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What Is Clay Shampoo, and What Does It Do for the Hair?

The year 2021 brought us hair innovations galore. Arguably, more so than any year prior. From TikTok-trendy hot tools to scalp treatments and hair oils, the hair industry has been bustling with brand new developments. Among them? The inclusion of clay in our hair routines! The ingredient made its way to the mainstream via TikTok, when the Aztec Clay Mask was used to revitalize coily hair. Later in the year, we were introduced to clay hair cleanser. So, just what is clay shampoo? Keep reading for the lowdown on its uses and benefits.

(via Unsplash)

Clay Shampoo’s Purpose

Much like the clay masks we religiously apply to our faces, clay in haircare has similar uses. Clay absorbs impurities without stripping nutrients.

“Clays such as kaolin and bentonite are universally regarded as effective cleansers,” explains Shaz & Kiks cofounder, Kiku Chaudhuri. “Kaolin gently cleanses hair and scalp without excessive drying. Kaolin is great for sensitive skin. It stimulates blood circulation and exfoliates the scalp, improving elasticity and strengthening hair.”

As for bentonite, “It absorbs toxins, chemicals and impurities,” she goes on to say. “It’s a unique clay because of its ability to create an ‘electrical charge’ when mixed with water. This means upon mixture, bentonite turns into a magnet of sorts. It pulls in all compounds with a positive charge, which includes various buildup (product, hard water, excess oil and grime, chlorine).”

The Differences Between a Clay-Infused Shampoo and a ‘Regular’ Shampoo

Plain and simple, a sulfate-free clay shampoo has the ability to give you a deeper cleanse without stripping the scalp’s natural oils.

“It depends on the full formula of the shampoo, but in general, shampoos that have commonly used cleansing agents, such as sulfates, can overly strip your scalp’s natural oils and unbalance your scalp,” Chaudhuri says.

Why We Don’t Hear More About Clay Shampoos

While we mentioned general innovations in haircare at the top of this article, shampoo, in particular has maintained its basic makeup over time.

“It’s been more or less the same old formula: 70% water, sulfates (cleanser) and surfactants (lather),” Chaudhuri says. “Western consumers have become very comfortable with a liquid or gel texture for a shampoo, and the haircare industry really hasn’t experienced the same revolution as skincare has. But things are changing, and consumers are caring about all different beauty and wellness products now. Most people don’t even realize that their standard shampoo is majority water.”

That, she explains, is what encouraged her and sister Shaz to launch their East Asian-inspired haircare brand.

“We wanted to introduce new types of haircare products that are rooted in ancient formulas and rituals,” Chaudhuri says. “We wanted to develop products that are beneficial, efficacious and really help you understand what exactly you’re putting in your hair and on your scalp.”

Challenges of Developing a Clay Shampoo 

If you haven’t heard much about clay shampoo, there’s a reason for that! Chaudhuri, who recently launched a Balancing Hair Clay Cleanser, explains that the development process is challenging.

“We wanted to make it waterless and without any sulfates,” she says. “Those are two of the main ingredients in standard shampoo. Because clay is already such a heavy-duty cleanser, you must make sure the formula is totally balanced. You want to mix it with the right type of ingredients that won’t over-dry your scalp and strands. The other challenge is the texture and delivery system, and making sure it can distribute with ease and is a good experience.”

As she notes, to gain a reputation as an innovator in this business is a lot of work.

“We really push ourselves to think out of the box when we formulate each of our products,” Chaudhuri explains. “We create from scratch, don’t look at any other products on the market, and make sure that we’re using premium quality ingredients that have a positive impact both on our planet and our customer. So that means we take a long time in product development, go through many iterations, and many discussions with our chemist to understand each ingredient and its impact.”

Being Careful With Clay and Chemically Treated Hair

While each product formulation is different, if you come across one that includes bentonite, for example, you’ll want to listen-up.

“Bentonite has a negative ion, which means when mixed with water, it seeks out positive ions (synthetics, plastics and fillers) to remove from your hair,” Chaudhuri says. “It doesn’t remove the color of your hair, but can alter chemically treated hair. That said, if you bleach your hair, there are other specific shampoos that are better cleansers post-hair color. A clay shampoo is a great option for a monthly or bi-monthly clarifying treatment, though.” 

More on the Powerful Properties of Bentonite

Shaz & Kiks incorporate a specific type of bentonite into their clay cleanser.

“Multani Mitti, which originally comes from modern-day Pakistan, has been a cleansing agent for thousands of years all over the Indian subcontinent,” Chaudhuri says. “It became a popular beauty ingredient that spread throughout the Asian continent via the spice trade in the 16th century. When we were kids visiting India, every week our grandma would mix Multani Mitti with rose water and spread it through our face, our backs (to treat backne), and then through our scalp—a popular beauty ritual in many South Asian households. We want to bring these incredibly special culturally rooted ingredients to the global beauty stage. They’ve been used for so many centuries, have deep origins and are proven natural alternatives to many synthetically made treatments.”

For more on clay products for hair health, click HERE for our Moroccan clay mask recommendation!  

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