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Clay remains one of the most mysterious—and underestimated—spiritual and medicinal mediums, despite the fact that it ranks among the very oldest magical, therapeutic, ritual, and cosmetic ingredients. Its use dates back to prehistoric times. Similar to crystals, there are a wide variety of clays, each possessing its own unique properties. In other words, not all clay is the same. Just as different crystals have distinctive magical and therapeutic uses, so does clay. The many varieties of clay include kaolin; bentonite; Lemnian; French Argiletz; and Fuller’s Earth, but right now we will focus on one of the most magical, versatile, and potent: Rhassoul.
Rhassoul is a type of clay found exclusively beneath Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. It is laboriously extracted from underground mines. The word “rhassoul” and its variant, ghassoul derive from an Arabic verb meaning “to wash” and among its most popular usages is as a body or hair wash. Rhassoul is also called lavaerde or lava erde, a name deriving from the Latin lavare (“to wash” or “to bathe” similar to the etymological roots of the word “lavender”) and a Germanic word meaning Earth. Rhassoul may also be marketed under various other names: red clay, Moroccan clay, or Moroccan lava clay, for instance.
Rhassoul is not monochrome. It comes in a variety of different shades of red, gray, and brown. Extremely rich in minerals, rhassoul contains high percentages of iron, silica, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Its silica content is what makes it such a prized hair care ingredient, while the iron content bestows its reddish hue. Rhassoul is an exceptionally absorbent clay possessing antiseptic and exfoliant properties.
Rhassoul does have therapeutic uses—it has historically been used as a healing poultice as well as taken internally for digestive disorders. The LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics website recounts the tale of a rhassoul miner, trapped in a mining accident, who survived for twelve days by eating the mud until he was rescued.
However, Rhassoul’s modern claim-to-fame is as a prized hair- and skin-care ingredient. It is a popular ingredient in cosmetic preparations. You can buy numerous products featuring rhassoul: LUSH Waylander rhassoul soap, for instance, which blends rhassoul mud with kaolin clay. However, rhassoul is also readily available in its original clay form and very easy to use.
Rhassoul may be sold in the form of clay chips, powder, or in the form of a bar—similar to the way black tea may be available as loose leaves or pressed into a brick. If treated with care—i.e., don’t get it wet—rhassoul’s shelf-life is fairly indefinite. It will last for a long time. (Once mixed into paste or mud, it may be left at room temperature overnight or for brief periods, but if you’re mixing up larger batches, refrigeration is recommended.) Quantity needed per preparation depends upon what you would like to do with it. Only a very little bit blended with small amounts of liquid is needed for a face wash, for instance, while greater amounts may be needed for a hair mask, especially if your hair is thick or long.
The use of rhassoul is ancient. Various claims are made for exactly how ancient—fourteen centuries is the farthest back that I’ve read. More modest claims suggest that its use dates only from the seventh century CE. This date corresponds with the first Muslim invasions of Morocco and may actually indicate the first documented use of the Arabic-derived name rhassoul rather than first use of the product itself.
What is known is that rhassoul was a treasured commodity on ancient caravan routes and that it was favored by Egyptian nobility. We know that Cleopatra used clay in her own facial preparations, although its provenance—whether or not it was rhassoul or something else– is not currently known. Rhassoul is among the traditional components of a Moroccan bride’s dowry.
Rhassoul is used as soap, shampoo, hair conditioner and as face, hair, and body masks. Beneficial for both oily and dry skin, it reputedly assists with skin conditions as diverse as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and Rosacea. It is used to draw out blackheads.
Rhassoul is especially beneficial and nourishing for thick, dry, curly hair. It reputedly promotes hair growth. Rhassoul also has ritual and magical uses. It is considered detoxifying—not only physically, but spiritually, too. It can thus be used as a component of enchanted baths, especially those intended for purification.
To use rhassoul for skin, body, or hair, first transform it into paste, gel, or mud. Texture can be adjusted to suit your taste and purposes, but ideally it should be moist, not too stiff and not too liquid. There are two methods.
- Pour hot liquid—water, herbal tea, coconut milk, or some combination—over rhassoul. Add the liquid a little at a time, stirring until the desired texture is achieved.
- Alternatively, especially if you’re working with rhassoul bars, rather than powder, add the rhassoul to a pan containing cold or room-temperature liquid and then warm it gently over the stove, stirring frequently.
Either way, make sure the rhassoul preparation then cools to a safe temperature before applying to body or hair.
Other ingredients may also be incorporated to the blend as desired including hydrosols (hydrolats); essential oils; or true oils like olive or coconut. Argan oil may be added for a double-dose of magical Moroccan ingredients.
- Further information on enchanted baths, hydrosols and the therapeutic use of clay can be found in Pure Magic.