Wallow in Mud for Beauty and Health?
Mud, mud, mud. That's all I've been hearing about lately. Friends are going to mud baths at very expensive spas, and beauty counters are filled with mud soaps, mud masks, mud creams. Mud is supposed to cure everything from psoriasis to acne. What is this mud craze all about? Are there health benefits to some of these products?
Mud certainly is all the rage these days. Without reading the actual ingredients on the mud-based beauty products you mentioned -- the masks and creams -- I can't even begin to tell you if they work. I'm sure they feel good when you put them on, and I imagine the results are in the eye of the beholder. I can tell you that cosmetic mud products usually contain clays, minerals, and an astringent, such as alcohol -- all of these absorb oils from the skin, so people with dry skin should probably avoid mud masks.
Many mud products claim to draw impurities out of the skin -- I know of no research that confirms this, but other medicinal effects have some scientific foundation. There is a long tradition of using mud and clay to heal skin problems. Mud can help take the pain out of burns and bee stings (bears roll around in it when they're stung), and when wet clay dries on the skin, it can draw out heat and reduce inflammation. The mud from the Dead Sea in Israel is reputed to have therapeutic effects for diseases like psoriasis. People travel there from all over the world for the mud baths.
Research on the therapeutic properties of mud has been much more intense in Europe (particularly in Russia) than in the United States. For example, a 1998 Italian study reported that the application of thermal mud -- as opposed to cosmetic mud -- promotes long-lasting beneficial effects for people with dry and seborrheic (flaking) skin. In 1999, another Italian study reported that the unlikely combination of mud packs and antidepressants helped fibromyalgia patients both physiologically and psychologically. (Don't try this at home yet -- the researchers called for larger studies to confirm their findings.) And in Israel, medical researchers at Ben-Gurion University found that rheumatoid arthritis patients who were treated with daily mud packs, daily hot sulphur baths, and a combination of the two, improved significantly compared to those who didn't receive any of these treatments. (And the effects lasted for up to three months.)
I do have a caveat to offer on the subject of mud baths. I once took a mud bath at a spa in Calistoga, California, and noticed that quite a number of people got in and out of the mud before it was changed. You could pick up a skin disease this way. Some of the bugs responsible, such as psuedomonas, survive in high temperatures. For this reason, I am cautious about recommending mud baths. For home use, however, it seems perfectly safe to buy products containing mud.