How are soils used in cosmetics?

Societies discovered cosmetics thousands of years ago to serve many purposes: for rituals, war paint, beauty, and health. Both male and female Egyptians used various oils, lotions, masks, and makeup. Ancient Greeks used red clays for lipstick and chalk on their faces. In ancient Rome, well-to-do citizens traveled to resorts for treatments similar to what can be found in modern spas, including hot spring soaks and mud baths.

Many of the ingredients in these cosmetics came directly from the earth, such as clay, mud, minerals, and some pigments to name a few.

Soils, and specifically clay, are widely used in mud masks. Mud or clay masks have been used for many centuries to detoxify, deeply cleanse, and soothe skin. There are many different types of clay that can be used to make a mud mask and provide emotional as well as physical benefits.

The active particles in mud masks are called peloids. Peloids are muds that have healing or cosmetic properties and can be found in many different geographic areas. A variety of clays exist in the world, with colors ranging from white to red to green. Various properties of these diverse clays also provide different benefits to your skin. Green illite clay, bentonite clay, or montmorillonite clays benefit oily and acne-prone skin. Kaolin clays (either white or pink) work well on sensitive and dry skin.

These muds have unique compounds that may enhance healing. For example, some studies show that humic acids may generate antioxidant and antiradical activity on your skin. Other muds contain lipophilic organic substances, which may increase the therapeutic effect of the mud.

There are many ways to personalize your mud mask, based on your mood or skin’s condition. You can add different types of essential oils to provide some aromatherapy and health benefits along with the benefits from the clay. Tea tree or lavender oils, for example, can also help with acne or clogged pores, while rose oil is a calming anti-inflammatory.

Though it can be exciting to make your own homemade mud mask, you shouldn’t use the mud from your backyard even if you have lots of clay in your soil. It is safer, and also easy and inexpensive, to buy purified clay powder, known as cosmetic clay, to use for a homemade mud mask. These clays have been isolated from the soil and processed to remove impurities and are completely safe for cosmetic application.

To learn how to make your own home mud mask, visit

-Answered by Melanie Szulczewski, University of Mary Washington

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