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It’s Official: Kaolin Clay is the Ultimate Gentle Acne-Fighter

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If you’re into skincare, you’ve probably had at least one clay mask in your arsenal since you were a tween. And for good reason: Clay is one of the oldest known oily skin and acne-fighting ingredients in existence. But some versions can excessively dry out your complexion, which could lead to sensitivity or increased oil production—and ultimately, more breakouts. That’s why we’re devoted to kaolin clay, which has all the benefits of clay without posing a problem for dry skin or sensitive skin types.

About the Expert:

Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a dermatologist and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Howard Sobel, MD, is a dermatologist and dermatologic cosmetic surgeon at Sobel Skin in New York City.

What are the benefits of kaolin clay?

Here’s exactly how to harness each type of kaolin clay's distinct benefits.

1. It’s great for absorbing excess oil.

This is true of every shade of kaolin clay, which penetrates the pores when applied wet—then draws away oil as it dries. What’s exceptional about kaolin clay, though, is its ability to do so without pulling away too much of your skin’s moisture with it. “Bentonite clay, on the other hand, is derived from volcanic ash, and has a much greater drying effect on the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD. In fact, bentonite clay has a water absorption rate that’s five times higher than kaolin clay.

2. It soaks up acne-causing impurities.

Green kaolin clay, which derives its color from ancient plant matter and iron oxides, absorbs dirt and bacteria at the same time it draws away oil. This is due to its slightly higher absorption rate than white kaolin clay, says Dr. Sobel. If you need an extra-strength skin detoxifier, a green kaolin clay facial mask is a great option.

3. It gives you the ultimate glow.

Because kaolin clay often has a slightly grainy texture, it’s an ideal gentle exfoliator. As you massage it into your skin, this exfoliating clay not only buffs away dead skin cells, it also promotes blood flow to the complexion. “Yellow kaolin clay is especially perfect for stimulating circulation in the skin and provides a rejuvenated look,” says Dr. Sobel. Exfoliate with kaolin clay, and you'll see softer, smoother, brighter skin both instantly and long-term.

4. It soothes sensitive skin.

It might sound counterintuitive that such a powerful blemish-fighter can also calm the complexion, but it’s true, says Dr. Zeichner. It has mild healing and inflammation-fighting properties that make it as useful for soothing facial redness and irritation as battling itchy bug bites or rashes, especially in the case of pink kaolin clay.

How can you use kaolin clay in your skincare routine?

The most common way to use kaolin clay is in the form of a face mask. GO-TO SKINCARE The Removalist is loaded with kaolin clay to deeply purify pores, but also features antioxidants to hydrate and protect. If you’re extra oily, you’ll love GENERATION CLAY Ultra Violet Brightening Purple Clay Mask, which pairs kaolin and bentonite clays with Davidson plum, a gentle, natural exfoliator.

Want to go the DIY route? Dr. Sobel recommends making a paste from kaolin clay, honey, and water, and leaving it on the skin for five to ten minutes. “Another popular way to use the clay is as a cleanser,” he says. “Simply dampen your skin and apply dry clay in gentle, circular motions. It won’t foam up like a regular cleanser, but it will effectively remove dirt, debris, and dead skin cells from the face, leaving you with a radiant complexion.”

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About the author
Kate Foster Kaplove
Kate is a freelance beauty editor in Brooklyn. She was previously a beauty editor at ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, and Seventeen. Her favorite topics to write about are skincare and fragrance, especially as they relate to art, culture, & politics.
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Article Last Updated July 1, 2020 12:00 AM