Made with powerhouse ingredients
Multiple application methods
That immediate "clean" feeling after use
The effective, albeit off-putting, scent of sulfur
Soft Services Clearing Clay
We put the Soft Services Clearing Clay to the test after receiving a complimentary sample from the brand. Keep reading for our full product review.
I’ve never shopped at Supreme. I’m at least four or five subcultures away from hypebeast. But I am a brand loyalist—something between a skater willing to wait in line overnight for a sweatshirt and a dad who earnestly flips through the Orvis mail catalog. So when I heard Soft Services’ was coming out with new products, I felt an immediate affinity. And for a good reason. Their Buffing Bar was all my friends and I wanted to talk about for a week. Needless to say, I’m a die-hard fan of the brand's newest product, a body acne treatment called Clearing Clay.
Best for: Acne-prone skin, inflammation, patches of discoloration, and blackheads on back, chest, neck, and butt
Uses: Treating acne
Star rating: 4.5
Potential allergens: No
Active ingredients: Sulfur and Zinc PCA
About the brand: Soft Services makes products and digital tools to help people looking for solutions to their body skin concerns. The Clearing Duo, including Clearing Clay and Clearing Mist, is part of the brand’s second drop.
About My Skin: Finicky, in the Acne-Prone Sense
I think of body acne as a final frontier of skincare. We talk about face acne openly, lauding its beauty and offering solutions like veritable aestheticians over dinner. I’ve talked to a stranger on the train about taking Accutane. But everyone buttons up when it comes to the rest of the body. Like most humans, when I wear tight clothes for long periods, I can get breakouts on my chest and back. And just like most humans, I love an open-back one-piece swimsuit come summertime.
In the past, my solution was soap-based. I scrubbed with something like Dr. Bronner’s and said a prayer. Mostly, I’ve just avoided showing my back unless necessary. Enter: Soft Services’ Clearing Clay. A few showers with the product, and my subtle back acne cleared up significantly (more on that ahead).
The Feel: Easy to Clean and Not Chalky
Unlike typical clay products, Clearing Clay doesn’t clog my drain or form strange clumps that feel like a part-time job to scrub off. It feels downright silky compared to other body acne products. It's not too heavy and easy to control based on the application you’ve opted for.
The Ingredients: Sulfur is the Star of the Show
Sulfur is a tried and true skincare ingredient. When I asked co-founder of Soft Services Annie Kreighbaum about its inclusion in Clearing Clay’s ingredient list, she pointed out that since "body acne can be in conjunction with other types of breakouts, sulfur is our go-to. "
Her other reason brought me back to my bleached-out hand towel days in high school. "[Sulfur] doesn't have the bleaching effect that benzoyl peroxide—which is also great for deep, stubborn acne—has on our sheets and towels."
Kreighbaum and her co-founder Rebecca Zhou have been turning to sulfur to treat skin concerns for some time. "We used to buy sulfur bars of soap on Amazon, but they were full of ingredients that we were trying to avoid like certain oils that exacerbate fungal issues," she says, "The Clearing Clay was our way of getting sulfur safely into our routine as a daily in-shower treatment, a deeper-penetrating mask, or targeted spot treatment for really inflamed, persistent spots."
The Science: Spotlighting Sulfur
There are plenty of studies proving the efficacy of sulfur, especially when combined with salicylic acid, in clearing acne. "We knew we had to think about what active ingredients to include, but also we needed to understand which ingredients to leave out," Kreighbaum says. "We didn't want to treat acne while exacerbating tinea versicolor (patchy discoloration caused by fungus on skin's surface, often most noticeable in summer), with the wrong oils."
Arielle Kauvar, MD, of New York Laser & Skincare, previously spoke to Byrdie about the ingredient’s potency. "Sulfur is keratolytic, which means it works by softening and thinning the epidermis to prevent clogged pores," she says.
Drying/Irritation: No Discomfort
Like any acne product with active ingredients, the product isn’t ideal for incredibly sensitive skin. But comparably, Clearing Clay offers less of a sting. The only thing to bear in mind is that it’s not a product to lather on broken or dry skin.
The Scent: Sulfur, But Hear Me Out
Ah, the scent of sulfur. How can one wax poetic when it comes to an ingredient closely akin to week-old eggshells? I’m of two minds about it. There is the part of my brain hardwired to associate discomfort and strong smells with efficacy. And there’s another part of my brain that expects the pleasant fragrance of my favorite French perfumer in every product I come in contact with. Ultimately, the scent is what makes the product worth investing in. So plug your nose, light a candle, and get to scrubbing.
Packaging: Attention to Details
Soft Services always delivers when it comes to packaging. Aesthetically, it’s a ten. Environmentally, it’s all thoughtfully sourced and easy to recycle. The clay itself comes out of the tube easily. Read as: none of that crusty buildup that makes it impossible to close the cap. Plus, the bottle is chic enough to join any shower lineup without screaming acne solution. It’s more like a subtle whisper.
The Results: Solution-Driven and Inspired
It’s important to caveat this section by saying I’m not experiencing one of my more intense body acne bouts at the moment. That being said, I usually maintain a low-level amount of body acne on my shoulders or chest come summertime.
After a week of using this product every day in the shower, massaging it for a minute, and letting it sit while I shave my legs a la Annie Kreighbaum’s advice, I felt clearer. My back felt borderline velvety, inspiring a revival of the sheer Dries van Noten top I pushed to the back of my closet.
Soft Services addressed a problem I didn’t know I had control over in their Clearing Clay. I thought body acne was the luck of the draw and hope for the best type of issue. But Soft Services has tapped indisputably effective ingredients to create a powerhouse treatment for body acne that works like a charm.
The Value: About Average
Body acne products range in price, with a median price ringing in at around $30. For eight ounces of product (that’s $3.50 per ounce), $28 feels fair. Plus, depending on how you’re applying Clearing Clay, those eight ounces could carry you for much longer than a single season.
Similar Products: You have options
Murad Acne Control Body Wash: If you can’t shake the need to feel exfoliation through microbeads, then Murad’s Acne Control Body Wash ($44) might be a good fit. The price is slightly higher, the ingredient list is a little longer (including coloring and fragrance), and the amount of Salicylic Acid is comparable. However, Clearing Clay left me softer and less scrubbed dry.
First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma White Clay Acne Treatment Pads 2 Salicylic Acid: These daily acne treatment pads are formulated with 2% maximum strength salicylic acid. The application of First Aid Beauty’s FAB Pharma White Clay Acne Treatment Pads 2 Salicylic Acid ($30) is a little off-putting, as pads can feel wasteful. Also, the pad doesn’t allow for the same amount of control as Clearing Clay. A single pad can feel inadequate when it comes to multiple regions, as well.
If you’re a Soft Services fan ready to wait in proverbial lines wrapped around an imaginary building in Soho, then Clearing Clay is a no-brainer. If you’re apprehensive and just want something to clear your back acne, Clearing Clay is also a no-brainer. That’s the brilliance of Soft Services’ analytical approach to skin issues long shrouded in taboo and antiquated practices—it's universal.
- Product Name Clearing Clay
- Product Brand Soft Services
- Price $28
- Weight 8 oz.
- Ingredients Active Ingredient: 10% Sulfur; Inactive Ingredients: Water, Kaolin, Bentonite, Dipropylene Glycol, Zinc PCA, Glycerin, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Salicylic Acid, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Glycolic Acid, Phytic Acid, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Glyceryl Caprylate, Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin.