Known for its cult following among beauty bloggers and Whole Foods shoppers alike, Aztec Secret is a bentonite clay that has been used to “beautify and refresh” the skin for centuries, according to its packaging.
“Bentonite clay comes from volcanic ash and gets its name from Fort Benton, Wyoming, where several volcanoes are present and the clay is still harvested today,” says Stacey Rex, creator and owner of Pure Stella Skin Care in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Bentonite clay is known to have an abundance of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, sodium, copper, iron and potassium.”
A specific type of bentonite is found in Death Valley, California, and is the clay used in the famed Aztec Secret (not-so-secret) product. When combined with a liquid, like water or apple cider vinegar, the clay becomes a powerful—and cheap—detoxifying mask.
“It is a great mask to deep cleanse the skin, draw out impurities and tighten the skin while delivering minerals that nourish the skin,” says David Pollock, a beauty industry chemist and founder of justaskdavid.com. “It is a bit old school, but there is a reason it is a classic: It works and it’s affordable.”
To use the clay, mix the original recipe—equal parts clay and apple cider vinegar combined into a face mask—or try one of these five other ways to use it.
As a Hair Treatment
Bentonite is traditionally used to help draw dirt, debris and excess oil from the skin, says Crystal Baldazo, an esthetics master educator at Tricoci University of Beauty Culture in Chicago, but it can also be used as a treatment on the hair and scalp.
“I have a friend who uses this to detox her scalp and hair as a clarifying treatment—she swears by it,” Baldazo says. “As a clarifying treatment, mix it up in the same way as the face mask and apply it to the area, [then] let it sit for 20 minutes [before rinsing].”
Silica, another mineral found in bentonite, is known to build strong hair and nails, Pollock says.
As a Spot Treatment
The beauty of the clay is that it can be used as a mask anywhere you need it—even as a spot treatment for breakouts and newly-formed blemishes. As a spot treatment, mix the clay as you would a face mask (just use less), then dab a small amount onto the affected area and leave it on overnight before rinsing off, Pollock says.
As a Bath Soak
Part of the reason the clay works is that, when added to a liquid, it takes on an “electric charge” that allows it to absorb and remove impurities and chemicals from the body, Rex says. This is how the clay brightens your complexion.
If you’re looking to level-up your bath, Rex recommends adding 1/4 cup of the clay to bath water for a detoxifying soak.
To Treat Bug Bites
Bentonite’s ability to draw out toxins (what doesn’t this stuff do?) also makes it perfect for taking the sting out of insect and mosquito bites, Rex says.
She recommends combining the clay—again equal parts liquid and clay—in a small silicone bowl, mixing with your fingers, then dabbing onto bites to lessen the pain.
As a Mask Mix-In
Although the clay is beneficial enough on its own, adding a few ingredients can enhance the benefits of the mask and makes for an easy DIY, Pollock says. Here’s one to try:
Mix the ingredients together into a paste, then apply and let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing, he says.
“Let [the mask] sit until fully dry so that it can draw out impurities and tighten the skin,” he says. “Follow with a serum and moisturizer.”
Because the clay can be a bit drying on its own, consider mixing it with Greek yogurt, honey or a combination of water and jojoba or a non-comedogenic face oil, Rex says. You can even add a few drops of an essential oil to the mix for aromatherapy benefits, she adds.
Keep in Mind
Because the clay is stimulating (the Aztec Secret label proclaims, “FEEL YOUR FACE PULSATE!”), expect your face to be pink or red when you take it off, Baldazo says.
“The pulsating lets you know that your blood flow to the area is increasing and increased blood flow to the face helps with oxygenating the skin, making it look more youthful and giving it a glow,” she says. “The redness or pinkness of your skin after the removal is an indication of the same.”
Be sure not to leave the mask on too long, Rex adds, as the clay can begin to extract moisture from your face if it becomes too dry.
Most importantly, while some people (i.e., celebrities) extol the benefits of consuming bentonite clay internally, you must find a food-safe clay version before trying to eat or drink it, Rex says. Speak with a doctor, esthetician or dermatologist if you have questions about food-safe clays.