You Put What on Your Face?

You Put What on Your Face?

This is the daily short science blog for the Merry Blogmas 2017 campaign. I will happy when it’s over. Even with decreased or no citations, daily blogging is a bit much. | Today’s post is a ramble about the science and pseudoscience of clay-based facial skin treatment.


I’m not saying that all skin treatments are fake or lack a scientific basis; however, the amount of pseudoscience in the beauty and cosmetics industry is staggering. There are more false claims than not, mostly because savvy marketers can sell any whacky skin treatment to women desperate to buy some beauty.

Today I want to present to you one such pseudoscience sales pitch given to me several years ago. I remember it well because it slammed like a rotten tomato into my brain full of mineralogy.

Scientist vs. Facial Beautician

Yesterday’s blog post on kaolin reminded me of an incident I went through at a spa years ago. The occasion went something like this:

Beautician: “Welcome to your massage appointment. For our guests today, we have a special: a 50% discount on one of our facials today. It’s a skin treatment with our miracle clay from the famous Baden hot springs resort in Germany.”

Me: “Really? What’s clay on my face going to do besides introduce 2 micrometer or smaller silicate grains into my pores and possibly desiccate the moisture out of my upper epidermis?”

Beautician: “It’s not really desiccation. This clay has super absorbing power. It removes all the excess sebum out of oily skin, like yours. The special ingredient when mixed with water charges the molecules in it to suck up all the toxins out of your skin and absorbs all the excess sodium that bloats your face, giving you a thinner look.”

I Should Have Just Nodded and Walked Away…

Me: “It charges molecules?” I added an encouraging and friendly smile. This sounded like the surface electrostatic imbalance effect seen at the exposed surface of all clays. The bit about excess sodium was pure bunk.

At this point I’m beginning to enjoy myself.

Beautician: “Yes! The miracle clay’s main ingredient has electric properties to charge the molecules in it to attract and capture the impurities and excess oils in the skin.”

Me: “Really? And do you know what this main ingredient is?”

Beautician: “It’s called bentonite. It’s an ultra-healthy form of clay that been used in facials and skin packs for centuries.”

50% Off for Bentonite Clay, Like the Stuff I Buy at the Feed and Seed Supply?

Me: “Oh. Bentonite. That’s it? No thanks. I don’t think putting kitty litter on my face will do much for me. Besides, most alkali soaps do much better job of removing sebum and other stuff off your skin. Saponification is much more effective than the weak electrostatic bonds of clay surfaces. No, most of the action of bentonite is through absorption into the sandwich-like layers of the clay structure.”

Beautician: “But this is special bentonite from Germany!”

Me: “It doesn’t matter where it comes from. Bentonite is bentonite. It’s all absorbent T-O-T-structure clay. It forms from the weathering of volcanic ash. Hop on Route 26 and take it down to Route 191 to Rock Springs. In about 3 hours, you’ll pass the Benton Shale. It’s just before you reach the Green River. Underneath the shale is a brownish clay. That’s the original bentonite. It’s named after the Benton Shale in Rock Springs, right here in Wyoming. Why, you could drive down and dig some up yourself. Then you could sell it as original Wyoming bentonite facial mud, the real thing and not some wanna-be clay imported from Germany.”

At this point, I think I asked to be taken to the massage therapist for my massage appointment.

I probably should have kept my mouth shut and not bombed the poor kid. I hope I refrained from telling her to look up the word desiccation…


Don’t try to hard-sell a clay facial using pseudo-science babble to someone who’s done mineralogy for a living.

Yes, bentonite is used for most clay varieties of kitty litter. It’s also used in animal feed, toothpaste, cosmetics, drilling mud, pollution spill kits, laxatives, wound dressings, topical medicines, mining and construction slurries, grouts, cements, ceramics, and yes, facials. Without boring everyone to tears about what T-O-T structure is, I’ll just note in passing that T-O-T clays have the best absorbing power.

Regardless, the great virtue of a clay-based skin treatment is the splendid quality of any clay as absorbing agent. I think I was just annoyed with the bad science used in a hard sell tactic. That and the fact that I’m never going to spend $40 bucks at a Jackson Hole spa for a few pennies worth of clay on my face.

Today’s banner image is of Izma’s overnight mud pack facial, from The Emperor’s New Groove, ©2000 by Disney, Fair Use as an example of an ineffective facial.

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