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The Best Skin-Care Clays for a Clear, Glowing Complexion

The secret to great skin is hidden below the earth's surface. These are the clays you need for complexion perfection.

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Bentonite clay

Bentonite, one of the most popular clays, is composed of volcanic ash, with a high percentage of montmorillonite, a group of soft minerals. This clay has an abundance of skin-care superpowers—from absorbing excess oil to unclogging pores to tightening skin, making it ideal for people with oily and congested complexions. (These myths about oily skin could be ruining your skin.) “What’s cool is that when bentonite is mixed with liquid, it produces a negative charge and swells up like a sponge, drawing out positively charged toxins, excess sebum, bacteria, and fungus,” says Jenny Patinkin, beauty expert and author of Lazy Perfection: The Art of Looking Great Without Really Trying. Its unparalleled absorbing abilities make it an effective remedy for those with oily and acne-prone skin, as well as eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. Try: Kiehl’s Since 1851 Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask or Anthony Deep Pore Cleansing Clay. Try whipping up a DIY treatment with equal parts Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay and apple cider vinegar (Here are 15 ways apple cider vinegar benefits your health.) Hey, if it’s good enough for Mindy Kaling, it’s good enough for us.

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Cambrian blue clay

Cambrian blue clay is excavated from the salt lakes of Siberia. Its beautiful hue is derived from zinc, iron, and algae. This rare, mineral- and saline-rich clay is super detoxifying and absorbent. Think of it like a sponge. “It penetrates into pores to absorb bacteria, excess sebum, and toxins. So it’s great for blemish treatments, bar soaps, and facial masks,” says Alexandra Wagner, Los Angeles esthetician and founder of her eponymous skin-care line. (Struggling with breakouts? Try these homemade acne remedies.) It also promotes circulation and lymphatic drainage, which is why you’ll often see this earthly ingredient in bath soaks and compresses. Try: Herbivore Botanicals Blue Clay Spot Treatment Mask or Rocky Top Soap Shop Cambrian Blue Clay Soap. These are the nine detoxifying ingredients you need to add to your skin-care routine. (Hint: Clay is one of them).

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French pink clay (rose clay)

French pink is a combination of red and white clays. One of the mildest skin-care clays, this superfine rose-colored powder is a marvel for polishing and rejuvenating. “French pink’s soft texture makes it amazing for cleansing and sloughing away dead skin cells, leaving your complexion smoother and refreshed,” says esthetician Shani Darden. And its gentle nature makes it suitable for even sensitive and mature skin types. No wonder it’s a staple in a so many topicals—everything from cleansers and masks to bar soaps and exfoliants. Try: Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask With Rose Clay, Herbivore Botanicals Pink Clay Cleansing Bar Soap, or Edible Beauty & Sleeping Beauty Purifying Mousse. Don’t miss the one move that will keep your face glowing all year long.

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Umbrian clay

Can you guess where this clay is from? If you said Umbria, Italy, you’re correct. This mineral-rich clay is a purifying powerhouse, known for its ability to unclog pores, reduce breakouts, and promote clarity. It also posses anti-inflammatory properties, which are particularly helpful for calming irritation, inflammation, and angry blemishes. Try: Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask. Here are 11 more blemish-busting face masks.

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French green illite clay (sea clay or marine clay)

Sourced from quarries in Northern France, French green illite clay is composed of iron oxides, decomposed plant matter (predominantly algae and kelp), and trace minerals, such as calcium, aluminum, magnesium, silica, phosphorous, copper, and zinc. This mineral clay has a light greenish-grey hue and is prized for its clarifying, toning, and detoxifying abilities. Try: Astrida Natural Chamomile & White Willow Bark Clay Face Mask Concentrate.

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French green montmorillonite clay

French green montmorillonite, which is typically found in Southern France, has a high mineral concentration—it’s rich in magnesium, iron, manganese, calcium, and silica—and tends to be darker in color than illite. Another key difference is that it’s a swelling clay. (Remember the sponge analogy from earlier?). Its impurity-absorbing and pore-tightening abilities make it ideal for congested and oily complexions. Try: Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Clay Cleanser or Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Trans-foam Clay in Refreshing Green. Read up on the surprising reasons your skin gets so greasy.

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White kaolin clay (white cosmetic clay)

“White kaolin is the mildest of all clays and is one of the most versatile for use in skincare and cosmetics products,” explains Christine Rice, product manager at Mountain Rose Herbs. It’s somewhat absorbent—less so than other clays—yet gentle and can be used by all skin types, even those who are super sensitive. Try: Sephora Collection White Clay Mask or Toulon Deep Pore Refining Mineral Masque with White Kaolin Clay. These lifestyle hacks will keep your sensitive skin calm and clear.

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Yellow kaolin clay

Yellow kaolin is known for its circulation-boosting, cleansing, and mild exfoliating properties. Slightly more absorbent than white kaolin, it’s suitable for normal skin types—pretty much anyone who isn’t prone to irritation or overdrying. (Watch out for the five beauty myths that may be drying out your skin). Try: Plant Makeup Chamomile, Clay + Turmeric Mask.

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Red kaolin clay

Rich in iron oxides and copper, red kaolin clay is the most absorptive of the kaolin clays, which makes it ideal for anyone with an oily complexion. (These are the 11 beauty secrets women with oily skin should memorize.) “It’s also anti-inflammatory, so is helpful to reduce the appearance of inflammation and puffiness,” notes Patinkin. Try: Bareminerals Clay Chameleon Transforming Purifying Cleanser.

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Rhassoul clay (Moroccan lava clay or Moroccan red clay)

Rhassoul, which comes from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, is a rare, mineral-rich clay is prized for its therapeutic properties. You’ll see it most often used in high-end spas. “This ancient clay blends well with water, creating a luxuriously smooth paste that can be applied to skin,” says Rice. It has a bevy of benefits—from cleansing and buffing away dead, flaky skin to boosting elasticity, improving tone, and controlling sebum—and it’s gentle enough for anyone to use. Try: Josie Maran Whipped Mud Mask Argan Hydrating and Detoxifying Treatment, Sahara Rose Facial Polish Exfoliant–Cactus Blossom & Lava Clay, or Poppy Austin Rhassoul Clay Face and Hair Mask. You don’t have to visit a fancy spa for a pampering experience. Here are a few more must-have products for an at-home spa day.

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Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay Cohn has a B.A. in Creative Writing & Communications from the University of Miami. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Brides, Fodor's, Travel + Leisure, PureWow, USA Today, and more.