While bentonite clay has been used for centuries around the world to promote better health and ward off diseases, those living in the U.S. and Europe have, for the most part, only recently become familiar with this product.
What is bentonite clay used for? Bentonite clay (BC), also called calcium bentonite clay or Montmorillonite clay, is now taking off as a wellness trend among people who are looking to help naturally improve their skin’s health, detoxify their bodies and improve digestion.
Individuals in various cultures refer to BC as “healing clay,” since it cleanses various parts of the body. It’s possible to enjoy bentonite clay benefits by taking it internally (in other words, drinking and eating it), on top of using it externally on your skin and hair.
What Is Bentonite Clay?
Bentonite clay is a product composed of ash taken from volcanoes. The clay is dried in the sun, filtered and then sold commercially in several forms, including as facial clay masks, ointments/pastes and hair treatments.
When mixed with water it forms a thick paste.
Technically BC is an absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate clay. The largest known source of BC is found in Fort Benton, Mont., where numerous volcanoes are present.
The name of the clay stems from the town where today much of the supply is still harvested.
The other name that bentonite clay is typically given, Montmorillonite clay, stems from the region of France called Montmorillon, where the clay was first discovered.
Today the clay is harvested mostly in the U.S., France and Italy. “Bentonite” is actually the trade name that the clay has been given, but people for the most part speak about Montmorillonite and bentonite clay interchangeably and are referring to the same product.
Bentonite clay stems back far in history as a traditional healing method for protecting the body from disease. It has been reported that several traditional cultures living in regions of the Andes, Central Africa and Australia have applied and consumed volcanic clays in numerous ways for centuries.
Because the clay is readily available and requires no modern processing, it’s easy to see why it’s been a popular and cost-effective way of “detoxing” the body for quite some time.
What are the benefits of bentonite clay? As explained more below, these include:
- Helping treat skin conditions
- Aiding in detoxification processes
- Protecting against bacterial infections
- Supporting digestive and respiratory processes
- Aiding in dental health
- Supplying nutrients
- Potentially helping with weight loss
- And more
How It Works
Bentonite clay benefits your body in several key ways:
- It helps expel toxins and heavy metals.
- It has antibacterial properties and fights off various pathogens responsible for disease, such as E. coli and the virus that causes staph infection.
- It contains a range of nutrients. Bentonite clay is known to have an abundance of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, silica, sodium, copper, iron and potassium.
- It nourishes skin/hair by balancing oil production, removing dead skin cells, clearing clogged pores and fighting bacteria.
BC can help reduce the negative effects of toxins that we encounter every day, such as those given off from paint, cleaning supplies, markers, substances used in building homes, low-quality unpurified water and even pesticides.
- BC essentially “seeks” toxins in the body to bind with due to its chemical composition. Then it acts like a magnet and sponge, absorbing harmful substances so they can be removed from the body.
- While in its natural state, bentonite clay has negatively charged molecules. Most toxins and heavy metals have positively charged molecules. This allows the two to bind together easily and stay united while the toxin removal process happens.
- “Heavy metal toxins” usually refer to substances like mercury, cadmium, lead and benzene. Upon binding, BC is able to help remove metals, toxins, chemicals and impurities from the gut, skin and mouth. Additionally, it’s used to reduce the presence of toxins in the food supply and animal feed.
Some people also choose to use BC as a supplement, since the clay is a natural source of important dietary nutrients. When ingested into the body, either in a drink form or by eating the clay, its vitamins and minerals are absorbed similarly to supplements.
Calcium Bentonite vs. Sodium Bentonite
There are two types of bentonite clays. While calcium bentonite is used on the body, both internally and topically, sodium bentonite has more industrial uses.
Sodium bentonite clay is used as a natural sealant, such as to seal roads, lagoons, landfills and ponds. It has natural swelling abilities, swelling 15–18 times its dry size when combined with water, making it an effective “hole plug.”
It’s also low-cost and environmentally safe because it contains no chemicals, additives or toxins. It’s commonly mined in the state of Wyoming.
Both types of bentonites contain a percentage of other minerals, as well as sand and silt that is filtered out. Because calcium bentonite is a non-swelling bentonite, it doesn’t serve the same purposes for industrial uses.
Top 12 Benefits and Uses
1. Supports Skin Health (Treating Oiliness, Poison Ivy, Dermatitis and Wounds)
Benefits of bentonite clay for skin include:
- Balancing oil production/sebum levels
- Preventing acne blemishes
- Alleviating redness due to irritation/inflammation
- Fighting allergic reactions from irritating lotions or face washes
- Treating skin ulcers
- Helping sunscreens work effectively
- Some studies have found it can even help treat poison ivy
When combined with water and left to dry on the skin as a clay mask, BC is able to bind to bacteria and toxins. It can help remove these substances from the surface of the skin and within pores, helping reduce breakouts.
Thanks to the clay’s special ability to act as an antibiotic treatment when applied topically, BC can also help calm skin infections, like diaper rash and contact dermatitis.
Topical application of bentonite clay has even been shown to help treat Buruli ulcers, a “flesh-eating” infection resulting from Mycobacterium ulcerans bacteria generally seen in third-world countries.
2. Aids in Digestion
By removing toxins, digestive distress-causing chemicals and heavy metals from the gut, bentonite clay helps promote digestion. Research has also shown that, in animals, bentonite clay can bind to particular toxins — like “aflatoxins” — that are common in the standard diet, found usually on improperly stored food products.
When left unattended, an influx of aflatoxins can contribute to liver damage and potentially even the onset of certain cancers.
In one study using cows, scientists found that bentonite clay molecules bound to bovine rotavirus and bovine coronavirus, two major viruses that contribute to gastroenteritis (referred to as stomach flu in people). Variations of both of these viruses can also be present in human beings.
Thanks to its ability to neutralize bacteria in the gut and kill viruses, BC helps alleviate many digestive problems. Some people use bentonite clay as relief for nausea and vomiting (including pregnant women), constipation, and to help with IBS.
It’s possible that the reason people find relief in these situations has to do with the way bentonite protects the lining of your intestines from letting toxins through, which would otherwise contribute to leaky gut. So far, this effect has only been observed in animals but may also apply in human subjects.
BC may benefit your pets as well. It is safe for pet consumption within your own home and can alleviate pet’s nausea and vomiting in the same way.
3. May Promote Weight Loss
As part of a healthy diet containing plenty of alkaline foods, natural detox drinks and probiotics/prebiotics, bentonite clay has been found in certain studies to contribute to weight loss in healthy men over a 21-day period. The participants, overall, also saw improvement in total cholesterol.
Because of the uncontrolled nature of this study, it is not possible to determine how influential bentonite clay, as a single element, was on the observed weight loss, so these results should be approached with caution. To date, no controlled, human studies exist to reflect this benefit.
However, a 2016 trial in rats tested the impact of BC on weight loss and found that the supplement was correlated with weight loss, as well as decreased cholesterol.
4. Helps with Thyroid Function
In mice studies, BC has been found to absorb certain thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), resulting in the alleviation of hyperthyroidism. This result suggests bentonite might potentially help people keep thyroid levels down, although the test has not been duplicated in humans as of yet.
5. Stops Growth of Two Cancer Cell Lines in a Lab
A lab study conducted in 2016 discovered that bentonite clay stopped the growth of cancer cell line U251, a human cancer cell found in a central nervous cancer called glioblastoma. However, another cell line was grown larger when exposed to the substance.
The researchers explained that the cell formations and swelling of bentonite clay are the reasons for this, and it could potentially be effective against specific types of cancers (like glioblastomas) but not others.
Another lab experiment observed bentonite clay caused cell death of Caco-2 cells, a colorectal cancer line. In this study, the clay exhibited a large amount of oxidative stress upon just the cancer cells without damaging the DNA.
6. Boosts Immunity by Killing Harmful Bacteria and Viruses
BC has been found to be effective at killing harmful bacteria. In a study published by the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, “results indicate that specific mineral products have intrinsic, heat-stable antibacterial properties, which could provide an inexpensive treatment against numerous human bacterial infections.”
More research is still needed on the topic, but results of studies so far appear to be promising in terms of how the clay can be used as a treatment for these gut-related illnesses. On top of killing these types of infections and viruses, bentonite clay benefits your immune system by keeping the gut wall strong.
Much of the immune system actually lives inside of the gut microbiome, and when the gut wall is compromised, toxins are better able to leach into the bloodstream and cause serious problems. By protecting the gut wall and decreasing the amount of pesticides, toxins, bacteria and chemicals that could potentially enter the blood, the body is better able to protect itself.
7. May Support Respiratory Health
One type of virus that, at least in a lab, meets its match in bentonite clay is human adenovirus. While these viruses are not generally lethal, they do cause respiratory infections that can be particularly dangerous to infants or those with compromised immune systems.
No currently accepted treatment method exists for these viral infections, but it’s possible bentonite clay could be a candidate for more research on the subject.
Bentonite clay is also likely able to successfully treat paraquat poisoning in humans.
Paraquat is a toxic herbicide and is not available easily in the U.S. However, if it is ingested or breathed in, it can cause many a disease called Paraquat lung.
Like Fuller’s earth, some research shows that bentonite seems to be a potentially powerful agent against the damage paraquat can cause.
8. Helps Improve the Health of Teeth and Gums
The mouth is one of the most susceptible areas of the body when it comes to harmful outside “invaders” taking over, like bacteria and toxins.
Bentonite clay binds to unhealthy substances in the mouth, such as around the teeth and on the tongue and gums, and helps remove them before you swallow them and become sick. Because of BC’s antibacterial properties, it has been used in natural toothpastes and even mixed with water and used as a daily rinse.
9. Removes Fluoride from Drinking Water
Bentonite clay has been researched as an effective way to remove some of the dangerous fluoride often found in drinking water, which is linked to serious diseases, such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction and brain damage.
When combined with magnesium, BC has been shown to improve the purity of tap water, which leads to some promising possibilities for using it in the future as a widespread, cost-effective water purification method.
10. Useful as a Baby Powder Alternative
Bentonite clay can be applied to any area on the skin of babies that is irritated, red or needs soothing in the same way that traditional powders are used. Plus, it is very gentle and naturally cleansing.
One study found that compared to calendula, bentonite had faster healing effects and is more effective at improving infantile diaper dermatitis. It’s also capable of speeding up healing time of wounds, in some cases even when prescription antibiotics are not able to help solve the problem.
11. Helps Cleanse Hair
Bentonite clay is used for hair conditioning and styling because its minerals help moisturize, soften and de-frizz hair, especially curly hair, according to anecdotal evidence. It may also help support hair growth, make hair shinier, reduce dandruff and prevent infections that can affect the scalp.
12. Has Deodorizing Effects
Because it acts as a natural cleanser and bacteria-killer, BC can help remove odors from various surfaces (and your body!). It’s especially effective when combined with cleansing products like coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, baking soda, arrowroot flour and essential oils, such as lemon, orange or tea tree.
How to Use, Plus DIY Recipes
You can use BC at home, such as to make DIY skin masks, by purchasing bentonite clay powder.
What color is real bentonite clay? Bentonite clay normally comes in a gray or cream color, not a bright white color, which can indicate that it may have gone bad.
The clay should also be odorless and not have much of any taste at all.
When preparing BC mixtures, always use a “nonreactive bowl,” in other words one that is wood, plastic or glass. This keeps the charge of BC from reacting with the metal of the bowl/spoon, which will change its effects.
How often should you use bentonite clay?
Internally, you can take half a teaspoon to one teaspoon once per day, as many days of the week as you’d like. Most experts recommend that you don’t consume BC internally for more than four weeks in a row.
After testing your skin’s reaction, you can use BC on your skin (or hair) several times per week for best results.
When should you take BC?
For the best results, do not not take bentonite within an hour of food. Also avoid taking it within two hours of medications or supplements, since it can interact with other substances.
Bentonite clay for skin
- Try creating a bentonite clay mask for your face by combining: BC, rosewater, apple cider vinegar, castor oil, sweet almond oil or jojoba oil, and lavender essential oil. Form into a thick paste, and then let sit for several minutes. Smear the clay directly onto your skin, especially anywhere where you have blemishes, red spots, irritations or scarring. Allow the clay to dry (this usually takes about 20 minutes), and then rinse it off with warm water. Try doing this one or twice per week for best results.
- For scrapes or bug bites, apply a concentrated amount of the clay directly to the trouble area, and cover with a bandage or gauze. Then let it sit for about two hours, and rinse it off.
- As a baby powder alternative, apply a small amount of the clay directly to the skin, and allow it to sit for several minutes before wiping/rinsing it away.
- To make a natural deodorant, apply some to your underarms.
Bentonite clay hair mask for hair
- Combine about ½ cup bentonite clay with 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon coconut oil, ½ tablespoon each of castor oil and almond oil, plus a small amount of water.
- Combine the ingredients, and mix vigorously. Then let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes.
- Apply to wet hair from root to tip. Then roll up your hair, and put on a shower cap.
- Leave the mask in for 20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly with a small amount of shampoo plus water.
- Then condition and style as you normally would.
Bentonite clay bath
- Adding BC to your bath can help reduce swelling and soothe inflammation.
- Add ¼ of a cup of clay to your bath, and massage your skin with it. Or just allow the clay to dissolve into the water, and soak it in for as long as you’d like. Then rinse your skin well with clean water.
Gargling BC for dental health
- Try gargling the clay in your mouth with some water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, similarly to using mouthwash.
- Then spit out the clay, and rinse your mouth with clean water.
Consuming bentonite clay drinks and capsules
- If you plan on consuming bentonite clay by mouth (ingesting it either by eating or drinking the clay), try this: Drink 1/2 to 1 teaspoon once per day as many days of the week as you’d like. Mix the clay with water, preferably in a jar with a lid where you can shake the clay and make it dissolve. Then drink it right away.
- Make sure to only ingest bentonite clay that’s food grade.
- You can also look for BC capsules sold in supplement/health food stores. Be sure to follow instructions carefully.
Giving BC to your pets
- You can add bentonite clay to your pet’s water to help reduce symptoms like vomiting.
- Mix one-fourth cup or less of the clay into the water until it dissolves. Your pet should not taste anything or even notice that it’s there but should feel better pretty quickly.
Risks and Side Effects
What bentonite clay dangers should you be aware of? While generally safe when used correctly, some caution needs to be exercised if using BC in terms of both quantity as well as the chosen type.
- BC is great for oily complexions, but if you have very dry, sensitive or aged skin, you may want to use a more mild clay.
- Some bentonite clay products contains trace amounts of lead and other heavy metals and may not be appropriate for consumption, especially by by children and pregnant women. There has been at least one report of a pediatric patient developing severe hypokalemia (low potassium) after being given large amounts of bentonite clay both orally and rectally.
- The FDA has warned consumers to not purchase certain BC brands because of a potential lead poisoning risk, as these products apparently have unsafe levels of lead.
- Be cautious about trying any “bentonite clay detox” or diet products, since BC should not be ingested in large quantities because of the way it expands in the body. Too much could potentially result in bentonite clay side effects, including disruption of normal digestion and problems with absorption of vital nutrients.
- What is bentonite clay? It’s a natural product composed of ash taken from volcanoes. It’s used to treat many different conditions affecting the skin to the digestive system.
- BC has the ability to fight infections, boost immunity and digestion, and improve skin, dental and hair health.
- If you choose to consume bentonite clay, be sure to do it only in small quantities, and use clay sold by trusted merchants. Stop using the product if you experience any bentonite clay side effects, such as skin rashes or digestive issues.