Clay Is Not New
The thought of using clay on the skin is nothing new. The use of clay as a beauty product is as old as humankind. The first written reference known to exist was the use of "stones" and a description of their mineral benefits that dates to Rome (60 BC). Throughout history clay has been used topically to sooth the skin or internally for medicinal purposes. The first reference to the deliberate eating of clay or dirt is found by Aristotle (384-322 BC) where he refers to the practice for therapeutic and religious purposes. Later Marco Polo described how in his travels he saw Muslim pilgrims cure fevers by ingesting "pink earth." These practices are still followed across cultures, communities and countries today.
Most people think about the use of clay for making cooking pots, bricks, porcelain, even drain pipes. In ancient Mesopotamia, clay was even used for their writing to form Cuneiform where the clay tablet had impressions pressed into wet clay, forming the first known writing in the world.
In China, the use of kaolinite, which is a white mineral clay, is most commonly known for its use in the production of porcelain. However, the Chinese have used kaolinite for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, toothpaste, cosmetic, facials and for soap.
Some uses of clay throughout history include:
- Oral applications
- Topical applications
- Gastrointestinal protectors
- Oral laxatives
- Used in combination with plant material to promote hallucinogenic properties
There is archaeological evidence to suggest our prehistoric ancestors, including Neanderthals used colorful naturally dried clays, called ochre, as pigments, or mineral rich clays with water to create salves and treat wounds, soothe skin irritations, and perhaps even for religious purposes.
In 1898, Wilber C. Knight, a geologist, found a new type of clay while investigating the Cretaceous Benton Shale near Rock River, Wyoming. Knight named this new clay Bentonite. Most people associate Bentonite clay as a hazard to building in the west; however, Bentonite* (much like kaolinite) is a mineral clay with many of these same cosmetic, dermatological, and medicinal uses. Bentonite has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years for the same purposes. Now these natural clays are enjoying a renaissance and being used in high-end cosmetics and facial products.
*Bentonite complies with the FDA for contact with food and drug.
1. St. George, G (2015) How Clay works: Science and Application of Clays and Clay-like Minerals in Health and Beauty.
2. Carretero, MI. (2002) Clay Minerals and Their Beneficial Effects Upon Human Health. Applied Clay Science (21), 155-163
3. Price, Weston, A. (2009) Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
4. Bergaya, F, Theng, BKG, & Lagaly, G. (2006) Handbook of Clay Science Developments in Clay Science, Vol. 1 (11), pp 117 (25)