Bentonite clay has been used for centuries.
Traditional uses include healing of wounds, detoxification, and digestive health promotion.
But, does modern science support the use of bentonite clay?
In this article, I’ll explain:
- How bentonite clay works;
- If bentonite clay for hair growth really works;
- Ways to use bentonite clay; and
- The lead contamination controversy.
Just keep reading!
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What Is Bentonite Clay?
Bentonite clay is essentially volcanic ash sediment (1). It is comprised of minerals like silica, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
There are many types of bentonite clays. Their properties are dependent on the environment that they are in.
Bentonite clay is a negatively-charged absorbent powder. Adsorbent materials bind to other compounds through an exchange of ions.
This clay is known to bind to certain toxic substances, specifically mold toxins that are produced following mold exposure. Bentonite clay also has antibacterial properties.
The adsorbent properties of bentonite clay may make it beneficial for hair growth.
Key Takeaway: Bentonite clay is comprised of minerals and is a powerful adsorbent. It binds to certain toxic substances, most notably toxins produced following mold exposure. It also has antibacterial properties.
Bentonite Clay for Hair Growth: Does It Really Work?
Bentonite clay has recently been popularized as a hair growth treatment.
But, does it really work?
In the following sections, I’ll discuss some possible ways bentonite clay might benefit hair growth.
Mold Toxicity and Hair Loss
Significant hair thinning is often a complaint of mold-exposed individuals (2).
However, there is little data available on the direct effects of mold on the hair follicle itself.
Nonetheless, toxins produced by mold spores have been shown to have a profoundly detrimental impact on the skin. Considering the skin of the scalp directly influences hair quality, this likely has some relevance to hair growth (3).
T-2 toxin is a mold toxin produced by various species of mold. It is known to induce oxidative stress, or free radical damage, which can lead to cell damage and death. It also degrades capillaries and other small vessels, leading to decreased microcirculation.
Following T-2 toxin exposure, researchers have observed increased mast cell activation and degranulation (4). Mast cell degranulation is the release of granules like histamine, responsible for allergic responses (5). When activated, mast cells also release pro-inflammatory molecules like TNF-α, prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), and IL-1 and growth factors like VEGF and TGF-β.
In line with these observations, T-2 toxin has also demonstrated an ability to increase levels of the same molecules, TNF-α, TGF-β, and IL-1. This leads to skin cell apoptosis, or death. Consistent exposure to the T-2 toxin could result in cumulative cell death that results in tissue damage.
Citrinin and patulin are two other mycotoxins that produce free radicals, leading to oxidative cell damage. Patulin is also known to activate NF-κB, a transcription factor that increases the production of pro-inflammatory molecules when activated.
Aflatoxin, arguably the most powerful mold toxin, stimulates the production of cell-toxic free radicals.
Ochratoxin is known to upregulate the expression of COX-2 enzymes, the enzymes that produce the precursors for every prostaglandin in the body. Prostaglandin E2 and prostaglandin F2 have a beneficial effect on hair growth while PGD2 is known to inhibit hair growth (6).
Ochratoxin also suppresses Nrf2 activation, the opposing transcription factor to NF-κB. It works by enhancing the activity of the natural antioxidant enzymes found in cells. When suppressed, Nrf2 can’t effectively stimulate natural antioxidant activity.
Overall, mold toxins increase the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, stimulate excessive oxidative stress, activate mast cells and lead to their degranulation, and suppress antioxidant systems.
So, what does this have to do with hair growth and loss?
Interestingly, all of these factors are present in certain forms of hair loss.
For example, IL-1, TNF-α, and PGD2 are all elevated in Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) scalps, also known as pattern hair loss. (7)
Increased mast cell activation and mast cell counts are observed in Telogen Effluvium (TE), a type of hair loss characterized by multiple hairs transitioning from the growing anagen phase to the resting telogen phase (8). It is also seen in Alopecia Areata (AA), a type of autoimmune hair loss.
The free radicals produced by mold toxins also pose an issue for hair loss. Animal studies show us that free radical damaged lipids (fats), called lipid peroxides, cause hair follicles to transition from the anagen phase to the shedding catagen phase prematurely (9).
Dermal Papilla Cells (DPCs), the cells that are responsible for signaling hair growth, can also be damaged. Cell culture studies show that DPCs from balding scalps grow slower than DPCs from normal scalps. This slow growth is associated with elevated levels of oxidative stress.
Considering the potential of mold toxins to trigger events that lead to hair loss, effectively removing these toxins could remove certain factors that contribute to hair loss.
Because of bentonite clay’s ability to adsorb and bind to mold toxins, it may be helpful for preventing mold-induced hair loss (12).
Transport of mycotoxins to the upper layers of the skin occurs via sweating, meaning that topical bentonite clay application could adsorb mycotoxins when used topically (13).
However, no studies have currently been conducted to assess just how many mycotoxins accumulate in the skin. Additionally, there are no studies assessing whether or not mycotoxins are efficiently adsorbed by clay through topical use.
But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this wouldn’t be the case. Topical bentonite clay for mycotoxin removal is likely to have beneficial local effects. This means that bentonite clay could possibly remove accumulated mycotoxins where it is applied, reducing the potential for adverse effects in that area.
It is unlikely, though, that topical bentonite clay application has an effect on the overall mycotoxin burden of the body as a whole.
- Mycotoxins like T-2, ochratoxin, aflatoxin, citrinin, and petulin have pro-inflammatory, pro-oxidative, and mast cell-activating effects on the body.
- Inflammatory molecules like IL-1, PGD2, and TNF-α are all implicated in AGA.
- Excessive mast cell activation and mast cell count is observed in both AA and TE.
- Oxidative stress markers are elevated in AGA and AA. DPCs from balding scalps seem to be affected by oxidative stress.
- Bentonite clay is a powerful adsorbent that has been shown to bind to mycotoxins. When used topically, it may bind to mycotoxins in the area of application.
- Topical application of bentonite clay is unlikely to reduce mycotoxin levels anywhere other than the site of application. But, this may reduce the adverse effects of mycotoxins in that area.
- Topical application of bentonite clay hasn’t been studied for mycotoxi removal.
Clay’s Antibacterial and Wound Healing Properties
For a healthy skin and scalp, a normal microbial balance is required.
When the delicate balance between various strains of bacteria on the skin is disrupted, it can lead to overgrowth and different adverse effects.
Elevations of S. aureus in proportion to P. acnes is implicated in atopic dermatitis (15).
Additionally, reductions in P. acnes may contribute to an imbalance of Malassezia spp. yeast on the scalp (16). This is the yeast believed to be a significant contributor to dandruff.
In light of this, respect for the microbiome as well as tools that promote balance between microbes is needed. This is a paradigm shift compared to previous protocols that involved targeted antibiotics. These themselves have disrupted the balance of the microbiome.
Unlike powerful antibiotics which disrupt the microbial balance, bentonite clay has a less powerful antimicrobial effect that is more likely to preserve the delicate interaction between strains (17).
Bentonite clay also absorbs oil (18). Because both Malassezia spp. and P. acnes feed off of sebum, reducing the amount of oil may prevent possible detrimental effects to the scalp.
Using bentonite clay on the scalp, then, could help promote healthy scalp microbiome. Through this, it could foster an environment that favors hair growth. However, this hasn’t yet been tested as it relates to skin or hair.
- Microbial balance between various strains of bacteria is important for skin health like the scalp.
- Imbalances between certain strains may lead to the development acne, atopic dermatitis, dandruff, and more. It may also contribute to AGA.
- Antibiotics don’t effectively treat microbial imbalances, in fact, they often make them worse.
- Bentonite clay is a less powerful antibacterial agent compared to antibiotics. This may help balance the microbiome.
- Using bentonite clay could help foster an environment that favors hair growth through a healthy scalp microbiome.
- The effects of bentonite clay haven’t yet been tested as it relates to skin or hair.
Putting the Pieces Together
Overall, there’s no science available to support the use of bentonite clay for treating hair loss.
However, its anti-mold and antibacterial properties may provide some benefit for some forms of hair loss.
Key Takeaway: There’s no science available to support the use of bentonite clay for treating hair loss, but ts anti-mold and antibacterial properties may provide some benefit to for some forms of hair loss.
Ways to Use Bentonite Clay for Alopecia
Considering the properties of bentonite clay, it could be worth utilizing bentonite clay in your hair care routine.
Some common methods of use are discussed below.
Scalp Mask and Clay Wash
Scalp clay masks are one way to use bentonite clay in your hair care routine.
Bentonite clay can be mixed with liquid to create a clay mud that can be applied to the hair. This may draw out damaging aflatoxins or balance the microbiome of the scalp.
You may also be able to use clay as a substitute for shampoo. Because of its highly absorbent nature, it is used to asborb oil (18). Many bloggers have substituted their shampoo for clay, however, no studies have reported this use.
Unlike a mask, a clay wash is likely not left on the scalp long enough to be effective for removing aflatoxins.
Key Takeaway: A scalp mask or a clay wash are good hair care uses for bentonite clay. A scalp mask is likely a better way to take advantange of the benefits of bentonite clay.
How Often Can I Use Bentonite Clay On My Hair?
If you have oily hair, bentonite clay is probably safe to use as often as you wash your hair.
However, if you have normal to dry hair, the bentonite clay could absorb too much oil. For this reason, you’re best off limiting clay masking to once a week or less.
- If you have oily hair, bentonite clay is probably safe to use as often as you wash your hair.
- If you have dry hair, you’re best off limiting clay masking to once a week or less.
The Lead Contamination Controversy: Is Bentonite Clay a Source of Heavy Metals?
Bentonite clay has been known to contain the toxic heavy metal lead.
However, it’s unlikely that this poses a risk for lead toxicity.
In fact, research shows that bentonite clay reduces lead levels in the environment, not adds to it (19).
So, lead levels in bentonite clay should not be a reason to avoid bentonite clay.
Key Takeaway: Bentonite clay adsorbs lead and doesn’t contribute to lead toxicity. Lead in bentonite clay doesn’t pose a risk for use.
The Verdict: Bentonite Clay for Hair Loss
When it comes to using bentonite clay for hair growth, there isn’t a lot of hard data to support its use.
But, bentonite clay does have some beneficial properties that could benefit hair growth and loss. The adsorbent properties of bentonite clay allow it to bind effectively to hair-damaging mold toxins. It also has some antibacterial and oil absorbing properties that could promote a healthy scalp microbiome.
To take advantage of these possible benefits for hair growth and loss, a bentonite clay scalp mask can be used. It might also act as a substitute for shampoo, but science hasn’t documented this.
Have you ever used bentonite clay for hair growth? How has it worked for you? Leave a comment below.