Revitalize Your Complexion with Clay

Discover how playing in the dirt can lead you to clean and nourished skin.

Photo by Getty Images/S847

I spent my adolescent years surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped woodlands. My grandfather taught me the names of Georgia’s native trees and plants, and the uses and healing properties of different barks, roots, leaves, and flowers. At a young age, I already considered myself an herbalist, and those wild woods were my workshop, where I explored everything nature had to offer.

I always loved the gurgling brooks best; they meandered quietly through the woods, displaying bountiful, visible veins of whitish-gray clay. Being crafty, I’d dig the cool, malleable clay out of the banks and find a wide variety of uses for it.

Clay is an incredible multipurpose natural resource, and though it’s primarily quarry mined today, my primitive methods of harvesting clay from those brooks — by hand, or with simple excavation tools — weren’t so different from the methods used for thousands of years. Clay has been molded into countless items throughout history, including writing tablets, pottery, bricks, tiles, homes, irrigation systems, and decorative jewelry. Aside from material objects, it’s also been used in various methods of body care, such as deodorants, mineral baths, insect repellents, sunscreen, tooth powders, and medicines. Nearly every civilization since prehistoric times has made use of clay, and as times have changed, its benefits have remained the same.

What Is Clay?

Clay is a natural, earthy, fine-grained material composed predominantly of aluminum silicates. Substantial quantities of iron, alkalis, and alkaline earths may also be present; the variety and percentage of each mineral depends on the type and source of the particular clay. These minerals also determine the color of each clay, which can range from deep red to pale green to near-white.

Clay forms over time from the erosion and chemical breakdown of various rocks and minerals, such as shale, granite, feldspar, and lava. You can also find small bits of decomposed organic matter in certain clays. These miniscule rock and organic matter particles are deposited by rivers and streams in large masses, usually in the banks and beds of lakes and rivers, near underground water channels, or in seabeds.

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