Mineral-rich mud masks: how the beauty products are upping the skincare game

While mud may have been utilised by civilisations throughout history, skincare brands have only begun to capitalise on the substance for mass-market production in the past decade or so.

Skincare brand Glamglow offers several mud masks, while Talise Spa has treatments incorporating mud packs. Getty Images

Mud: a naturally formed substance that poses quite the paradox. On the one hand, we despair when we trudge through it and it sticks to our clothes and shoes. On the other, we’ll check ourselves into luxury spas and pay to have it rubbed all over our faces.

Mud may not be top of mind when you think of luxury, but there has been a recent surge in mud-mask offerings from high-end skincare brands. Mud has been a vital skincare stimulant “since time immemorial”, according to Josephine Njenga, a senior therapist at Talise Spa in Dubai. Long before eyelash serums and gel nail varnishes, mud was one of the first substances to be used for cosmetic purposes. Cleopatra, the famed female pharaoh who ruled over ancient Egypt, is thought to have frequently applied mud from the Dead Sea to her skin, to retain a youthful appearance. Believing that the body of water contained mystical powers, Cleopatra allegedly built what would come to be known as the world’s earliest spas, near the shores of the Dead Sea.

Then there’s fangotherapy – or the medical use of mud, by way of mud packs or mud baths. This, too, has historical roots. Greeks and Romans, recognising the healing properties of mud, would bathe together, socially, in mud baths, while Native Americans are known to have used mud to soothe irritated skin. There’s even a Romanian legend about an old, blind and crippled man who, while riding his donkey, accidentally came across Lake Techirghiol and found himself stuck in its muddy waters. Upon emerging from the lake, his blindness was cured, and he could walk again.

While mud may have been utilised by civilisations throughout history, skincare brands have only begun to capitalise on the substance for mass-market production in the past decade or so. Never had a beauty brand achieved global success from creating an entire business proposition founded on mud – until Glamglow was launched six years ago, by Shannon and Glenn Dellimore. Being residents of Los Angeles, their initial idea was to create an effective skincare product for their celebrity friends; one that would refine pores, reduce fine lines, give a refreshed glow and prep the wearer’s face for the camera. Mud wasn’t a part of their initial idea, the couple tells me during a recent trip to Dubai.

Today, Glamglow is headquartered at Glamland, an impressive mansion situated in the Hollywood Hills. The interiors are decorated with glossy silver sofas and striking chandeliers, to complement the historic mansion’s beautiful sunrooms and stately staircase. “From my recollection, before we started Glamglow, mud always just came in a big jar. It was more of a spa type of product. I hadn’t really seen it [as a] prestige [product]; it was just mud,” says Glenn. He reveals that, when Shannon and he first considered the idea of creating a Glamglow face treatment, they did their research and compiled a list of ingredients, but when they approached a chemist, he informed them that they needed a base for the formula.

“When we looked into what mud does for the skin, it was incredible,” says Glenn. The result was a mud mask that, when left on for 10 minutes, exfoliated the skin, helping it look smoother, softer and brighter. The product, bottled in an unlabelled, plain white sample container, quickly became a hit among the Dellimores’ network of actors and make-up artists.

Shannon and Glenn sampled muds from all over world – from Europe and Brazil to Alaska – before settling on their favourite: French sea clay, sourced from the coast of Southern France. This was used as the base for the brand’s first product, Youthmud. Even though Dead Sea mud tends to be more popular among skincare brands, Glenn explains that while it may have held lavish connotations in the past, touted as something of a fountain of youth, and reserved for royalty and the elite, mud obtained from the Dead Sea is actually a lot cheaper than other muds. French sea clay, on the other hand, carries more of an exclusive charm and is more costly. “Not only was it the best for what we were trying to achieve, it was also the world’s most expensive mud,” says Glenn.

Other sought-after muds include Kaolin clay, mined from Kaolin in China, and Hungary mud, sourced from the bottom of Lake Héviz, near Budapest. Depending on the geological conditions of its origin, each mud offers its own specific set of minerals and purported healing properties. Like Glamglow’s Youthmud, Talise Spa also uses French Sea Clay for most of its facials. Although mud treatments for the face are most popular, Njenga explains that clients can choose from a range of other services involving mud, including heat packs and body wraps, and says results will differ depending on the type of mud used. “Mud can relax muscles, improve blood circulation, ease digestion, reduce swelling, or relieve tension from the joints. And for the hair, it is a good conditioner, as it detoxifies the scalp,” she says.

While other brands tend to formulate mud-based products with green-tea extract, the Dellimores add real pieces of green-tea leaves, which slowly steep into the mud base over time. In fact, Shannon and Glenn have patented this method.

Soon after they started bottling their mud-mask formula and selling it exclusively to their acquaintances in Hollywood, Glamglow was launched at Neiman Marcus stores across the United States. However, as Shannon explains, having a presence in the most luxurious department store in America wasn’t the best part; it was where the Glamglow products were placed in the stores that was most exciting. “They own the corners of all of their beauty counters, and in Beverly Hills, they put us right in the middle of the La Prairie counter. Just Glamglow,” she says. “In Texas, it was right next to Chanel. Surrounded by all of the biggest and most prestigious brands in the world – including Dior and Shiseido – this new and unknown brand with just one product was right in the middle.” The same year that it launched in stores, Glamglow also emerged as the winning brand at the consumer-based Neiman Marcus Beauty Awards.

Glamglow is also a pioneer of the “multi-masking” beauty trend – where multiple mask products are used at the same time to treat different areas of the face. Shannon, for instance, uses the brand’s Supermud on her T-zone to combat oiliness, and Gravitymud on her neck area, to firm and tone the skin. While the majority of beauty vloggers on YouTube feature women smearing the muds on their faces, Glamglow masks are targeted at male consumers, too. Njenga also says that a lot of men book face masks at Talise Spa. “They love it – they will always go for a detoxifying or cleansing mask, which is what they need for their skin, which is usually either very oily or very dry,” she says. The age range of mud-mask clients is also quite wide, she reveals. “We passed that era of where it was more of a mature thing to do; nowadays it’s all mixed up, with people from 16 to 60 years of age,” she says.

So mud has been elevated from its humble origins and become a go-to beauty formula for all – with zero stigma attached. “Water and soil mixed together becomes mud, but I don’t think it’s [thought of] as being dirty,” says Njenga. After all, new mud-based skincare and medical solutions are no mere water-and-soil combinations. These muds are mineral-rich substances, often containing magnesium, sodium and sulphur, and are found only in particular geographic locations. Today, you can even find mud masks that have been supplemented with real gold – the Dual Action Mask by Gold Core, for instance, features Dead Sea mud formulated with camomile, grape seed, olive oil and 24K gold.

Glenn is adamant that Glamglow’s mud offering tops them all. He even compares the brand to tech giant Apple. “We all need a phone. But we all want an iPhone. And we all need a mud mask, and there are thousands out there, but what everyone wants is Glamglow,” he says. And while he considers the treatments to be of a luxurious nature, he insists that this categorisation isn’t due to the price. “Luxury for us isn’t necessarily just about being expensive; no matter how ‘luxury’ a product is, it’s only as luxurious as the results.”

Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, June 15.