Clay: The Shampoo Alternative

When you first go “natural”, you are inundated with lots of information: Hair products, techniques, and debates on products and techniques.  A major topic of discussion is the debate on how to wash your hair.  Some say that co-washing — the use of conditioners to cleanse the hair — are best since they do not dry out the hair. Others say that shampoo is necessary to remove dirt from the hair.  Then there is the debate of sulfate versus sulfate-free shampoo.  Some argue that sulfates are too harsh, while others argue that sulfate-free shampoos are not able to remove certain products like mineral oil and petrolatum.  Confused yet?  Well, here is another option to add to the confusion… clay.

[pullquote_left]Clays ( e.g. Bentonite and Rhassoul) are natural cleansing powders.[/pullquote_left] Bentonite Clay is formed from the weathering of volcanic ash, while Rhassoul Clay is mined in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  Clays remove impurities from skin and hair. In hair, it can nourish hair with nutrients, define and enhance curl pattern, impart shine, and improve detangling.  For obvious reasons, it is of great interest to women with natural hair.

Clays can be mixed with various ingredients, depending on the desired goals.  Some use it solely as a cleanser, while others use it as a cleanser and conditioner.  These clays can be mixed with the following liquids: distilled water, apple cider vinegar, and aloe vera juice. For additional conditioning benefits, some may choose to add products like honey or oils.   It is a personal preference. Experiment and see what works best for you. But no matter the recipe,  the mixture should reach a yogurt consistency.

When using clay, it is important to remember a few things:

  • Because Bentonite Clay removes impurities, do not use with metal spoons or bowls. Use plastic utensils and remove jewelry.
  • Apply in sections — similar to how you applied a relaxer — but just don’t comb through the hair. An application brush is not required. You can simply use your hands.
  • Don’t let the clay harden on your hair.  If left on the hair too long, it will be difficult to remove from the hair. A good rule of thumb is to only leave on for about 20-25 minutes.
  • It will be messy.  As you get more experienced, there will be less of a mess.

Piqued your interest?  You can find Bentonite Clay at Vitamin Shoppe, Whole Foods, and other health/food stores.  You can also find clays online at companies like Henna Sooq.  Not interested in mixing?  Terresentials and other companies provide already mixed clay cleansers.

Have you tried clay as part of your wash routine? What did you think?


Author: Latoya

Latoya is an academic advisor by day, natural hair enthusiast//writer by night, and wife and mom 24/7. Her last relaxer was in April 2010 and she big chopped in October 2010. Join her as she shares tips and techniques for your natural hair.

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  1. I have 3c-4b type hair and I used bentonite clay for the first time tonight. So far, I like it! My hair and scalp seemed clean afterward, and my hair was so soft and shiny! I could see my curls clumping together, during the process, as well as elongating. It stretched my hair so much, that it appeared much longer than I’ve ever seen it since big chopping in November 2013. Afterward, I used a deep conditioner that I whipped up and let it sit on my hair for an hour under a plastic cap. After rinsing out the deep conditioner, I used the LOC process (Leave-in conditioner, Oil and Cream or butter). I twisted my hair to maintain moisture and avoid shrinkage as much as possible. I’m looking forward to great results when I untwist in a couple of days! Wish me luck! 🙂

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  2. Just recently I bought the bentonite clay to try washing my hair with, and I honestly have to say that I absolutely love it. I found that when using it, I didn’t have to detangle my hair as much, it was much more conditioned (I didn’t have to use a conditioner once I washed it out) and like you mentioned, I noticed that it definitely defined my curls to the max! It also seemed to loosen my curls… From my experience I definitely plan on adding this to my washing regimen. I’ve noticed that with shampoo–sulfate or sulfate free–my hair has generally felt dry and stripped from the shampoos I’ve used, with the clay I haven’t seen that effect.

    All in all I would have to say that I really enjoy the clay…my recipe is the clay mixed with aloe vera juice, a few drops of lavender essential oil and some drops of mixed oils as well…

    Have you ever known anyone to have adverse effects to clay? Any bad experiences with Bentonite clay? If you use the bentonite clay weekly, are there any negative effects, if any it might it have?

    BTW great article!

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  3. I am attempting go natural. I haven’t had a perm since December 5, 2012. My hair use to hang a little longer than my shoulders and I got it cut short. My hair was shaved in the back, on the right side of my head was about an inch long and I kept the left side eye level. 1st time experience but that was about 23 weeks ago. My hair has grown out in the back and hangs midway down the back of my neck. The front part of my hair has grown down past my ears. My hair is dry& dull. I just took a sew-in out because my edges had grown out and was visible under my sew-in. So I washed my hair & conditioned with “hydrating macadamia oil shampoo & conditioner” for the 1st time & for a leave in I used “As I Am leave-in conditioner” and then I applied Jamaican Mango & Lime no more relaxer growth creme on my edges. But I’m feeling like I am using to many products. This is the second time that I have read about the bentonite clay & it seems interesting for me to try during first quarter of transitioning. I was wondering how much of each product do I use and with my hair being so dry & dull could I use this weekly?

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    • Hello Tasia,

      If your hair is dry and dull, two things can be going on. If you are using a lot of product, you want to make sure that you wash your hair well so that product buildup will not prevent your hair from being properly moisturized.

      Also, focus on moisture. Pre-poo with products like coconut oil to prevent the shampoo from stripping your hair. Deep condition with heat. Also, consider using the LOC (liquid-oil-cream) method to seal moisture into your hair.

      Clays are clarifiers, so be careful using them on a weekly basis. They also have curl loosening properties so that is another reason to be wary of using them weekly. I personally use clay once a month alternating with shampoo every other wash. (I wash my hair biweekly and co-wash in between as needed.)

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