As clean beauty continues to rise around the globe, consumers who once sought prepackaged items are now looking to take control of what they put on their bodies. This is taken a step further by those who want to get their hands on DIY methods that are rich in botanicals and benefits. Hair masking has been one of many entry points for eager concoctors out there, however, there’s been a resurgence in the use of bentonite clay for a variety of concerns.
In the natural hair world, in particular, bentonite clay is said to be a reliable clarifier that draws out impurities while offering microbe and flake reduction—which is pretty similar to the results seen when the clay is applied on skin. Other DIY enthusiasts report experiencing moisturized, softened, curl-defined, shiny, and frizz-free hair. We reached out to the experts to see if these claims are legit.
Meet the Expert
- Ava Shamban, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in various skin treatments including those related to acne, acne scarring, pigmentation, rosacea, photo-aging, and intrinsic as well as epigenetic aging.
- Gretchen Friese is a BosleyMD-certified trichologist.
- Monaé Everett is a celebrity hairstylist, author, and speaker. She is the creator of "The Monae Life Academy" and the Texture Style Awards, the first hair competition of its kind, celebrating all four hair textures.
Keep reading to learn more about bentonite clay, and its benefits for hair, below.
What Is Bentonite Clay?
A thick, mud-like substance, bentonite clay is derived from volcanic ash in deep rock deposits from the smectite group. It has the highest absorption of oil and it is very pliable and soft. It has been a helpful ingredient throughout history due to it being an absorbent aluminum phyllosilicate clay.
In simpler words, it can get rid of toxins with a negative charge, whether it be through internal or external applications.
- Type of ingredient: Mineral-rich clay
- Main benefits: Eliminates toxins, dandruff, and dead skin cells, removes build-up, and draws out impurities.
- Who should use it: Bentonite clay is recommended for natural hair types as
- How often can you use it: Once a month or as needed
- Works well with: Apple cider vinegar and other humectants, ingredients like HA, PGA, niacinamide, peptides, oleosomes, ceramides, and lipids.
- Don’t use with: Those with a highly sensitive scalp may want to use with caution and test patch before embarking on a routine. Bentonite clay can also be harsh on super high porosity hair, and anyone with an oily scalp/hair should avoid it as bentonite clay can cause more oil and weigh down the hair.
Benefits of Bentonite Clay on Natural Hair
When it comes to hair, bentonite clay has been used in Iran and other places around the world as a go-to deep clarifying cleanser and softener. "I'm a huge fan of bentonite clay. I love that it softens, conditions, and moisturizes hair. All of those benefits lead to a reduction of frizz, which is awesome for people with any curl pattern ranging from wavy to coily hair," says Everett.
- Hydrates the hair and scalp: It helps with dry, irritated, or flaking scalps, in addition to conditions including psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Bentonite clay has the ability to clarify without drying out the scalp. It can also create a protective barrier or help heal minor wounds, so you can experience a little relief from itchiness.
- Eliminates dandruff: According to Shamban, bentonite clay is negatively charged, and therefore, attracts positive ions in products thus, lifting and removing debris from the scalp and hair. It is highly beneficial in eliminating dandruff and is also antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-fungal.
- Strengthens the hair follicle: Not only does it wash out toxins, but bentonite clay also keeps follicles clean and clear while building hair strength and vitality—to eliminate breakage and support the continued growth of healthy, thick, more vibrant hair.
- Controls frizz: According to Shamban, bentonite clay can help control frizz. The ingredient benefits the African American population, as their hair has a different composition and is both more delicate and more susceptible to breakage.
Bentonite Clay DIY Mask for Natural Hair
How to Use Bentonite Clay
Your bentonite clay hair mask can be made and activated with plain water. It can also be more elaborate if you want it to be. "I always mix my bentonite clay treatments with apple cider vinegar, which aids in deep cleaning the scalp and hair and brings pH balance to open and seal the cuticles," says Everett. You can also add optional oils or other ingredients with moisture or soothing properties. Whatever you choose, just make sure your additional ingredients are safe for natural hair.
· Non-metal bowl, measuring cup, and stirring utensils
· 1/2 cup of bentonite clay powder
· 3 to 9 tablespoons of water (dependent on whether you add other liquids)
· 6 tablespoons of optional unfiltered apple cider vinegar
· 3 tablespoons of optional oils, such as coconut, castor, olive or sweet almond oil
1. Measure and pour your clay into the bowl
2. If using oils, add it to your powder and mix
3. If using apple cider vinegar, proceed to add it to the mix
4. Let the mixture aerate for 10 to 15 seconds
5. Add the necessary amount of water your mask calls for
6. Stir vigorously until the consistency feels like Greek yogurt
A strong indicator of dry hair is frizzy hair and excessive shedding. Everett recommends Moisture Miracle by African Pride Nourish & Shine Shampoo and Moisture Miracle Honey, Chocolate & Coconut Oil Conditioner ($22 for both) to lock in the moisture from the clay treatment.
When your mask is ready, apply it to your hair in sections. This can be done to clean, damp, or wet hair, but the most important part is that you evenly saturate all of your hair. Keeping a spray bottle handy will allow you to spritz any section that may dry before you finish working the mask through.
Once your hair is fully coated, you can either leave it as is or cover your head with a plastic cap to trap in the heat for extra penetration. A hooded dryer or steamer can also be used. You should wait about 25 minutes before proceeding to the next step.
You can shampoo and condition your natural hair as you normally do after the treatment is done.
Although bentonite clay has been used as an ingestible, there hasn’t been enough scientific evidence to say for sure whether this is a valid way to detoxify. Nor has there been a study that shows bentonite clay ingestion contributes to the health of natural hair. Like any other supplement, talk to your physician before administering dosages.
"Some clays or soils can have high levels of harmful germs and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury. This is especially important to know if you are going to use bentonite clay as a supplement. But the clay has not been classified as a carcinogen by any regulatory or advisory body carcinogenic when used topically," says Friese.
Although bentonite clay does contain lead, the trace amounts are minimal (much like it is with common foods people eat on a daily basis like sweet potatoes and carrots). According to naturopathic endocrinologist and New York Times best-selling author Alan Glen Christianson, MD, FDA reports found that bentonite clay contains up to 37.5 micrograms of lead per gram, which is the same as parts per million. Shamban notes that generally, this ingredient is safe and that levels of lead exposure causing damage to the nervous system, kidneys, or other functions would more likely be from ingestion, not dermal absorption.
"There are standards for allowances and there have been warnings issued by the FDA regarding products in the category if levels of lead were found to be in high-risk exposure," she says. "Moderate amounts of home care products by reputable hair and skin brands on the market should be fine for home use."
Despite this, bentonite has been used by countless people for thousands of years without issue. People who are susceptible to lead toxicity should heed caution and check with a medical professional. You can also look up specific bentonite brands on the FDA’s website.
"Bentonite clay can offer deep moisture to the hair and scalp. It also deeply cleanses the scalp, removes dead skin cells and toxins, while strengthening the hair and preventing hair loss by clarifying the hair follicles so that they can absorb water, which can contribute to growing thicker, healthy hair," says Friese.
All things considered, bentonite clay appears to be a safe DIY mask for natural hair. More research needs to be done in this specific area (and when it comes to ingestibles), but many beauty enthusiasts swear it works. The few scientific journals that are available reaffirm the benefits some may find when using the mask. However, if you choose to use bentonite, just make sure to do a patch test to avoid adverse reactions.
"Every patient should be aware of risks, read the packaging on products and check with their board-certified dermatologist or primary care physician with any questions or concerns," says Shamban.
Moosavi M. Bentonite clay as a natural remedy: a brief review. Iran J Public Health. 2017;46(9):1176–1183.