It’s been used as a hair softener and skin cleanser for centuries and now volcanic ash is used as a base ingredient in everything from dry shampoos to face masks to pyjamas (really). Here’s the deal on the mineral rich matter and how to use it
No sooner do we have activated charcoal fatigue then another black and grimy beauty ingredient comes along, ironically promising to cleanse and purify us. One such product addition is the ominously named volcanic ash, a natural combination of elements such as sulphur and bentonite clay that reportedly helps to draw away impurities from the skin, absorb excess sebum and soothe skin rashes such as eczema and psoriasis . It seems a tall order from a substance that’s essentially greyish gunk, but the main components of volcanic ash do have a beauty pedigree that goes back many moons.
Bentonite clay, extracted from ash-based volcanic soil, has been taken both internally and externally in the form of a paste by many communities for its supposedly detoxifying effect ( Liz Earle drinks it mixed with water to promote healthy gut bacteria balance but definitely consult your doctor before you go there). From a beauty perspective, the Iran Journal of Public Health reports that it’s been used by Iranian men and women for generations to clean and moisturise the hair and scalp, while application of the clay in sheep has been shown to increase wool growth. On the skincare front the volcanic ash derived clay has been linked to the alleviation of irritation associated with dermatitis and nappy rash while it’s also demonstrated potential in wound and skin ulcer healing.
As for the purifying reputation of volcanic ash, it’s a substance being increasingly weaved into yarn and clothing owing to its thermoregulating properties combined with its capacity for absorbing bacteria and moisture. A case in point is Cucumber Clothing , a range containing volcanic ash that’s designed to provide comfortable, cooling sleepwear and day wear that regulates temperature and moisture levels to provide functional sartorial solutions when everything from hormonal fluctuations to hot weather strike. Applied in a skincare context, the calcium and potassium mineral count within volcanic ash is also said to provide cleansing, mattifying and anti-inflammatory perks, hence its use in products aimed at oily, acne-prone skin in particular. All in all, the beauty pros of volcanic ash seem promising, but as with everything in this life, exercise moderation where masks and exfoliants are concerned especially, as overuse could lead to a stripped skin barrier and the kind of inflammation you were looking to combat in the first place. Otherwise, tap into ash with this lot.
IGK Jet Lag Invisible Dry Shampoo, £23 for 178g
Good for: Reviving greasy roots without the itch or gunk.
Our Digital Editor Judy’s go-to dry shampoo, this finely milled volcanic ash based cleanser and volumiser is genuinely imperceptible when applied (no “ghost” roots) yet makes previously lank hair soft and fluffy again. It also feels more effective from a ‘shampoo’ point of view - it leaves hair looking and smelling fresher than many dry shampoos on the market.
Peter Thomas Roth Moor Mud Mask, £56 for 150ml
Good for: A weekly clear out.
Rich in anti-inflammatory volcanic ash derived minerals, this mud and seaweed based mask is more hydrating than your average ‘cracking’ mud mask and leaves skin soft, not sore.
Shiro Scalp Clay, £45
Good for: A cooling, deep cleansing scalp refresh.
Whether you’ve got oily roots or simply fancy clearing away the cobwebs up top, this tingly scalp mask is the business. Volcanic oil helps to regulate sebum and bacteria, argan oil adds a shot of moisture while peppermint provides the aforementioned refreshing buzz. If you’ve got sensitive skin give it a patch test first as the peppermint extract could prove problematic, but otherwise it’s as exhilarating as hair masks get.
DCL Detoxifying Clay Mask, £45 for 50ml
Good for: Targeting your t-zone.
If shine and blackheads are your skincare bugbears, this volcanic ash and clay based mask is an effective mopper upper, and a sugar cane and maize complex helps to soften skin rather than dry it out.
Bioeffect Volcanic Exfoliator, £30 for 60ml
Good for: All round brightening.
With volcanic lava pumice and pore-cleansing salicylic acid , this gel based scrub makes for a more gentle exfoliator than many of the more powerful products in this edit, which is no bad thing. Light physical exfoliation comes courtesy of the very fine pumice grains alongside apricot seed powder.
Alexandra Soveral Volcano Ash, £41 for 50ml
Good for: Combination skin.
This mousse mask goes big on bentonite clay with emollient plant oils and aloe vera for a soothing moisture hit. It’s fairly minty so treat carefully if you’ve got very delicate skin.
MAC Mineralize Volcanic Ash Exfoliator, £22 for 100ml
Good for: A clean sweep for scrub fans.
Physical exfoliants aren’t for everyone (steer clear if you have sensitive skin, active acne or any kind of inflammatory skin condition going on) but this volcanic ash and sugar based option certainly does the job where sloughing away dullness is concerned. The fragrance is as potent as the formula so go easy - it makes for a good option for body if it proves too punchy for facial use.