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Definitive Guide to Bentonite Clay + 10 Everyday Uses and Benefits
Bentonite clay has earned a real name for itself in the cosmetic and health care industry. Through science and my own results, it’s renowned for a reason. Cosmetic clay is super popular in the beauty world for clay face masks. But it does so much more.
I think of Bentonite Clay as the king of clays. I’m so excited to share with you how bentonite clay works, what the benefits are and how to incorporate it into your everyday use.
I suffered from acne for years, well after passing the teenage era and nearly to my 30’s. Last year I discovered bentonite clay and finally put an end to my suffering. Now I’m on the verge of wrinkles, alas.
I tried every type of treatment, from doctors prescription spot treatments to proactive and everything in between. I was shocked to learn that for me, the remedy was dirt. Don’t go running out to the garden and dig up some dirt from your backyard. It will not work the same. Clay is a unique mineral has some pretty cool benefits.
In this guide, we only cover external uses and benefits of bentonite clay, mostly for beauty and cosmetic purposes.
What is Bentonite Clay?
Bentonite clay is actually the commercial name for a mineral called montmorillonite. Another commercial name you will commonly see referenced as healing clay, living clay, indian healing clay and aztec healing clay.
Montmorillonite was first discovered near a city called Fort Benton in Montana. When the clay was first discovered in 1898, it was referenced as Bentonite.
According to Wyoming mining stats, Wyoming makes up to 70% of the worlds known bentonite clay deposits. With over 4 million tonnes of sodium bentonite being mined annually. Bentonite clay can also be mined from these other countries
- United States
- China (the world’s second largest bentonite producer)
- New Zealand
Each country produces this approximate share of bentonite each year:
How is Bentonite Made?
Bentonite is from the smectite family of minerals. It’s a super small particulate, less than 2 micro meters. That’s the smallest of the 3 particles in dirt, sand or silt.
We have much more about how clay is classified and in our in-depth guide to how clay works.
For bentonite clay to form, a couple geological things have to happen. The biggest causation, is volcanic ash. In the late cretaceous period, approx 120 million years ago, volcanic ash covered most of Montana and Wymoning. During evolving and with the addition of water the bentonite clay chemically changes, becoming negatively charged.
It’s often mined many meters beneath the earth’s surface and found in a semi hydrated state. Here’s what it looks like at a bentonite processing plant in greece:
Typically then it’s cleaned, tested for the grade and then dried and milled into a powder. So it looks like this:
The Bentonite Clay from our facial clay assortment pack is sourced from near the Nevada border in the California Mojave desert.
What are the minerals in Bentonite Clay?
We already established, bentonite is the commercial name for montmorilonite. Montmorilonite is a phyllosilicate mineral that is made up of minerals using this empirical formula (Na,Ca)0.33(Al,Mg)2(Si4O10). Those minerals are:
- Silicon (SiO2)
- Aluminum (Al,Mg2
- Calcium (Ca)
- Sodium (Na)
- Hydrogen (H2O)
The concentration of that formula in a bentonite sample gives you the montmorillonite concentration. From our clay sample below, our clay contains a 94% montmorillonite concentration. To be effective, the clay should contain a minimum 30% montmorillonite. So ours is very highly concentrate. The additional, naturally occuring minerals contained in the sample are iron, potassium, titanium and trace minerals.
A sample analysis of our calcium bentonite clay contains these minerals:
The mineral content of the clay determines what type of clay it is. For example, some bentonite clay has a higher portion of one type of mineral. There are 4 types of bentonite clay depending on dominant mineral content:
- Potassium (K)
- Sodium (Na)
- Calcium (Ca)
- Aluminium (Al)
Commercially, the most popular are Calcium and Sodium Bentonite.
What is Sodium Bentonite?
Sodium bentonite is a montmorillonite clay that contains sodium as it’s dominant mineral. It is a swelling clay, and absorbs several times it’s weight in water. According to clay.org, the less calcium content, the increased ability to swell.
Sodium bentonite is much more common to access. Because of its increased ability to swell and access, sodium bentonite is a popular choice for industrial applications. Therefore, on the market it is generally a cheaper clay.
Don’t confuse the word “sodium” with “salt”. Sodium is good for you. It’s a natural mineral that you body requires as an essential mineral in order to survive. Table salt is different. It’s a manufactured sodium, not a naturally occuring sodium.
What is Calcium Bentonite?
Calcium bentonite is a contains calcium as it’s dominant mineral. This dominance of calcium gives it different characteristics. It still maintains some swelling properties. But it cannot swell in the same way that sodium bentonite can.
Through a chemical process of adding sodium, calcium bentonite can also be altered to be a sodium bentonite.
What is the difference between Calcium and Sodium Bentonite?
The main difference between the two types of clays is the dominant mineral.
Sodium clay has a much stronger swelling capability.
For cosmetic purposes, they both possess the same benefit. They both contain the ability to exchange ions. That’s the cation exchange capability, explained in our how clay works.
A simple google search will however pull up a lot of conflicting information. Some claims that one is better than the other. Mostly related to the ingestion of bentonite clay. For internal purposes, calcium bentonite is the preferred clay. But we won’t get too much into that since we are using bentonite for cosmetic purposes.
Does the clay that you are buying state whether it’s calcium or sodium bentonite? If it doesn’t, it’s likely that company doesn’t have the lab report to verify the mineral content.
Bentonite Clay Buying Guide
To help you navigate the world of bentonite clay, here’s some questions to consider.
Does Bentonite Clay have an odor?
Bentonite clay is odorless. If your purchased clay has an odor, I would be concerned about what additives might be in it.
What color should bentonite clay be?
Our bentonite clay is a green calcium montmorillonite clay, it has a greyish/greenish tone. Color variations are perfectly normal, as the source can vary.
Look for a bentonite clay with grey or green tones. A whiter color could indicate additional fillers were added.
Is there a difference between cosmetic, food grade and industrial?
Yes! Bentonite clay is processed differently depending on its use. Once it is mined, it is cleaned. Remember it’s from the ground, so any dirt or silt is separated from the clay. Food grade and cosmetic grade clay are tested for contaminants and mineral content.
Industrial bentonite may be further chemically processed. So I definitely don’t suggest going to the local hardware store and picking up a bag of bentonite clay for your skin.
Are there added fillers or minerals?
This is a typical scenario for commercial clays. Bentonite clay is effective if it contains at least 30% montmorillonite. Obviously, the higher concentration, the better.
If your bentonite clay is only 30% montmorillonite, what is the other 70%? It’s very normal for there to be other natural minerals that are contained in bentonite, depending on it’s source. But in some cases, companies will add a bunch of minerals claiming that this makes the clay better.
I have not found research evidence of this. So this is my understanding. The way clay works is it does a cation exchange with similar charged ions. Ions like heavy metals, chemicals and toxins. So adding further minerals to the clay doesn’t help this process, it actually dilutes its capability.
What are the Benefits of Bentonite Clay?
It’s so important to know the “what” as we discovered above for what is bentonite clay. And also the “how”, which we delve even deeper into in how clay works.
So let’s breakdown some of the benefits that you might experience by using Bentonite Clay. We are going to stick to the beauty and skincare benefits.
What is the definition of detox?
a regimen or treatment intended to remove toxins and impurities from the body
Bentonite clay is able to detox your body by a scientific process called cation exchange. Here’s a brief overview of how that works. Clay is naturally negatively charged, and during evolution minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium and iron attract to its surface. When the clay is activated with liquid, those minerals will swap with similar charged ions. Those could include heavy metals, toxins, and chemicals. More about that here.
Pretty cool hey!
So basically, the clay minerals swap with the impurities on your skin. They are then removed from your skin when the clay face mask is removed.
Detoxing heavy metals and chemicals from your skin sounds pretty absurd. My first thoughts were that I absolutely don’t have any of that on my skin. Not true.
Everyday simply walking around outside we expose our skin to pollution. That pollution can be in the form of micro-particles that you breath or land on your skin. Some of those particles includes heavy metals. In fact, cadmium, lead and mercury are 3 common heavy metals in air pollution.
Next is chemicals, you would think you certainly don’t have chemicals trapped in your pores. Do you apply makeup to your skin?
There is a slurry of chemicals used in makeup products, unless it’s natural with healthy preservatives. Safe cosmetics has a list of chemicals that are contained in your everyday makeup. They quote:
The laws governing cosmetics and personal care products are so limited that known cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens, are legally allowed in personal care products.
In fact, did you know that cosmetics, except color additives, do not require pre-approval by the FDA before going on the market? There are guidelines and requirements for ingredients to be followed. But to take a skincare or makeup product to market, there are no requirements that company must pass. Except for labelling requirements.
So yes, your skin probably does get exposed to heavy metals and chemicals that definitely should not be there. Clay is unlike any other product in that it naturally adsorbs those nasties from your skin.
2. Deep Pore Cleansing
Bentonite clay also has natural antibacterial qualities. It has even been proved to be effective against some antibiotic resistant bacteria. Not all bacteria is bad, it is important to maintain a healthy skin microbiome balance. You can do this by ditching the harsh antibacterial soap bars and replacing it with naturally antibacterial methods. Like clay!
By applying a face mask, clay is able to get into your pores and absorb impurities stuck in your pores. Reducing the crap stuck in your pores also has the benefit of reducing the size of your pores.
Propionibacterium acnes is the name of the bacteria that actually causes acne. Pores on your face get clogged by dead skin cells, hair, or oil. They clump together form a plug on the pores. That plug can then be potentially infected by acne causing bacteria.
Not all types of clay are antibacterial. In fact, this research paper indicated less than 5% of tested clays worldwide are antibacterial. Only clay that has originated from a volcanic ash deposit has been proven to be antibacterial. It’s also not antibacterial when in a dry format, only when it has been hydrated.
The bentonite clay we include in our facial clay mask assortment pack does have direct antibacterial properties.
Clay can kill bacteria by enveloping the bacteria by physical attraction and essentially robbing them of nutrients. Muahaha.
Side note, I really wanted to design a clay particle robbing a bacteria figure here. This post has taken me a really long time, so I’ll take a break and hopefully come back to that idea!
3. Oil Absorbing
If you suffer from oily skin, a clay mask is a wonderful solution to integrate into your skincare routine 1 to 2 times a week.
Oily skin is just downright uncomfortable.
I know, it’s a problem I have always had to deal with. Using clay as part of my skincare has made a huge improvement on my oily skin. Not only do I indulge in bentonite clay face masks, but I also use Kaolin clay daily as a cleanser.
3 crappy oily skin woes you might be able to relate too. The constant sheen on your forehead. Accidentally wiping your eyes and getting that extra oily skin burning your eyes. Or the ridiculous amounts of acne that oily skin contributes to. It all sucks.
Did you know? People with acne secrete over double the sebum (oil) than people without acne?
Clay is naturally amazing at absorbing oil from your skin. Oily skin is often referred to as excess sebum on your skin. This means that your glands are producing too much oil.
In this study by the journal of investigative dermatology, bentonite clay was applied to absorb sebum from the skin every 3 hours for a 24 hour period.
What happened? In the first 12 hours, the sebum production consistently declined. For the second 12 hours it remained consistent.
Those results indicate that the clay not only absorbs excess sebum but contributes to regulating the ongoing production of oil.
According to Mayo Clinic, there are 4 main causes of acne:
- Excess oil production
- Hair follicles clogged by oil and dead skin cells
- Excess activity hormones
And acne affects a lot more of us than you think, out of 1,013 people surveyed by the University of Alabama, acne is more prevalent than you think:
- 20-29 Women 50.9% 50.9%
- 30-39 Women 35.2% 35.2%
- 40-49 Women 26.3% 26.3%
- 50’s+ Women 15.3% 15.3%
- 20-29 Male 42.5% 42.5%
- 30-39 Male 20.1% 20.1%
- 40-49 Male 12% 12%
- 50’s+ Men 7.3% 7.3%
The antibacterial ability and oil absorption capability of bentonite clay combat both of those the first 3 causes of acne.
This study further proves that Bentonite is an effective treatment against acne. Out of 133 participants, 54% of participants founds a significant improvement over 6 weeks for inflammatory and non-inflammatory skin lesions and acne.
5. Improve Collagen Production
Collagen production is the most abundant protein in your body and it vital for skin elasticity. Ask the scientists dished out some pretty cool facts about collagen. Some of them are a bit depressing.
Age is the only thing that can stop collagen from being amazing. The older you get, the less collagen you make. The collagen you do make, it’s not as high-quality.
So as you age, without the full production of collagen, the appearance of your skin will be impacted. Especially with fine lines and wrinkles. I’m not referring to aging in your 60’s when this starts. Between your 20’s and 30’s your natural production of collagen starts to decrease.
Maintaining a healthy diet full of vitamins is important to keep your collagen production healthy. You can support collagen production of your skin through internal and external methods. Add collagen
to your diet, or I like biosil (silicon) to enhance natural collagen product. And apply Bentonite face masks 1-2 times a week.
This study on mice found, that after daily application of clay for 7 days the number of collagen fibres on the skin increased.
However, this 1 application study however found that one application of a clay mask was not enough to increase skin elasticity and firmness. My interpretation of these 2 studies would indicate that you need to apply consistent application to see those results. Remember, our instructions for how to use a clay mask suggest 1-2 times per week.
6. Heal Skin from Wounds, Allergic Reactions,
Bentonite clay has garnered it’s name as the living clay or healing clay because of it’s ability to heal your body. Most of those references are when taken internally. But Bentonite clay can heal your body of wounds, even open ones.
This study applied a bentonite lotion prior to a lab induced poison ivy. One arm received the lotion, the other arm didn’t. The arm with the bentonite lotion prevented or substantially diminished reactions.
Because bentonite clay is antibacterial, it will prevent your wounds from developing an infection. That was proven in this study that bentonite possesses strong anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. Not only that, in this lab test bentonite clay was shown to have eliminated e. coli, staph aureus, pseudomas aeruginosa, and salmonella.
What is Bentonite Clay good for? Here are 10 Everyday Uses of Bentonite Clay
Bentonite clay has been referred to as the clay with 1,000 uses. Wayyy too many to think of and list. I put together a handy list of 10 everyday uses of bentonite clay for your beauty routine.
1. Clay Mask
Given our website name, this was obviously going to be the first use! Our favorite way to get the facial benefits of bentonite clay, plus it’s a great relaxing evening activity.
Follow these how to use a clay mask instructions for full details. Start with the classic apple cider vinegar and bentonite clay instructions or try one of these 9 bentonite clay recipes. Here’s a couple of my favorites:
2. Hair Mask
We often forget about our hair health. The reality is that our hair is really put to the test every day. We apply multiple products to clean and condition our hair. Then we style with rigorous blow drying and straightening. Followed up by the addition of hair sprays or gels. Not too mention the water quality that you wash your hair with daily can impact the health of your hair.
All that can contribute to minerals, chemical or product build up in your hair. This can cause excessive tangles, dryness, breakage.
Bentonite clay treats your hair to absorb the excess oil and toxins that are left in your hair. My hair has never felt so healthy since starting bentonite clay hair masks!
Our hair mask recipes are coming soon, you can easily whip up a bentonite clay hair mask with clay, apple cider vinegar and water. Apply to your wet hair remove before it dries.
3. Clay Soap Bar
Adding bentonite clay to your homemade soap bar will integrate oil absorption and added antibacterial properties to your bar.
A recipe for this will be coming soon!
The side effects of deodorant have been proven time and time again. For some of us we see that risk as better than the alternative, stinky armpits!
Turns out, it’s fairly simple to make your own DIY deodorant with bentonite clay. If you are transitioning to a natural deodorant, definitely try the easing into it with an armpit detox.
5. Armpit Detox
Traditional deodorant has the side effect of blocking your pores and not allowing you to sweat at all. This can cause build up of nasty toxins that your body wants to get rid of through your sweat. Heavy metals are commonly part of that.
While you are transitioning to a natural deodorant, it’s helpful to give your armpits some relief with a detox. Use the apple cider vinegar and bentonite clay face mask recipe, apply to your armpits, and wash off before dry.
6. Body Mask
It’s very common spa beauty treatment, but we forget about body masks in our at home spa nights. Even though they are super easy to do. Your skin is your largest organ.
The benefits your face gets from a face mask are the same benefits your whole body will see in a body mask.
I love to slather the clay all over my body in a body mask, and then transition my body mask to a detox bath.
7. Detox Bath
Detox baths are an amazing way for bentonite clay to draw out the impurities from your body and also get all the other benefits from the clay.
Just mix a 1/4 cup of clay in water and add to your bath. Make sure to have a glass of water whenever you are enjoying a detox bath.
First of all, what the heck is a poultice?
poul – tice : noun
a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material or flour, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place with a cloth.
It’s a super thick application of bentonite clay, usually mixed with water. Apply as a paste to your skin for a couple hours then cover with a moist gauze or bandage. The bandage allows the clay to stay moist for a longer period.
You might apply a poultice for one of these reasons:
- skin infections
- skin irritation or redness
Bentonite clay or french green clay both work well in poultice applications.
9. Remineralizing Toothpaste and Oral Rinse
Bentonite clay is made up of minerals. So ditch the chemical tooth paste and replace with a mineralizing, natural option. I use this recipe from wellness mama for my powder toothpaste.
10. Baby Powder Alternative
Some baby powders that you are applying daily to your child’s most sensitive area might contain a nasty hidden ingredient, asbestos.
Yes, you read that correct.
The same asbestos that cause construction crews to use hazmat suits when removing from a building.
Talc, is a mineral and often found in metamorphic rocks. Itself does not contain asbestos, but the 2 minerals can sometimes be found close to one another and cross contaminate. Ensure the baby powder that you are purchasing has been tested to be asbestos free.
Bentonite makes a baby powder alternative. It contains many of the similar minerals that talc does so it can be just as soothing for those rashes.
In diaper dermatitis, which is one of the most common skin disorders of infancy, bentonite is reported to act better and faster than calendula, the current treatment of this type of dermatitis. (Source)
If you do use as a baby powder alternative, try to avoid getting the dust into the air. Apply a small amount on your hand and rub onto the skin. Do not shake the bottle up and down to cause dust. Always avoid inhaling bentonite clay. It’s super small particles are can get into your lungs. That goes the same with any fine powders, like these examples baby powder inhalation.
What are the side effects of bentonite clay?
Now that you know all the reasons why bentonite is a natural addition to your daily skin care routine.
Is bentonite clay safe? Are there any side effects of bentonite?
There are no known side effects to Bentonite Clay. As with anything you are trying new on your skin, always do a test patch prior to full application. This ensures that your skin will not have any allergic reactions.
The most common reported side effect of bentonite clay when used on your skin is itchiness or redness.
Redness is perfectly normal to experience for approx 30 minutes after application.
Itchiness is a bit more common when bentonite is mixed with water vs apple cider vinegar or a comparable acidic ingredient. Bentonite clay has a very high PH of approx 9.0. Your skin has a PH level of 5.5 (approx) so applying a high PH ingredient to your skin can cause itchiness. In all of our recipes we always make sure to do a PH test to reduce the potential of irritation.
The FDA regards bentonite clay as generally safe. There have been 2 brands of bentonite that were tested and contained unsafe levels of lead. They is a difference between volcanic and sedimentary clay origins. If the source of the clay is sedimentary, the potential for contaminants, like lead is much higher. Our bentonite is a volcanic sourced bentonite and tested to contain no lead.
If you enjoyed our bentonite definitive guide, check out our definitive guide to kaolin clay.
What has been your experience with Bentonite Clay? Super eager to get your feedback, leave a comment below 🙂
Disclaimer: our content does not constitute dermatologist or medical advice.
Where are the credible sources for your information?
Hi Najma, I appreciate your concern as I often also see a lot of disinformation on the internet, I’m very careful and spend a lot of time researching case studies or research papers on each of our topics, products and recipes. I choose to reference the sources as a link in the article.
This article references these sources throughout, as you will find above, Wyoming Mining, Wikipedia: Bentonite, Wikipedia: Bentonite Production, Clays.org, Geoscience World: Clay Minerals, ScienceDirect, PubMed: Effect of topical Clay application on synthesis of collagen, ResearchGate: Characterization and Short term Study of Clay Facial Mask, PubMed: Prevention of Poision Ivy and Contact Dermatitis by Bentonite, and BioMedical: Wound Healing Effects of Bentonite.
A lot of information about how bentonite works can be found in our how clay masks work article, which also contains sources and references.