This DIY Mask Has Been Used on Natural Hair for Centuries—But Does It Work?

We tap a trichologist (scalp expert) to investigate.

Updated 10/29/19

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. But are these claims legit? We investigate.

What Is Bentonite Clay?

According to an abstract submitted to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, clay was used as a remedy by early humans. Bentonite is sourced from volcanic ash and 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.

Benefits of Using Bentonite Clay on Natural Hair

When it comes to hair, NCBI states that bentonite clay has been used in Iran and other places around the world as a go-to hair cleanser and softener. The effects of bentonite on human hair haven’t been scientifically assessed, but there are records that show bentonite actually aids growth on sheep wool.

Despite this, there is evidence that supports bentonite being beneficial to skin⁠—meaning it can positively affect a scalp. Bentonite has been seen to diminish poison ivy and poison oak rashes (as well as other forms of allergy-related contact dermatitis in North America), which is great news for the dry and irritated scalps that can sometimes accompany natural hair types. It can also create a protective barrier or help heal minor wounds, so you can experience a little relief from itchiness.

DIY Recipe

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. Below is a recipe that includes apple cider vinegar and essential oils, but some people like to add other ingredients for moisture or soothing. Whatever you choose, just make sure your additional ingredients are safe for natural hair.

Ingredients:

·       Non-metal bowl, measuring cup and stirring utensils

·       ½ 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 essential oils, such as coconut, castor, olive or sweet almond oil

Directions:

1.     Measure and pour your clay into the bowl

2.     If using essential 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

Woman drying her natural hair with a towel.
 GETTY

How to Use It

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.

Rinsing the hair and scalp properly is of utmost importance since you’re trying to cleanse the follicle sebum from your scalp to get to the hair papilla.

“Rinsing the hair and scalp properly is of utmost importance since you’re trying to cleanse the follicle sebum from your scalp to get to the hair papilla,” says certified trichologist Liana Robinson of Y.O.U Hair Wellness & Lifestyle Spa. She also advises using a certified food grade bentonite clay, which helps to improve hair’s absorption of nutrients.

You can shampoo and condition your natural hair as you normally do after the treatment is done.

Drawbacks

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.

If you’re a person who likes to know whether a substance is Prop 65 compliant, it’s worth noting that bentonite clay contains lead. The trace amounts are minimal (much like it is with common foods people eat on a daily basis like sweet potatoes and carrots).

How much lead exactly? Well, according to naturopathic endocrinologist and New York Times best-selling author Dr. Alan Glen Christianson, FDA reports found that bentonite clay contains up to 37.5 micrograms of lead per gram, which is the same as parts per million. Moreover, Dr. Christianson says, “Lead does absorb across the skin. As much as 23 percent of lead applied to the skin can enter the bloodstream. This may be even worse over parts of the skin high in sweat glands.”

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 lookup specific bentonite brands on the FDA’s website.

Final Thoughts

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. 

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