Dermatologists weigh in on its oil-clearing properties
When you learn that one of the latest need-to-know skincare ingredients hails from the fires of a volcano, you might think the quest for eternal youth has finally gone too far. But volcanic ash—yes, like actual ash, from an actual volcano—has been popping up in our creams, masks, and cleansers for a bit, and for good reason. While the name may be off-putting and raise questions about how it’s sourced, volcanic ash boasts a bevy of skin benefits. Think of volcanic ash as the marginally-gentler-but-equally-effective cousin to clay and mud. We spoke to Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, founder of Mudgil Dermatology in NYC; Dr. Marie Hayag, Board Certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics, and Grace King, a cosmetic scientist and president of Grace Kingdom Beauty, to get the lowdown on the detoxifying ingredient that seems to be everywhere.
What is Volcanic Ash?
According to National Geographic, in simplest terms, “Volcanic ash is a mixture of rock, mineral, and glass particles expelled from a volcano during a volcanic eruption.” According to Dr. Hayag, “Volcanic ash is a combination of sulphur and betonite clay.” As opposed to lava or volcanic rock, however, volcanic ash isn’t something that flows from volcanoes. Instead, it’s expelled across large distances along with water and gas. Volcanic ash has actually created plenty of problems for people over the years—from killing crops to delaying and cancelling flights.
Volcanic ash particles are tiny and highly porous, which means they’re incredibly absorbent. This works very well for cleaning up liquids; in the beauty market, this means they’re specifically great for clearing off the stubborn oil and sebum that sit on your face during the day. It also means the ash is helpful in clearing up any less-than-natural things that may be residing on your face, like pollution and extra makeup.
Benefits of Volcanic Ash for Skin
Dr. Hayag lauds its anti-inflammatory properties, saying that it “has been known for many years to help soothe inflamed skin in eczema and psoriasis.”
In other words, it soaks up all the bad stuff like a sponge. According to King, volcanic ash “works like clay, to soak up sebum, making it especially helpful for those with oily, acne-prone skin.”
Sonya Dakar, celebrity esthetician and founder and CEO of Sonya Dakar Skincare and Skin Clinic, echoes King. “Volcanic ash is extremely rich in minerals and has antiseptic, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. So it works really well to not only clear blemishes but heal the inflamed, irritated skin.” Basically, if your skin feels polluted—for whatever reason—volcanic ash is a pretty good ingredient to turn to.
Side Effects of Volcanic Ash
Volcanic ash has the same major side effect as pretty much any volcanic or mud-based product: it’s drying. As in, if it’s not mixed with the right ingredients, it can cause some seriously intense facial irritation. Skin isn’t meant to be totally oil-free—that’s why oil cleansers exist and some people with oily skin actually find it helps when they add more oil instead of trying to dry it off. Try to make sure the volcanic ash-based product you’re using has a lot of hydrating ingredients to balance it out.
How to Use It
“Volcanic ash has antioxidant and antibacterial properties,” Dr. Mudgil reiterates. However, he suggests a way to use them: “These are best used as a mask, to help give the skin some ‘pop.'” Because of its drying properties, volcanic ash isn’t an ingredient you necessarily want to leave on your face for an extended period of time, unless your skin is extremely oily. However, it makes for a fantastic treatment. “I can say that my skin always looks radiant after a sulphur spring mud bath in St Lucia,” quips Dr. Hayag.
The Best Products with Volcanic Ash
Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud Purifying Black Mask $60
If your skin needs a serious detox, look to this mask. It’s got all the heavy-hitting skin purifiers: volcanic ash, Irish moor mud, and activated charcoal. For balance, it also contains nourishing hijiki seaweed. It’s purifying, but not aggressive on your skin.
Innisfree Super Volcanic Clusters Pore Clearing Clay Mask $15
GlamGlow Volcasmic Matte Glow Moisturizer $49
Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask $55
Ouai Super Dry Shampoo $24
Bite Beauty Change maker Flexible Coverage Pressed Powder $36
Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask $75
While volcanic ash is used to draw out impurities in this mask, it comes secondary to the acids (lactic and kojic) used to gently slough off dead skin and target hyperpigmentation. It also utilizes galactoarabinan—a plant-based polysaccharide—to boost cell turnover.