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Self-preserving ingredients: Kaolin, Talc and Calamine

What are they? 

Kaolin is a fine soft white clay, derived from the natural decomposition of other clays. Talc is hydrated magnesium silicate, a naturally occurring mineral that has been milled and purified. Calamine powder is a milled form of zinc oxide, which is derived from natural mineral deposits, and ferric oxide - a water insoluble compound. 

How do they help preserve products? 

By absorbing any excess free water to create an environment where microorganisms cannot grow.

What are the benefits?

The absorbent nature of clays and powders mean they are great face and body cleansers. 

Interesting fact? 

Clay has been used as a cosmetic ingredient for thousands of years. In Ancient Egypt it was added to olive oil to create a cleansing soap paste.


Clays and powders work in similar ways to help a product preserve itself. As we know, when it comes to talking self-preserving, excess water is the enemy, and this trio of talc, calamine and kaolin work hard to absorb it.

When adding a clay or a powder to a mixture it effectively hides the free water inside itself so microbes can’t find it. This absence of water means microorganisms cannot grow and reproduce inside of the product, and it will last longer as a result.

Adding a clay or a powder to a product means the self-preserving process is different. When honey or glycerine is added to a formula we are encouraging a chemical reaction to take place, but when we add a clay or a powder we are creating a dispersion. This means we are literally dispersing or mixing the ingredients together and effectively hiding away the water so it cannot be used by any opportunist microbes.

Again, it’s not as simple as just adding clay into the mixture. If the ingredients are mixed too much then the water could leak back out of the final product, which would mean that microbes could take up residence within them. Mixing dispersions like Mask Of Magnaminty is a delicate process that has to be carried out carefully and precisely to ensure the products preserve themselves once they are potted and sent out to stores and customers.

Kaolin, talc and calamine also have other benefits when used in cosmetic products:

For example, Kaolin is a white, soft, powdery mineral that helps to cleanse and exfoliate the skin. It also adds texture and bulk to cleansers. We use 88,000 kilograms of Kaolin per year. Lush Trainer Hannah Gumbrielle explains why: “Kaolin is a great all rounder, helping to vacuum up any excess oil or dirt on the surface of the skin and act as a gentle exfoliant.” We blend this soft clay with all sorts of beautiful essential oils and fresh ingredients, mixing it into a versatile paste so that we can mould it into products.

Kaolin or China clay was first mined in China before being discovered in Europe, namely Cornwall. It can be found in other parts of the world, however the Cornish one is renowned for its superior quality.

Talc is a soft, versatile mineral used in many of our products. It can be applied for moisture absorption and as a filler. Talc is soft and breaks into small flakes that enable us to add texture to a product and make it easier to apply to the skin. There have been various worries about the use of talc in cosmetic products. These have all been thoroughly researched and there is no evidence to support concerns. The only cautionary measure talc requires is the same one that applies to any fine powder: to avoid inhaling large amounts.

We use two grades of talc, one makeup specific and another for other product ranges.

Calamine was traditionally used in medicinal ointments as an antiseptic. It’s a very gentle ingredient on the skin but has a high component of zinc oxide (typically 98%) - an incredibly active material that has the ability to reflect UV rays. This means calamine is often used in sunscreen in order to protect and care for the skin. Hannah explains, “Calamine is the holy grail of clays to soothe the skin. You may remember it in many different forms when you had chickenpox as a kid, but it’s a fantastic ingredient in skincare to reduce redness or irritation and is also great at absorbing any excess oils on the skin.” Annually we use 39,000 kilograms of calamine in our products.

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