So, the other day I was talking to a friend about this homemade deodorant for sensitive skin, and she wondered aloud if she really needed to buy “a whole bag of this diatomaceous earth stuff just to make deodorant.”
And I was like, WAIT, YOU DON’T HAVE SOME ALREADY??
Clearly I have failed as a friend, because you guys, this stuff is awesome. Not only can you use it to nourish hair, skin and nails, rid your pets and home of critters, and keep your garden healthy, you can use it in your beauty routine. I’ll tell you how in this post, but first you’re probably wondering . . .
What Is Diatomaceous Earth, Anyway?
Good question! Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is a fine powder made from diatoms, a type of fossilized phytoplankton. It looks like Rice Chex under a microscope, only in cylindrical form. Weird, right?
Here’s what makes it so unique:
Diatomaceous earth carries a negative ionic charge. This study suggests it helps to reduce parasites in chickens, and many experts believe this is due to its negative charge and cylindrical shape. The thinking behind this is that positively charged bacteria and parasites (plus some viruses) may be attracted to it like magnets are attracted to one another. Because of its shape, the pathogens get trapped in the center and carried out of the body.
It’s rich in silica, which is essential for healthy teeth, bones, hair, skin and nails.
It’s incredibly hard. On the hardness scale, diamonds are a 10 and diatomaceous earth is an 8. There are several benefits associated with its hardness, which we’ll cover below.
How Is Diatomaceous Earth Different From Bentonite Clay?
If you’ve been around for awhile you know that I use clay for everything from washing my hair to brushing my teeth – even making soap. Clay is incredibly versatile and can sometimes be used interchangeably with diatomaceous earth, but the two powders are different. Bentonite clay typically comes from volcanic ash deposits, while diatomaceous earth is a powder made from fossilized phytoplankton.
Because it is made up of tiny, hard phytoplankton, DE works well as a gentle abrasive. It attaches to the protective waxy outer coating of bugs/pests and absorbs it or scrapes it away, causing them to dry out and die. Likewise, it can be used to mechanically remove stains from teeth or slough off dry, dead skin. I have found it to be slightly more effective in controlling odor in my homemade deodorant than clay, though I have used clay with success.
Bentonite and other clays such as rhassoul work primarily by absorbing (drawing within the clay) and adsorbing (drawing to the outside of the clay) impurities, which makes it ideal for gentle applications. For example, it also helps to remove stains and whiten teeth, but it does so by drawing stains out rather than removing them physically. Diatomaceous earth would be too drying for something like washing hair, but because of its silica content it’s actually very good for hair if taken internally. So as you can see, there’s a lot of crossover in terms of benefits but they are not quite the same.
What’s the difference between food-grade diatomaceous earth and non-food grade DE?
“There are two general sources of diatomaceous earth, marine deposits (from places where there once was salt water) and freshwater deposits, which provide food-grade DE. This latter sort is what we are interested in, as it is the only kind safe for mammals – i.e., you and your pets. Marine (non-food grade) DE has a crystalline structure that makes it unsafe to be inhaled or ingested, while freshwater DE lacks this jagged crystalline structure, making safe for use in the home where pets and humans live,” writes L.A. Nicholas, PhD, Naturally Healthy Living With Diatomaceous Earth
20 Uses For Diatomaceous Earth
There are so many ways to use DE in the home, for personal care, with pets and more. Here are a few of them:
Though our primary detox pathways are through the liver, kidneys, colon and lymph system, our skin and lungs also assist with detoxification. We don’t want to block our body’s ability to sweat with antiperspirants, but we can keep things sweet in the underarm area by neutralizing odor. Diatomaceous earth is great for this. And because it tends not to be quite as alkaline as baking soda – which is commonly used in homemade deodorants – it is often preferred by individuals who have experienced rashes or irritation after application. Here’s my deodorant recipe.
Sprinkle a little DE over your tooth soap, toothpaste, or homemade tooth powder for extra deep cleaning power. Because it is gently abrasive only a little is needed to effectively remove stains, and it should only be used every once in awhile.
3. Facial Scrub & Mask
Because it is very fine, diatomaceous earth makes a gentle facial exfoliant and mask. In addition to it’s main component, silica, DE also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium and phosphorous. Since minerals can be absorbed through the skin, this is a wonderful way to complement a mineral-rich diet.
To use: Mix about 1 tablespoon of diatomaceous earth with water, milk, aloe vera juice or diluted honey to make a thick paste. Using your fingertips, lightly massage the paste onto your face using small, circular motions. Allow the paste to set for 1-2 minutes, then gently remove with a warm washcloth using small, circular motions. This last stage is when most of the exfoliation occurs. Follow with toner (if you use it) and a moisturizer like tallow balm or my hydrating skin repair serum recipe.
Special note: Avoid using this scrub near the eyes or on chapped skin.
4. Supports Collagen Production
Yeah, you read that right. Silica, which is a type of silicon, is essential for collagen formation. In one study, animals that were supplemented with a small amount of highly bioavailable silicon had a 12% higher collagen concentration than animals who weren’t. (Source: Jarrow Formula’s application to FDA for their silicon supplement, BioSil)
Silica is found in many foods, such as leeks, green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, cucumber, mango, and asparagus, and of course diatomaceous earth is about 80-90% silica.
5. Nourishes Hair
In this study, supplementing women with a bioavailable form of silicon (choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid) increased the strength and thickness of their hair. Because it is less bioavailable, the silica found in diatomaceous earth has to be consumed in higher quantities than the choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid. However, some people think this is a good thing because it is thought to have cleansing properties.
6. Strengthens Nails
Along with gelatin and biotin, silica is essential for building strong, healthy nails.
7. Supports Healthy Cholesterol Levels
This study suggests that diatomaceous earth may be beneficial for lipid metabolism and cholesterol levels. Who knew?
8. Strengthen Teeths and Bones
Silica is essential for the formation of the hard outer enamel that protects our teeth, and according to this PubMed article it is likewise beneficial for overall bone formation and health.
9. Food Storage
DE is added to grains and legumes such as wheat, maize, beans and barley to prevent spoilage. It keeps food dry, prevents mold, and protects against pests like weevils and beetles.
10. Bed Bugs
Diatomaceous earth is registered with the FDA for use against bed bugs, fleas. Here is a tutorial for applying it throughout the home.
A couple of notes: First, the product in this tutorial contains 2% synthetic ingredients. Though it is certainly better than some pesticides used to eliminate bed bugs, I would go with 100% DE before trying it.
Second, there are a lot of cautions against breathing in diatomaceous earth. While I would definitely use a mask to apply using the method in the video, I found this statement over on I Breathe, I’m Hungry helpful:
I received an email from Larry Smith, the President of Earthworks, who wanted to clear up the misconception about any dangers of inhaling food grade diatomaceous earth – here’s what he wrote: ‘This is a misunderstanding about food grade DE. There are 2 kinds of DE—food grade and filter grade (used in swimming pool and other filters) Only the filter grade is dangerous to breathe. The “dangerous” part of DE is the amount of crystalline silica that is in it. Filter grade is 65% crystalline silica while food grade is less than 1/10 of 1%! The world health org. has said that diatomaceous earth is safe to breathe as long as the crystalline content is under 2%. Food grade is 20X lower than even that level!!’
So no need to be concerned about any danger associated with using DE for pets, bedding, consumption or anything else – as long as it’s FOOD GRADE! “
11. Garden Pest Control
Diatomaceous earth can be used to kill slugs, beetles, and other unwanted pests in the garden. Here’s how to use it. However, please keep in mind that it should be used wisely, because most bugs are beneficial and we want to preserve their habitats.
I can’t help but giggle a little when watching this video on how to treat pets for fleas using diatomaceous earth, but it has some very good info . . .
Something to keep in mind is that it’s also important to treat any carpet pets come into contact with, plus areas they like to nap in, etc. Here’s how to treat your carpet and home for fleas using DE.
13. Natural Flea Powder
Speaking of fleas, guess what the main ingredient is in this natural flea powder for dogs and cats? Yep, DE. I’ll be sharing the homemade version I make for Duke, my family’s English shepherd, soon.
14. Cockroach, Spider, Tick and Earwig Control
Diatomaceous earth is approved for use against all of these home pests. Experts recommend using a hand duster to puff it into cracks and crevices where bugs are likely to hang out.
15. Fridge Deodorizer
Just like baking soda, a small container/box of diatomaceous earth can be left in the fridge or freezer to neutralize odors. Needs to be replaced every 1-2 weeks.
16. Garbage Can Deodorizer
Sprinkle in the bottom of the can to help neutralize odors.
17. Stain Remover
Because of it’s highly absorbent nature, diatomaceous can be sprinkled on oil-stained clothes to help soak up the oil. I like to pair it with this homemade stain remover for stubborn stains.
18. Spill Clean Up
Just like with clothes, diatomaceous earth can help soak up oil stains on carpets, driveways and garage floors.
19. Scouring Powder
The gentle abrasive nature of DE has long made it a favorite for polishing silverware, serving pieces and jewelry before buffing. (source 1, source) It can also be used on other hard surfaces such as sinks, bathtubs and countertops. When I make up a batch of homemade scouring powder, I typically use a 50/50 mixture of diatomaceous earth and baking soda.
17. Detoxification Support
The ability of diatomaceous earth to attract and bind to bacteria and parasites has made it very popular in the water filtration, and many people believe that this quality also makes DE a helpful supplement for detox support. Although there isn’t much research available on this subject, some physicians have found it helpful in clinical practice and recommend it for this purpose. For example, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of Gut & Psychology Syndrome, recommends it for general detoxification, although she notes that it should not be taken by individuals with severe digestive conditions such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. (source)
What Kind Of Diatomaceous Earth Should I Use?
Only food grade, never the stuff you find at the pool supply shop. Here’s what I buy.
How I Take Diatomaceous Earth Internally
Most people say diatomaceous earth should be taken on an empty stomach. What this means is somewhat vague, but from what I can tell best practices are to take it either:
1. First thing in the morning, then wait 30 minutes to eat
2. Three hours after eating
When I take DE, I started with one teaspoon in a tall glass of water (8 oz.) and worked my way up to one tablespoon over the course of a week. Like all of the supplements I take, I scheduled breaks from DE so that my body doesn’t get overwhelmed. In the case of DE, I prefer to use it for about a month continuously, then I take 1-2 teaspoons once or twice a week after that.
Also, it’s not technically a use, but if you call Home Depot and ask for food grade diatomaceous earth it can lead to some pretty funny questions. 🙂
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Please see my full disclaimer here.
Microscopic diatomaceous earth photo credit: Camelia TWO