MUT researchers uncover the brilliance in using red clay as skin protector

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30 March 2024

MUT researchers uncover the brilliance in using red clay as skin protector

 Two MUT researchers have published a paper in a science journal that has a 5.020 impact. Sibusiso Nkosi of the Technology Station in Chemicals (TSC), and Nokukhanya Thembane, a Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, published a paper – Physical, chemical and  biological  characteristics  of clays  from  Durban  (South Africa)  for  applications  in  cosmetics, in the ‘Chemistry Europe Journal’. This is a weekly peer-reviewed journal that covers all areas of Chemistry and related fields.

The two researchers acquired the clay at Mzinyathi, west of Durban. Nkosi said clay soils are used in various pharmaceutical and medicinal products for curative and/or preventive purposes. In cases where clays are to be utilized as raw ingredients in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, they must adhere to both performance and quality standards.

Nkosi goes on to say that in the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa, red and white clays are widely accessible and are utilised for decorative purposes, as well as sun protection material, and other cosmetic purposes by the Zulu and Xhosa communities. “We described the characterization of chemical, physical and biological properties of red and white clay samples from Durban, South Africa. The samples have pleasing qualities that could make them appropriate for cosmetic applications, according to the characterisation results, such as pH, colour and oil absorption, metals, and texture,” said Nkosi. Nkosi also warns that “some metals can build up in the human body over time and cause adverse health effects”.

Nkosi said that “in the present circumstance, there is a need to develop guidelines and standards for metals in cosmetics and to establish immediate mandatory regular testing programmes to check the contents of metals in South African local facial clays in order to restrict their excesses and protect the consumer’s health”. Nkosi said the study also provided valuable information on the antimicrobial activity of clay samples against various microbial strains. He said the examined clays possess magical ingredient properties in skin care products, proving them to be perfect for cleansing skin by absorbing oil and smoothing the surface. Such clays are also gentle ingredients that can be used as exfoliants.

Nkosi said that what they discovered was that the oil adsorption capacity and swelling properties of red clay was expressive, “indicating that the red soil had a greater affinity for oil and may contribute to a more matte or oil controlling effect, and the potential use of these sample in high adsorption capabilities applications such as ointments, powders and creams”. Nkosi further said that the acceptable results indicated that these samples could help enhance the absorption of excess oil and protect skin from moisture, “thereby providing comfort, protecting against rashes, and promote skin health, making it beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin types”.

According to Nkosi, the use of red clay for cosmetic purposes in Africa is an age-old long-standing practice, which has been practiced through all regions of the continent. “Closer to home, many of the ancient uses of clay to protect and enrich skin and hair continue to this day. Clays are essential ingredients in many cosmetic products and as a result, they have been of great benefit to beauty spas around the world, especially as they are being used to perform pelo-therapy and mud therapy. Clay is often mixed with glycerine and water to make a paste which is then applied on the face,” Nkosi said.

Explaining what motivated them the carry out this research, Nkosi said that their research was informed by the quest for the TSC to incorporate indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) into cosmetic products, which is one of the key focus areas of the TSC. Nkosi said that clays have been widely used traditionally for the purposes of cleansing and beautification. Nowadays, clays are used in soaps and shampoos to improve the lathering ability of the products and to absorb extra oil. In cases where clays are used as ingredients, particularly in cosmetics, the influence is their mineralogical and chemical makeup. “As a result, it is critical to understand their physical, chemical, and biological characteristics, hence it was necessary to investigate the potency of the red and white clays from Durban’s Umzinyathi for cosmetic applications, along with their physical, chemical, and microbiological characteristics.

Concluding, Nkosi said the study revealed that the clays are free from radioactive chemicals, and highlighted the need for further research to explore the potential mechanisms by which clays protect the dermal layers against ultraviolet light damage. “This information can be used to develop more effective skincare products that protect the skin against both microbial infections and ultraviolet light damage,” said Nkosi. He also added that “the study contributes to the existing knowledge on the properties and potential uses of clays in skincare and healthcare. Also, there is a need to develop guidelines and standards for metals in cosmetics and to establish immediate mandatory regular testing programmes to check the contents of metals in South African local facial clays to restrict their excesses and protect the consumer’s health” Nkosi said. 

For media inquiries and interview requests, please contact MUT Media Liaison Officer, Bheki Hlophe +27 82 432 1805 or via email

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About Mangosuthu University of Technology

Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) is a leading institution of higher learning in South Africa, renowned for its commitment to excellence in education, research, and innovation. Located in a township, MUT has extended its global reach through strategic partnerships and collaborations. The university is dedicated to fostering inclusivity, diversity, and social responsibility, empowering its graduates to make meaningful contributions to their communities and society as a whole.