Is There Lead in Bentonite Clay?
If you’ve used bentonite clay in any of these ways, you might have noticed the new warning label about lead. This label is required by Prop 65 in California (which requires hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals to be labeled).
I’ve received many questions and comments from readers asking if there is indeed lead in bentonite clay, and if so, if it is safe to use. Certainly, this is an important question since lead is a very harmful substance in the body and our family uses bentonite clay regularly.
After much research, my short answer is…. yes, there is lead in bentonite clay, but I still feel completely safe using it on myself and my family.
As with any health topic, it is important for you to do your own research on this, but these are the reasons I feel comfortable using it (even with the lead warning).
The Amount of Lead in Bentonite Clay?
To understand why I am unconcerned about the lead content in bentonite clay, it is important to understand why there is lead in bentonite in the first place and the amount present.
Bentonite Clay (also known as Montmorillonite clay) is a naturally occurring element that is composed of hardened ash from volcanos. Much of this clay is harvested from large volcanic deposits in Fort Benton, Wyoming (thus the name), but it is also harvested from the Montmorillon region in France (again, thus the name) and several smaller deposits worldwide.
Since Bentonite Clay is harvested from the earth and is a natural substance, it contains trace amounts of various elements, including trace amounts of lead.
So how much lead does it contain?
In my opinion, not enough to worry about. Here’s why…
Lead naturally occurs in the earth’s crust and is also present in many things we interact with on a daily basis. Historically, it has been used in cosmetics, paints, and other substances (in fact, hundreds of lipstick brands still contain lead in higher amounts than bentonite, but that is another post for another day)
You know what else contains lead that you probably consume daily? Many foods.
Foods that grow from the earth (fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.) contain trace amounts of lead. Foods from animals that eat these plants also contain trace amounts of lead. In fact, many unprocessed foods can contain up to 0.4 PPM (parts per million) of lead or more.
For instance, a 2007 study from the FDA found these levels of lead in typical servings of common foods:
- Fresh collard greens: 30 micrograms of lead (50x higher than prop 65 stipulates)
- Dry roasted mix nuts: 20 mcg of lead
- Brussels sprouts: 15 mcg of lead
- Sweet potatoes: 16 mcg of lead
- Spinach: 15 mcg of lead (source)
The amount of lead present in the commonly used amount of bentonite clay is less than half of the lead found in spinach.
Soil is an even bigger source of lead. Uncontaminated soil contains 50-400 PPM of lead. To put that in perspective, Bentonite Clay contains 11-12 PPM, or less than 0.001%. So the soil in your yard likely contains at least 4 times the amount of naturally occurring lead than Bentonite clay, but even the trace amounts present in clay would be a concern, except…
The Lead Isn’t Bioavailable
This is the often-overlooked part of the lead equation. The lead that is naturally present in many foods and clays is not available to the body.
Lead is dangerous, even in tiny amounts, when it is able to build up in the body. This does not occur with the trace amounts of lead in clays like bentonite for one very important reason:
Lead likes to bond to other elements like silver, copper and zinc.
To understand why this is important, think about high school chemistry. Compounds that would be dangerous on their own, are not in certain combinations. Sodium (a reactive caustic metal) and Chloride (an explosive acid) are harmful on their own in elemental form, but together they form harmless and important NaCl, or salt.
A similar comparison is true with lead. Lead in an un-bonded form (like the isolated form found in some metals, cosmetics or old paint) is dangerous and is important to avoid because it can bond and remain in the body. Lead that has already bonded is not likely to remain in the body.
Lead from natural sources, like dirt and clay, remain bonded when they enter the body. Just as the bond between sodium and chloride is very difficult to break, the bond between lead and another element is not easily broken and does not happen through the normal process of digestion.
This is why there are exemptions in Prop 65 for natural foods like Brussels Sprouts, collard greens, and nuts, which naturally contain moderately high levels of lead and would have to show many times the “safe” level of lead on their labels. Foods like carrots and yams contain over 20 times the legal limit of arsenic, but they aren’t dangerous because the arsenic is similarly bonded.
It is likely that companies that produce and sell Bentonite Clay products could claim this exemption as well, since the lead is already bonded, and it contains much less than the safe threshold according to Prop 65. From my understanding, many companies choose to label anyway to be completely transparent and because mislabeling fines are severe.
Putting It In Perspective
Bentonite Clay contains less lead than many common foods like vegetables and nuts, and much less than uncontaminated soil. Even this tiny amount of lead is already bonded to another element and not likely to release or store in the body.
Even common collard greens contain over 5 times the amount of lead as bentonite clay, and it is considered safe to eat, even under Prop 65.
I’ve been unable to find any actual research showing the potential for harm from the trace amounts of lead in clays like Bentonite and a lot of research showing the potential for some serious benefit.
The Benefits of Clay
It is also important to weigh the benefits of bentonite clay when determining if it is safe to use. I’ve written in depth about the scientifically backed benefits of bentonite clay, but to summarize:
- Bentonite carries a strong negative charge which allows it to bond to chemicals and heavy metals within the body and remove them. This process also releases beneficial minerals into the body.
- There is now research showing that clays may have properties that make them effective natural antibiotics (this study has some fascinating information on the medicinal uses of clays)
- Bentonite pulls excess hydrogen from the body, allowing cells to take in more oxygen.
- Clays like Bentonite also have the ability to bond to and remove certain viruses, even potentially rotavirus (source)
- Harmful bacteria in the mouth has the potential to affect the body negatively in many ways, which is why I use Bentonite in recipes like homemade tooth powder to help remove these bacteria (and chemicals and heavy metals) before they enter the body.
- Interestingly, there is now research showing that while Bentonite does not release lead into the body, it may have the ability to remove it from water, tissue and contaminated sources (source)
- I also add clay to my children’s baths to remove fluoride form the water (source) though I am not as diligent about this now that we have a whole-house fluoride filter
- Research is still preliminary, but clays like Bentonite may even have the ability to fight MRSA, Salmonella, E.coli and other viruses (source)
- Bentonite can pull bacteria, infection, chemicals and heavy metals from the skin, making it an effective face mask and detox soak. This same property makes it beneficial to the hair as it can remove buildup that slows natural hair growth.
- I’ve even use clay on my babies (as a natural baby powder) and for our pets (when they had digestive upset) with great results.
What I Do…
As I mentioned before, you should do your own research on any health topic, especially a controversial one like lead exposure.
From my own research, I feel completely comfortable using high quality clays from reputable sources. I personally use clays in these forms for various beauty and natural remedy purposes:
- Calcium Bentonite Clay from Aztec Secrets (for external uses and detoxing)
- Redmond Clay for internal uses, oral health, and as a natural remedy (also great externally)
- Earthpaste (clay based toothpaste that I use when I travel and that my children love)
My recipes that contain clay:
- How to Detox Your Armpits
- Squeezable Homemade Toothpaste
- Detox Foot Soak
- Remineralizing Tooth Powder
- Deep Cleansing Mud Mask Recipe
- How to Detox Your Hair
Do you use any healing clays like Bentonite? What is your take on them?