Using clay masks on your skin is a beauty hack about as old as, well, dirt. For literally thousands of years, this earthly treasure has been used to cleanse and nourish the skin and was even used in ancient folk medicine for digestive issues, wound healing and a lot more.
But did you know that clay can also work wonders for your hair and scalp? While slathering your strands with mud to cleanse and moisturize them may seem like a strange idea at first, this historic beauty routine is gaining more and more traction among modern day hair fanatics as an alternative method to achieving luscious locks.
If you’re new to this delightfully dirty little secret, we’re going to fill you in on the benefits of clay hair masks, tell you how they work and let you know how to use them. We’ll also give you a few DIY recipes as well as some suggestions of our favorite premade clay masks treatments.
But first, let’s start with what a clay hair mask can do for your tresses.
The Benefits of Clay Hair Masks
Clay is mineral-rich, fine-grained earth that can be obtained from various sources, including volcanic ash and sedimentary rocks. The chemical makeup of the clay will vary depending on where it comes from, but what all clays have in common is that they swell in the presence of liquid and shrink as they dry.
Here’s how that’s beneficial for your hair:
Clay Clarifies Your Hair
If you’re suffering from product buildup in your hair (and who doesn’t sometimes?), a clay mask can be used as an alternative to clarifying shampoos. When water is added to the clay, it will swell and attract the dirt, oil and buildup in your hair.
As the clay dries, it holds onto that buildup which will be washed out of your strands when you rinse. Good-bye, gunk!
Clays Masks Can Lessen the Appearance of Dandruff
Clay masks can also lessen the symptoms of dandruff in a couple of ways. If you suffer from dandruff, you may already be aware that it’s caused by an excess of the bacteria malassezia. Because clay has antimicrobial qualities, it helps to eliminate the bacteria that causes dandruff in the first place.
Secondly, clay absorbs the excess oil that this bacteria feeds on. In other words, it’s a double whammy for those pesky white flakes.
Clay Masks Nourish the Hair
As mentioned, clay is rich in minerals such as calcium, silica, sodium, potassium, iron, magnesium and more. Although clays vary in their makeup, these components nourish strands and may even help to promote hair growth.
Though most evidence of this growth comes from anecdotal accounts, one study in Iran reported that bentonite clay helped sheep to grow longer and softer wool.
Are They’re Drawback to Clay Hair Masks?
Though clay hair masks can be great for clarifying, nourishing hair and fighting symptoms of dandruff, there are a couple of precautions to be aware of. First of all, because they’re great at removing product buildup, impurities and toxins from your hair, clay masks can also remove things like hair dyes or any chemical fillers you may be using.
Clay hair masks will actually fade your color faster than shampoos, so if you want those tones to stay rich and bright, you may not want to make them part of your beauty routine. The same goes for any chemical fillers you may be using in your hair. If you want them to last longer, you may want to take a pass on clay hair masks.
Also, be aware that because clay masks are great clarifiers, overuse can actually be drying for your hair. And because clay masks expand and contract to different degrees, some can be more drying than others.
That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the different types of clay hair masks in order to decide which one is best for you. Next, we’ll give you a rundown on the different types of clay and what kind of hair they best suit.
Which Clay Hair Mask Is Right for You?
Because of their chemical makeup, all clay masks have slightly different qualities. Here’s the lowdown on some of the most popular clays and the kind of hair they’re best suited to:
Bentonite Clay – Best for Thick, Oily and Underclarified Hair
Bentonite became a buzzword when the Aztec Bentonite Clay mask soared to popularity among beauty fanatics. This clay comes from volcanic ash and expands and contracts more than any other clay. It also contains a high degree of negatively charged ions which are effective for attracting positively charged buildup like styling products, toxins and minerals from hard water.
While these two qualities make bentonite a great clarifier, they also make it the most drying of all the clays. So if your hair is suffering from a lack of moisture, you may want to try one of the other clays on the list or at least limit your use.
Kaolin – Best for Dry, High Porosity Hair and Swimmers
Kaolin is a more gentle, moisturizing clay that was first discovered in China. Because it doesn’t expand and contract as much as bentonite, it’s a lot less stripping for people who have dry and/or high porosity hair. For those of you not familiar with the term high porosity, it means that your hair follicles have large pores, which allows moisture to move out of your strands as quickly as it moves in, thus making them prone to frizz and dryness.
Kaolin can also help to calm an inflamed scalp and strengthen your hair roots.
It’s also interesting to note that this clay is positively charged and highly antibacterial, which may help to prevent dandruff. It also means that it can attract negatively charged chlorine molecules out of your hair. Swimmers, this one’s for you!
Rhassoul Clay – Best for Dry, High Porosity and Tightly Coiled Curly Hair
Rhassoul clay comes from the mountains of Morocco. While it will still remove buildup from your hair, it does so more gently than bentonite and also helps to moisturize your hair at the same time. That makes rhassoul especially helpful in the detangling process for people with tight curls and also a good option for people with dry hair.
Because of its high silica content, rhassoul clay is a good exfoliator and helps to unblock pores in the scalp. It’s also good for soothing irritated scalps and can provide relief from dandruff and other scalp conditions like psoriasis.
Related: 31 Best Leave-In Conditioners [For All Hair Types]
DIY or Pre-Made?
If you’re ready to get your clay hair mask on, there are two ways to do it. If you’re an avid do-it-yourselfer, you can buy your clay of choice and mix it with either water or apple cider vinegar and even add some soothing oil if you like (more on that later).
But if you’re not up for a project, there are also pre-made clay masks that will take the guesswork out of the process for you and give you extra beneficial ingredients like aloe vera, coconut oil and more.
Before we get into a few specific DIY recipes and directions, here are a couple of our favorite pre-mixed clay hair masks.
Pre-Mixed Clay Hair Masks
Don’t want the hassle of making your own mask? With these picks, the dirty work is already done for you.
Carol’s Daughter Rhassoul Clay Softening Hair Mask
This softening hair mask contains rhassoul clay along with aloe juice and cactus flower to help clarify, moisturize your locks and give you healthy hair. It’s also nice to know that it contains no parabens, mineral oil, petroleum or artificial colors.
This mask from African Pride is a winner for natural curls and coils and contains rhassoul clay along with hydrating shea butter. We also like that it contains no sulfates, parabens, mineral oil or petroleum.
Wonder Curl Detoxifying Clay Cleanser
This vegan and cruelty-free detoxifying mask contains soothing kaolin clay along with aloe vera, avocado butter, olive oil and shea butter. We also love that the packaging is made from plastic diverted from the ocean and landfills!
Clays and DIY Recipes
If you’re more of a hands-on beauty fanatic, here are a few of our favorite clays and recipes to make your own hair mask.
The Clay: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay
This extremely popular brand of bentonite isn’t exactly a secret anymore, but haircare junkies rave about it.
Though bentonite clay can be mixed straight up with water, we like that this recipe also contains apple cider vinegar to balance ph and add shine. It also contains coconut, almond and castor oil to hydrate, seal, add elasticity, prevent moisture loss and stimulate growth.
½ cup bentonite clay
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon castor oil
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
6 tablespoons ACV (apple cider vinegar)
3 tablespoons water
In this and ALL clay hair mask recipes, it’s important to use a plastic or glass bowl to mix the ingredients. A metal bowl will cause a chemical reaction with the clay and lessen its power to draw toxins out of your hair.
First, add the clay and oil to the bowl and mix.
Add the apple cider vinegar and then wait about 15 seconds. The foaming reaction it creates will help you to avoid lumps.
Stir vigorously until smooth.
Apply the mask to clean, damp hair from roots to ends.
Now cover your hair with a plastic cap for 20 to 30 minutes.
Apply your favorite deep conditioner.
The Clay: ClearLee Kaolin Clay
This two-pound bag will keep you supplied for hair masks, face masks and other DIY projects like soap making, teeth cleaners and deodorants.
In addition to kaolin clay, this recipe contains honey and essential oil to gently cleanse and hydrate dry hair.
4 to 6 teaspoons kaolin clay
½ cup hot water
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
2 to 3 drops of your favorite essential oil
Add the clay and hot water to a plastic or glass bowl and mix.
Next, add the honey and your favorite essential oil and combine until smooth.
As in the previous recipe, apply to clean, damp (but not soaking wet) hair. Use a cap to cover your hair for 20 to 30 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly and follow up with your go-to conditioner.
The Clay: Poppy Austin Rhassoul Clay Hair Mask
This certified vegan clay is free of parabens, fragrances, additives and alcohol and comes with a unique, 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
Looking for something ultra simple? Rhassoul and any hair clay can be mixed with just plain water. But if you want to go extra fancy, try this recipe with rose water, argan oil and essential rose oil. It smells divine!
¼ cup rhassoul clay
Enough rose water to create a paste
2 teaspoons argan oil
5 drop essential rose oil
In a non-metal bowl, combine the clay and argan oil. Now add the rose water little by little until you have a smooth, spreadable paste. Once you achieve the right consistency, add your rose oil.
Again, apply the mixture on damp hair from root to tip and cover with a shower cap for 20 to 30 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly with warm water and finish with your favorite conditioner.
A Few More Tips….
Before you dive into your DIY hair mask, here are a few more things to keep in mind:
1: When applying your mask, be sure to wear an old t-shirt or tank top that you’re not afraid to get dirty. Clay may be great for your hair, but it’s not so great for your clothes.
2: Always apply your mask from roots to tips in order to get the full benefits. Sectioning your hair will also ensure you don’t miss a spot!
3: As mentioned before, always mix your masks in a non-metal bowl to avoid a chemical reaction between the metal and clay that will make the mask less effective on your hair.
4: Rinse your hair out thoroughly in the shower with WARM water. Although cool water is great for sealing the cuticles of your hair, it doesn’t work as well when you’re trying to get clay out of your locks.
5: Follow up with your favorite conditioner. And that you CAN rinse out with cool water.
Time to Play with Clay
We hope you’ve found our guide to clay hair masks helpful. Before you roll up your sleeves and try this trending beauty routine, be sure to choose a clay that’s right for your hair type. Also, if your hair is dry or high porosity, you may want to limit treatments to once or twice a month.
Oily and low porosity hair types may benefit from more frequent use. But when it’s all said and done, everyone’s hair is different. So feel free to experiment to figure out what’s best for you. With the right combination, this age old beauty remedy could help you attain that bouncy, beautiful hair you’ve always dreamed of!
You might also be interested in: Our 9 Favorite Flat Irons For All Hair Types
The Best Clay Hair Masks:
- Carol’s Daughter Rhassoul Clay Softening Hair Mask
- African Pride
- Wonder Curl Detoxifying Clay Cleanser
- Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay
- ClearLee Kaolin Clay
- Poppy Austin Rhassoul Clay Hair Mask