Remedies from the Earth
Medicinal Muds and Healing Clays
By Chrissy Spehar
Originally published in Skin Deep. Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Mud is one of the oldest beauty treatments in the world. Not the kind washed into the street after a rainstorm, but the medicinal mud and healing clay varieties found in estuaries or harvested from underground veins. In fact, healing clays "have been used by indigenous cultures since before recorded history," according to Jason R. Eaton, founder of Eytons' Earth, a Las Vegas-based, public awareness organization dedicated to researching the benefits of medicinal clays.
Melanie Sachs, author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care and owner of Diamond Way Ayurveda, a beauty care company based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., agrees. "Mud was used by ancient Egyptians, [and] the Romans used it as long ago as 120 B.C. after oil massage and before exercise in their famous bath ritual," she says. "Mud is possibly the oldest treatment modality known to man."
Why Mud Works
The beneficial ingredients found in clay, combined with its unique structure, make it perfect for purifying and beautifying skin. According to Eaton, healing clays are actually "specialized forms of crystal, and thus have the capability to act as transducers once properly hydrated." This means that, like other forms of crystal, clay has an extremely dense molecular structure and is comprised of particles with wide surface areas, making it very absorbent.
Sachs agrees. "Clays are full of minute particles with very active surfaces that are able to bind to toxins as they are gently pulled out of the tissues," she says.
Used as a facial mask, compress, or body wrap, mud services can greatly enhance your menu. But not all muds are created equal, and the kind of mud and clay used in a spa or healing environment is much more than just wet dirt.
"A healing clay is distinguished primarily by the secondary materials [it absorbs]," Eaton says. He explains that the "healing clay" designation is determined by various factors, such as the specialized absorption of minerals (like naturally occurring calcium bentonite), the specialized organic material naturally incorporated into the clay, and the lack of absorbed materials. "Some healing clays are prized for their purity," Eaton says of this last category, "which leave the clay virtually a simple crystal matrix."
Matching Mud to Skin
Medicinal muds and clays come in a wide variety of colors and textures. Though all types serve the same basic function of benefiting the skin by extracting contaminants, some are better for treating specific conditions than others. The color of the clay or mud is usually a strong indicator of which skin conditions it is best suited to remedy. Sachs says, "The metallic oxides that give clays their color work with the body's chemistry to produce different effects." For example:
* Black clay, found in many Indian products, gently opens the skin's pores, allowing them to breathe more freely.
* Blue clay makes effective masks for acne and inflamed skin.
* Green clay, suited to oily skin, naturally reduces sebum production.
* Red clay cleanses normal skin and is useful for reducing pain in joints.
* White clay -- milder than green clay and, thus, suited to sensitive skin types -- helps detoxify, balance sebum production, and improve elasticity in the skin and underlying muscle tissue.
* Yellow clay acts as an antiseptic and is effective against bacterial infections.
The benefits of medicinal mud don't stop there. According to Sachs, other potential positive effects mud can have on the mind and body include relief of congestion through the mobilization of toxins; reduction of inflammation through balancing tissue fluids; pain and muscle tension relief; healing of scar tissue, bruises, cuts, breakouts, psoriasis, and eczema; and the reduction of stress and anxiety.
Just as there are many uses for medicinal muds, there are also many ways to apply them to the skin. A mud mask can be applied to the face, or the whole body can be covered in a mud wrap.
"Most commonly a spa mud is applied in a fine layer -- just enough for the skin to look covered," Sachs says. "The client is then wrapped to keep the body warm and the product moist. If mud is applied to the face or other small parts that are not usually wrapped, the clay naturally heats as it dries. The heat excites the skin, and toxins are mobilized. If a thicker warm mud pack is used, toxins can be drawn from deeper in the tissue, circulation is pulled to the skin's surface, and muscle tissue is encouraged to relax."
Mud Speaks for Itself
The many benefits and application methods of healing clays and muds make them an enticing choice for spa-goers. With so many options available in mud treatments, remaining flexible is a key marketing consideration for spas, according to Angele Laurin, director of education at Sothys USA, a professional skin care company based in Miami. "Every spa has a different clientele base -- some people want a quick, 30-minute treatment, while others want a two-hour mud wrap combined with a massage and exfoliating treatment, for a more complete experience. Mud can be done both ways, so make sure to provide both on your menu," she says.
To attract new clients or grab the attention of regular clients, Laurin recommends combining a mud treatment with other more traditional treatments, like facials or massages, to generate awareness of the benefits of medicinal clays. "If a client who normally just has a facial tries a more complete treatment of a mud wrap and a facial, they will be convinced of the importance of treating the whole body," she says.
Eaton agrees that when marketing medicinal mud treatments, the experience will speak for itself. "People don't need to be bombarded with facts and figures and sciences when being introduced to clays. What people crave is a return to themselves, emotionally and spiritually, and that is why, deep within, people are drawn to the spa experience. Avoid pulling people into their intellectual mind; simply give them an opportunity to expand into their creative, emotional side," he says.
"As ever, people come to spas for deep renewal," Sachs says. Perhaps the time has come to renew your spa's menu with medicinal mud and clay treatments. Your clients will thank you.
Chrissy Spehar is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo.