As any beauty obsessive will know, excitement can build fast around a new formula or ingredient, and the latest buzzworthy component to grab the attention of skincare fans is interesting to say the least: volcanic ash.
We know what you're thinking, but in the wake of the charcoal backlash, with some experts arguing that the ingredient can be harsh and abrasive on skin in certain forms (especially peel-off masks – we've all seen the videos on Instagram), it seems savvy brands and consumers are looking for an alternative detoxifying ingredient, and volcanic ash fits the bill perfectly.
"Charcoal has now percolated throughout the personal care market from toothpaste to pore strips," explained Jillian Wright, independent beauty expert and founder of the Indie Beauty Expo, "so brands seeking to separate themselves from the charcoal cacophony and stand out from the crowd are now taking a different approach to dark matter by using volcanic ash." Now for the science. "Volcanic ash, rock or clay help to remineralise the skin," Wright continued, "and these ingredients are a mixture of naturally occurring amorphous silicates and aluminosilicate (minerals) of sodium, potassium, calcium which have multiple benefits for the skin."
Ideal for those prone to acne, excess oil production or congestion (characterised by whiteheads or small bumps under the skin), volcanic ash’s superpower is its ability to draw impurities away from the skin. This is why facialist Alexandra Soveral was keen to use the ingredient when she dreamed up her eponymous skincare line. The Soveral Volcano Ash Transformative Mask, £42, harnesses Icelandic bentonite clay (a substance sourced from volcanic soil, which contains volcanic ash) to clean the skin in the most calming yet effective way possible. "Bentonite clay has an enormous absorption capacity," Soveral told R29. "Not only can it extract oil from the skin but it also attracts impurities within pores, all without causing any inflammation." When you apply the thick and gloopy substance to your face, it dries into a satisfyingly crisp layer. After leaving on for 15 minutes and rinsing off, blemishes are noticeably calmed and skin texture refined. For a more intense treatment you can also apply this directly to spots or even leave on overnight.
If you’re looking for a similar effect, try Peter Thomas Roth’s Irish Moor Mud Mask, £56. It combines bentonite clay – which is not only actively cleansing, according to facialist Kate Kerr, but boasts anti-inflammatory properties, too – with mineral-rich Irish moor mud to form a potent formulation that absorbs oil, preventing pesky blackheads and minimising the appearance of large pores. Or there’s DCL Skincare's Detoxifying Clay Mask, £45, which harnesses the power of volcanic ash for a deep cleanse and loosens toxins and debris from the surface of the skin, leaving it much smoother and brighter.
While volcanic ash is predominantly used in mask-based products, it also works a treat as a physical exfoliant, specifically a planet-friendly one. With customers waking up to the ocean-damaging effects of microbeads (now banned by the UK government), skincare businesses must find new ways to create physical exfoliating systems that use natural, biodegradable ingredients such as volcanic ash. Case in point: the Volcanic Face Exfoliator, £30, by Icelandic brand, BioEffect. The scrub is gentle yet thorough and made with pure, inert volcanic pumice. Designed to be used one to two times a week, it helps buff away dead skin cells to reveal a brighter complexion and, in turn, increases the efficacy of any skincare products you apply on top. Using volcanic ash in scrub form also has another hidden benefit, as Holly Harding, skin expert and founder of indie beauty brand, O'o Hawaii, explained. "Forty-six percent of most volcanic rock is made of oxygen, so think of it as a fresh burst of clean oxygen that rejuvenates the skin." She recommends the Birdseed Dexotifying Face Scrub, £158, but if that's out of your budget, try Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser, £27.
As volcanic ash gains traction, we’re likely to see it crop up on more and more ingredient lists, especially with skincare ranges aimed at oily skin. Instagrammable beauty brand GLAMGLOW is using volcanic sand in its oil-absorbing Volcasmic Moisturiser, £39, to create a sponge-like layer over the skin that soaks up excess oil throughout the day. The solid balm-to-oil consistency certainly feels counterintuitive to use, but after it melts into skin, it leaves behind a matte finish and makes an ideal base for makeup – especially if you’re prone to the dreaded 4pm shine. Spotted in hair and body ranges too, we predict the dark stuff will be cropping up on shelves everywhere pretty soon.