French Green Clay

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French green clay


French green clay is a substance that is used for external cosmetic treatments as well as some internal applications by practitioners of alternative medicine. It was used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to treat a variety of skin problems and digestive disorders.

From the standpoint of mineralogy, French green clay belongs to a subcategory of clay minerals known as illite clays, the other two major groups being kaolinite and smectite clays. Clay minerals in general are important because they make up about 40 percent of such common rocks as shale, and they are the main components of soil. Illite clays are usually formed by weathering or by changes produced in aluminum-rich minerals by heat and acidic ground water. They often occur intermixed with kaolinite clayswhich are typically used in the ceramics industry. Illite clays have been used successfully by environmental managers to remove such heavy metals as lead, cadmium, and chromium from industrial wastewater.

French green clay takes its name from the fact that rock quarries located in southern France enjoyed a virtual monopoly on its production until similar deposits of illite clays were identified in China, Montana, and Wyoming. The clay's green color comes from a combination of iron oxides and decomposed plant matter, mostly kelp seaweed and other algae. Grey-green clays are considered less valuable than those with a brighter color. The other components of French green clay include a mineral known as montmorillonite, as well as dolomite, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc , aluminum, silicon, copper, selenium , and cobalt.

French green clay is prepared for the commercial market by a process of sun-drying and crushing. After the clay has been mined, it is spread in the sun to remove excess water. It is then ground by large hydraulic crushers and micronized, or finely pulverized. The last stage in the process is a final period of sun-drying to remove the last traces of water. French green clay is available in a dry powdered form for a variety of uses as well as in premixed soaps, scrubs, facial powders, and masks for cosmetic purposes. Prices for an eight-ounce jar of powdered clay range between $4.50 and $11.00 in health food stores. Soaps made with French green clay are priced at about $4.50 a bar.

General use


French green clay is most commonly used in the United States and Canada for cosmetic purposes, as distinct from medicinal treatments. It is regarded as a useful treatment for stimulating the skin and removing impurities from the epidermis (outermost layer of skin cells). The clay works by adsorbing impurities from the skin cells, by causing dead cells to slough off, and by stimulating the flow of blood to the epidermis. As the clay dries on the skin, it causes the pores to tighten and the skin to feel firm.

Other external uses for French green clay include poultices to treat arthritis, sore muscles, and sprains; ready-to-use pastes for application to cuts, bruises , insect bites, stings, and minor burns ; and mineral baths for stress relief. Some practitioners maintain that the plant matter in French green clay has anti-inflammatory as well as antiseptic or bactericidal properties. It is interesting that a group of Italian researchers reported in 2002 that French green clay powder is as effective as salicylic sugar powder in preventing infection of the umbilical stump in newborns. The clay powder was found to be superior to powders containing colloidal silver , antibiotics, or fuchsine.


Internal uses of French green clay are more popular in Europe than in North America, although some American alternative healers recommend drinking or gargling with solutions of French green clay to cleanse the digestive tract, treat nausea or other gastric disorders, ease menstrual cramps, or relieve sore throats. It is claimed that French green clay absorbs toxins from the stomach and intestines as well as neutralizing radioactivity in the body. A French naturopath states that the copper in the clay fights infections , the cobalt helps to prevent anemia , the selenium aids liver function and slows down the aging process, and the other minerals restore the body's overall equilibrium.



Facial masks: Commercial prepackaged clay masks are generally spread on the face directly from the jar or tube, care being taken to avoid the eye area. After the clay driesusually about 1015 minutesthe mask is washed off with warm running water. To make a facial mask from powdered clay, combine 1/2 to 1 tbsp of the powder with 12 tbsp of water and apply to the skin; rinse with warm water after 10 minutes. Some users add a few drops of aloe vera gel to the clay mixture. A recipe for a facial mask for oily skin consists of mixing 1 tbsp of powdered clay with 5 drops of jojoba oil .

A recipe for a "gourmet spa facial mask" calls for mixing 1/4-cup of French green clay powder with 1/4-cup water. After the clay and water have been well blended, 2 tbsp of honey and 1/4-cup of mashed banana or avocado are added to the mixture. The mask is applied to the face, allowed to remain for 10 min, and rinsed off with warm water.

Deodorizing foot treatment: A half-cup of powdered French green clay is mixed with 1/2-cup of water and 23 drops of tea tree essential oil. The mixture is applied to the feet, covered loosely with plastic wrap, and rinsed off after 15 min with cool water. The feet may then be rubbed with a moisturizing cream.

Poultice: One poultice recipe calls for mixing several tablespoons of powdered clay with enough water to form a thick paste and allowing it to stand in a glass bowl for two hours. The paste is then applied in a layer about 1/4-in thick to a piece of gauze. The poultice is applied to the injured area with the gauze uppermost and held in place with adhesive tape. It can be left in place as long as two hours, but the clay should not be allowed to dry. Up to 6 drops of essential oil of lavender , Roman chamomile, ginger , or rosemary may be added if desired. Poultices should not be reused but discarded after use.

Mineral bath: A half-cup of powdered French green clay can be added to a tub of warm water to soothe sunburned or irritated skin, or relieve arthritis or muscle pains.


To cleanse the digestive system, mix 1 tsp of powdered clay in an 810-ounce glass of mineral water and allow to stand overnight. The mixture may be taken the next morning either as the clear liquid that has risen to the top or after stirring to recombine the clay and water. It is to be taken every morning for 21 days. The treatment should not be repeated until a week after the last dose. The clay mixture can also be used to relieve menstrual cramps; it is taken each morning during the first three weeks of the woman's cycle. After the flow begins, a warm clay poultice can be applied to the abdomen in the morning and evening.

A recipe for a sore throat gargle consists of 12 tsp of clay added to a glass of salt water with 12 drops of essential oil of rosemary or lavender. The gargle can be used several times a day until the symptoms are relieved.

A European regimen for treating hemorrhoids consists of drinking three glasses of powdered clay in water each day for three weeks, alternating with three weeks without the mixture over a total period of three months. The clay-and-mineral water mixture can also be combined with tinctures of Indian vine and witch hazel . In addition, poultices made with green clay can be applied to the affected areas in the morning, followed by a cold bath. The poultices may also be applied at night.


Alternative healers state that French green clay should never be mixed with metal spoons or stored in metal containers; the only materials that should be used in preparation or storage are wooden spoons or glass stirrers, and either glass or ceramic containers. It is thought that the clay loses its beneficial qualities through contact with metal. This belief has some scientific basis in the fact that illite clays have been found to be highly effective in removing heavy metals in the wastewater produced by various industries.


As a rule, French green clay masks should be used only once a week because the clay tends to dry the skin. In addition, cosmetics containing French green clay are not recommended for naturally dry or sensitive skins, as the mineral content of the clay is an irritant. Soaps made with French green clay should be used only for oily skin.


French green clay may cause constipation when taken internally. Some practitioners recommend drinking only the water without the clay at the bottom of the glass in the morning for this reason.

Side effects

French green clay may cause skin rashes or patches of dry flaky skin when used on the face. It may cause constipation when taken internally. No side effects from mineral baths or poultices have been reported.

A group of American toxicologists reported in 2003 that illite clays as a group appear to be safe for short-term internal use in humans as well as external cosmetic applications. There have, however, been isolated reports of lung damage caused in workers exposed to particles of montmorilloniteone of the major components of French green clayin spray paints and primers.


No interactions with prescription drugs or herbal remedies have been reported for French green clay as of 2004. However, because of the adsorptive qualities of French green clay, it may interfere with absorption of medications.



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Pough, Frederick H. A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988.


Elmore, A. R.; Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. "Final report on the safety assessment of aluminum silicate, calcium silicate, magnesium aluminum silicate, magnesium silicate, magnesium trisilicate, sodium magnesium silicate, zirconium silicate, attapulgite, bentonite, Fuller's earth, hectorite, kaolin, lithium magnesium silicate, lithium magnesium sodium silicate, montmorillonite, pyrophyllite, and zeolite." International Journal of Toxicology 22 (2003, Supplement 1): 37102.

Katsumata, H., S. Kaneco, K. Inomata, et al. "Removal of Heavy Metals in Rinsing Wastewater from Plating Factory by Adsorption with Economical Viable Materials." Journal of Environmental Management 69 (October 2003): 187191.

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Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR). 1101 17th Street NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC 20036. (202) 331-0651. Fax: (202) 331-0088. <>.

Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC). 120 Wall Street, Suite 2400, New York, NY 10005-4088. (212) 668-1500. Fax: (202) 668-1504. <>.

U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857-0001. (888) INFO-FDA. <>.

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD