Before I developed dermatitis (a dry, flaky, red rash over my eyes and mouth), I used to love a good pore-clearing clay mask. Most clay masks, depending on the particular type of clay that’s used, have a magnet-like ability to suck up the gunk and grime and excess sebum that clog our pores — which, yes, sounds a little gross but is sometimes necessary, especially for oily skin. But the more powerful the clay mask, the tougher it is on your skin; and for those with chronic dryness, dermatitis, or eczema, that’s kind of a problem.
But just because you have dry skin doesn’t mean you don’t need a good pore de-gunking every once in awhile — which is where pink clay masks come in. Pink clay is generally regarded as the most gentle clay there is, because its effect on the skin is less “sucking” and more softening (as opposed to Bentonite clay, the key ingredient in the famous Aztec Secret Healing Mask, which is like a literal skincare vacuum). In other words, pink clay will give your pores a gentle cleanse without absorbing all of your natural oils. For this reason, I always keep a pouch of dry rose clay in the house — I mix with it honey and apply as a mask whenever my prone-to-dry-patches, super-sensitive skin needs a little power-clean. (FYI, this is why I prefer dry masks to pre-mixed wet masks.)
While I used to have to stock up on loose rose clay at my neighborhood apothecary (yes, I’m aware of how boho-bougie that sentence sounds...am I Gwyneth Paltrow yet?), a recent influx of pink clay masks has taken over every inch of my social media space — my Instagram feed, targeted Facebook ads, and inbox email announcements. You know that feeling when you read a word over and over again, until it sounds super weird and kind of loses all meaning? That’s how I started to feel about pink clay. What even is it? Where does it come from? What’s the difference between my old French pink clay and the buzzy new Australian pink clay?
A few hours of deep diving into the internet and wading through the water of marketing jargon later, here’s what I found.
What Is Pink Clay?
Pink clay is a form of kaolin clay. Kaolin clay is a white clay found in nature, and is pretty much as gentle as clay can get. It’s great for skincare, of course, but is also used in a lot of medicinal formulations (like diarrhea meds. Cute!). The higher the percentage of iron oxide present in the kaolin clay, the more red it will appear — and thus, the more absorbent it will be. That’s why red kaolin clay is great for thick, oily skin. Pink clay sits right in the middle of white kaolin and red kaolin...safe for sensitive skin, but still pretty powerful.
What’s The Difference Between French Pink Clay and Australian Pink Clay?
Like the names suggest, the difference between the French and Australian varieties of pink clay come down to location. Depending on where the pink clay is harvested from, it will have a different mineral content, which could (slightly) alter its effects on the skin.
French pink clay contains trace amounts of iron, illite, montmorillonite and calcite. Illite is great for decongesting pores (especially on acne-prone skin) and also boosts blood circulation to make skin look younger and more toned. Montmorillonite is absorbent, to gently sop up excess oil, and—on a woo-woo note—calcite is a crystal that’s said to be great for purifying your energy. And you know I love that.
Australian pink clay, on the other hand, contains silica, magnesium, selenium, and zinc in trace amounts (in addition to the same iron and calcite that French green clay has). Silica is a natural anti-inflammatory substance that also helps lock in moisture (which is why pink clay is so great for dry or eczema-prone skin), magnesium helps the skin retain its natural fatty acids, selenium is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, and zinc helps the skin heal.
Ultimately, the results from these two different types of clay will be similar — but if your skin is really sensitive or dry, then Australian pink clay may be a slightly better bet.
As far as masking, I prefer to mix my own loose clay with a bit of Manuka honey and rose water for DIY mask that’s calming and clearing. But for the non-DIY types out there, I’ve tried three pre-formulated Australian pink clay masks that I love, too: Alya Skin Pink Perfect mask includes aloe vera and Vitamin E that make it more moisturizing than your average clay mask; I swear by Sand & Sky’s cult-favorite mask to brighten “hangover face” (even though it is pretty drying), and Generation Clay Urban Defence Purifying Pink Clay Mask utilizes Vitamin C from the Australian Kakadu plum for a super-brightening, antioxidant-packed effect.