes Pores Appear Smaller
You can’t shrink pores permanently.
But, you can make them appear smaller. At least for a little bit.
Here’s the deal:
Clogged pores are often packed-to-the-brim with dirt and oil. When pores are clogged, they’re stretched out. And, when they’re stretched out, they look larger than they really are.
But, I think you know where I’m going with this.
Yep, bentonite can vacuum those little buggers up—thanks to its negative electrical charge.
Say hello to (temporarily) shrunken pores!
Benefit #8: Prevents Poison Ivy
One study found that applying a bentonite-based lotion before poison ivy exposure either prevented or reduced allergic reactions.
But, wait. There’s more!
There’s anecdotal (i.e. forum-based) reports that suggest bentonite can calm itching too.
Benefit #9: Wards Off Flesh Eating Ulcers Like A Champ
Last but not least, some types of bentonite clay can effectively treat flesh-eating buruli ulcers.
For the record, buruli ulcers are no joke.
If they’re caught early, antibiotics can usually (but not always) cure them. Otherwise, the skin in and around the ulcer has to be surgically removed—ouch.
French researchers found that applying clay—more specifically, CsAg02—to the ulcer unleashed its antibacterial properties, which, in turn, cured the ulcer.
Words of the wise:
If this is you, don’t try to save yourself with bentonite. Go see a doctor…ASAP!
How To Use Bentonite Clay
- Mix 2 parts clay to 1 part water or apple cider vinegar.
- Slap it on your face in thick-ish layer—¼ of an inch will do.
- Leave it on for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove with a washcloth.
Pro tip: Don’t use this mask before an event. There’s a good chance that you’ll turn into a tomato for a little while.
Water or Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): Which One Is Better?
Before we get into it, let’s get some facts straight.
- Skin has a slightly acidic pH of 5.5.
- Bentonite clay has a slightly alkaline pH of 9.0.
- Water has a neutral pH of 7.0.
- ACV has a highly acidic pH of ~3.0.
You might have noticed that skin and bentonite are on opposite ends of the pH scale.
Why does that matter?
Well, the outer layer of your skin is protected by something called the acid mantle. Using products that don’t jive with your skin’s natural pH will ultimately weaken its defenses, giving way to things like dehydrated skin and acne.
To preserve your skin’s acid mantle, you need to work with products within its range.
Now, let’s look at the pH of the mixtures:
- Water + bentonite should yield a pH of ~8.0.
- ACV + bentonite, alternatively, should yield a pH of ~6.
You can see here that the ACV mixture reigns supreme when it comes to its pH.
As an added perk, the ACV mixture will be a lot smoother than the water one.
Caveat #1: Don’t rinse it down your sink.
Bentonite isn’t specific to skincare—by any means.
In fact, it’s widely used in commercial products. It’s in everything from kitty litter to cement.
That’s right, cement.
While this won’t pose a threat when applied topically to skin, it might become a huge problem when it goes down your sink.
To avoid any clogs, remove your mask with a washcloth. And then, throw the clumps of bentonite in the trash. Otherwise, you might end up with a plumbing nightmare. Ugh.
Caveat #2: Only buy bentonite from reputable brands (especially when you’re using this stuff on your kids).
As a natural product, bentonite is liable to contain natural elements—one of which is lead.
Most brands contain a trace amount of it, but a few brands have been blacklisted by the FDA for containing too much. These brands/products are:
- Best Bentonite
- Alikay Naturals’ Bentonite Me Baby
To be fair, the FDA blacklisted these brands on the basis of internal consumption.
Fun fact: geophagy is the practice of eating clay.
But, I would still be cautious of topical applications when kids are involved.
Caveat #3: Never mix metal and bentonite.
Mixing (wet) bentonite with a metal spoon isn’t the worst thing you can do.
Contrary to popular belief, it won’t “deactivate” the clay.
But, that still doesn’t mean you should do it.
You see, leaving wet bentonite in a metal bowl (or leaving a metal spoon inside the bentonite mixture) is a sure-fire way to rust your trusty bowl/utensil.
Pro-tip: Stay on the safe side—use plastic or glass.
Product Recommendation: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay
Throughout the years, I’ve only used one bentonite clay product. And it’s so good (and affordable) that I haven’t ventured out to see what else is out there.
Most of you already know what I’m talking about—as we speak, it has ~16,000 reviews on Amazon. Check out the infamous Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay here.