I Washed My Face With Fossilized Algae

by Courtney Leiva

Being a devout member of the Korean beauty coven, I love hoarding exotic sheet masks like a greedy Lord Of The Rings dragon. But while I eagerly flock to masking and K-Beauty trends like a moth to a flame, I’m even more obsessed with unconventional holistic beauty tips that no one has heard of. Rarely do I get a chance to combine international beauty and hippie-dippie beauty hacks, but somehow the unexpected collaboration managed to happen recently. Oddly enough, it all started with a marine collagen mask that I scored from a pretty awesome K-Beauty retailer. Of course, the tightening miracle mask had the usual ingredients I typically find in all kinds of skin care products, but one thing that definitely stood out to me was the mask’s use of diatomaceous earth, a fossilized algae health-conscious folk (like yours truly!) use for practically everything.

"Diatomaceous earth is known for it's exfoliating benefits," explains Andrew Hemmer of Earth Works Health, a diatomaceous earth retailer. "When using it on your skin, you will find that skin is much smoother than before, as it helps to also remove dead skin cells polluted by toxins."

Not only does regular consumption of diatomaceous earth provide essential silica to the body, but it also can be used as an effective exfoliate, when used topically. Now, I'll admit to adding this powdery substance to my water and smoothies, but never have I actually used diatomaceous earth on my skin. Willing to see if topical use of this powder would help pump up a fatigued-looking complexion, I decided to whip up a DIY face wash for seven days straight. Did a fossilized algae face wash change my face? Read on to find out!

What Is Diatomaceous Earth Anyway?

Looking (and feeling) very similar to clay, diatomaceous earth is an odorless talc-like powder made from fossilized remains of algae. And while this substance usually functions as a natural pesticide, many health enthusiasts have lauded diatomaceous earth for it's high silica content, which works to strengthen collagen, and detoxify the body.

"There isn’t another source that can give you as much silica as diatomaceous earth," says Michelle Schlekewey, Director, Spa and Fitness at The Golden Door. "Silica is a trace element that does may things for our bodies, from aiding in mineral absorption, to assisting the liver to detoxify our body."

While diatomaceous earth usually is consumed like a daily supplement, topical uses of the powder have proved to be beneficial to the skin. Because of the powder’s gentle formula and high mineral content, some use it for skin care related purposes.

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth 5 Lbs, $16, Amazon

“Because this powder is so finely milled, it is gentle enough to use on sensitive skin,” says Omaha dermatologist and contributor to RealSelf, Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “It is also rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc.”

But while diatomaceous earth may be easy to purchase online, it’s important to select food grade variants of the formula, as industrial-grade diatomaceous earth contains crystallized silica, which can be harmful to human health.

“Make sure the diatomaceous earth you choose is food grade, which means it’s safe for oral and cosmetic use,” adds Schlessinger. “Industrial-grade diatomaceous earth is used in pool filters and pest control, and it should not be ingested or used in this form.”

Day 1: Pumping Up My DIY Skills

Ready to see if topical use of diatomaceous earth was more than just was hype, I was ready to whip up the face wash I would faithfully be using for the next seven days. I already had a huge bag full of diatomaceous earth lying around, so I mixed a small tablespoon of powder with a few drops of water, in order to form my wash.

Once my powder and water formed a thick liquidy paste, I spread the mixture onto my face, which surprisingly went on nice and evenly. However, please be aware that this stuff tends to dry quickly, so you’ll only want to leave it on your face for three minutes tops. Also, try to remember that when you do wash, you’ll also want to be cautious of the eye area, as traces of sediments can easily get into your eyes if you aren’t careful.

Using this mixture felt much like a double-duty clay mask and exfoliate, as my skin felt a tightening sensation it normally does with masks. However, when I washed it off, the diatomaceous texture felt much like a grainy yet gentle scrub. While I can’t say it has any real effect on my skin just yet, the smooth sensation I get after washing makes me eager to use it again in the coming days.

Day 2

So far, my diatomaceous earth cleanser has fit easily into my routine. Yes, it may be a bit messy and time-consuming to make, but so far my skin seems to be taking to it quite nicely. Somehow I have avoided the pimples and blemishes (fingers crossed!) I usually receive when trying new products, which makes me extremely excited. Perhaps this is a result of the detoxifying formula, as I feel like my pores are treated to a deep clean every time I use this special stuff.

Even on these unbearably hot summer days, my face feels tight and free of greasiness after washing. I still can’t say that’s a beauty game-changer just yet, but I am sure to keep other parts (and products!) of my routine super light. That way, I can monitor the progress of the diatomaceous wash closely.

Day 3

Three days into using diatomaceous earth and my skin doesn’t look too different. I’ve still got pre-existing acne scars and blackheads to deal with, and I doubt the wash will miraculously change that. However, the newfound buttery skin texture I get after washing still hasn’t tapered off.

At the night the story is pretty much the same. I still have amazingly smooth skin, but I can’t say that my blemishes and acne scars are fading away. I see some new rough patches forming on my cheek, but it’s nothing out of the norm. Perhaps this because I am scrubbing a little too hard, so I will have to be a bit more careful going forward. Maybe I will make my paste a bit thinner tomorrow, and remove my formula with a warm washcloth instead.

Day 4

Once day four came around, my blemishes finally started to subside before they got any worse. I was sure to wash a warm washcloth, and apply moisturizing coconut oil on my face to keep any dry patches from getting out of control.

But aside from some minor hiccups, my skin still is looking and feeling pretty good. I’m starting to notice a natural shine on my cheeks. which has proved to extremely refreshing, especially since my fatigued skin (thanks, insomnia!) usually tends to be on the dull and lifeless side.

Even the usual oil and shine on my face has somewhat subsided, as my face is more matte, without being dry as sandpaper. I won't lie, this is kind of freaking me out a bit, especially since my super sensitive skin usually would have something to complain about by now.

Day 5

By now my newfound blemishes have faded away completely, and I’ve really got nothing to complain about. Honestly, I’ve been on the edge of my seat, waiting for any kind of breakouts to appear, but surprisingly there has been no acne (not even those pesky deep-seated types of zits!) flare ups for me to report. With news this good, I have finally decided this might be the cleanser I use from now on.

Before I go to bed, I am glad to report that my skin still feels full and hydrated. This is probably because I have been maintaining a light and makeup free routine. But whatever the case, I think it’s pretty safe to say that this wash has had a positive effect on my face.

Day 6

Even though I’m so very fond of my brightening and tightening washes, I will admit that I don’t miss them very much at this point of the experiment. This DIY face wash has really changed the game for me, and soft and breakout free skin is something I can’t stop beaming about. With that said, I’m basically rejoicing I have a big bag full of diatomaceous earth left, as I can’t wait to see what happens after a full month’s use.

Day 7

To put my DIY creation to the final test, I washed with a regular store bought cleanser to see if it could compare to my diatomaceous wash. While I was expecting nothing major to occur, I was surprised when I noticed pimples forming on my face after cleansing with a drugstore favorite. Of course, this could be from the hot and humid summertime temperatures, but the slick and slippery residue on my face post-washing made me think otherwise.

To conclude, I will say that I am pretty enamored with using my diatomaceous cleanser daily. My face feels very clean without any residue, and my overall texture is smooth as a baby’s bottom. A slight natural shine and no breakouts is something that made me eager to use this going forward.

Should You Try A Diatomaceous Earth Face Wash?

Yes, the idea of using pesticide as a face wash sounds pretty cringeworthy, but the soft and acne-free skin I've experienced makes me a believer of diatomaceous earth's topical benefits. Of course, my skin wasn't changed overnight, but the silica-rich formula definitely had a positive effect on my skin. I'm thinking the silica formula surely had something to do with it, as the gentle exfoliation left my skin supple and smooth. So, should you try your hand at diatomaceous earth skincare? Definitely! Whether you use it as a face mask, wash or exfoliate, there are so many benefits to cash in on. Just be sure to use food-grade formula always!

Images: Courtney Leiva