If you’ve seen ads for diatomaceous earth (DE) face scrubs or read blogs claiming it to be a health miracle, you are probably wondering if it’s safe to use, given that it is so widely used in insect killers. Well, it is being explored for uses beyond industrial applications, and there have been experiments to explore the health benefits of diatomaceous earth. Let’s find out if it’s really worth all that it’s claimed to be?
What Is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth is actually a sand extracted from the earth that contains fossilized algae called diatoms that have accumulated over millions of years. The kind that is used in industrial applications like in pesticides, filters, or for food storage is the filter grade version. This version is certainly not safe for consuming or for using on your body.
What you can use, to an extent, is the food grade version. The FDA has said food grade diatomaceous earth is “Generally Recognized as Safe” as a filter aid for food processing, provided it meets certain stringent criteria on its heavy metal content and acidity.1 Some products like tooth pastes and scrubs do include it,2 but for all other supposed benefits, health authorities need extensive research before they can give a go ahead.
Claim 1. It Lowers Cholesterol
[pullquote]Our Verdict: There’s not enough evidence to support consuming DE to lower cholesterol. You may want to hold back for now.[/pullquote]
We can’t say this claim holds up. Research at the moment is limited, with only one study with just 19 healthy subjects supporting this claim. In this study, the subjects were given 250 mg of DE thrice a day for an 8-week period. The subjects’ serum cholesterol levels, bad LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels dropped. And the levels remained low even 4 weeks after they stopped taking the earth. In addition, there was also a significant increase in good HDL cholesterol.3
This study is promising but not large-scale enough to warrant this use. We are also unaware of the possible side effects. So hold back for now but keep an eye on news in this front.
Claim 2. It Can Cleanse And Exfoliate
There’s truth to this claim. People who swear by diatomaceous earth say it is a great cleanser, thanks to its naturally abrasive property. That is why several metal polishes use it. And now exfoliators and skin scrubs are using it.
[pullquote]Our Verdict: It’s a good scrub for people with oily skin, but if your skin is sensitive, you may want to stick to milder fruit scrubs.[/pullquote]
It’s like most other clays that are incorporated into beauty and skincare products. It can be mixed with water to make a scrub or mask to slough off dead skin cells and clear out dirt and oils stuck on your skin.4 The International Dermal Institute suggests using DE as an oil-absorbing scrub for exfoliation, after evaluating whether it is suitable for your skin type. They say that the vigor of the scrub should factor in how sturdy the skin is.5
While diatomaceous earth is chiefly made of amorphous silicon dioxide, some amounts of crystalline silicon dioxide might still be present, which could be abrasive to your skin.6 If your skin is delicate or sensitive, you may be better off sticking to milder methods of exfoliation like fresh fruit scrubs and masks. That apart, DE is rich in silica, which is said to have an anti-aging effect on your skin by boosting collagen.
Claim 3. It Can Help You Detox
[pullquote]Our Verdict: DE contains a form of silica that can possibly fight aluminum toxicity in the body. But it’s better to wait for further research before you start consuming it regularly to detox yourself.[/pullquote]
This claim is somewhat dicey. Food grade diatomaceous earth is rich in silica, which has antioxidant properties and can show an anti-aging effect and slow down oxidative damage. Studies have found that soluble oligomeric silica can lower aluminum availability in your gastrointestinal tract. This has led researchers to suggest that it could possibly help counter aluminum toxicity in the body.7 But more research is needed to conclusively establish this as the definitive heavy metal detox agent for your body.
Claim 4. It Improves Bone Health
[pullquote]Our Verdict: While silicon does improve bone health, the amount of silicon your body might absorb from DE might be too little to make an impact.[/pullquote]
It’s already been proven that dietary silicon can help with collagen synthesis and improve bone mineralization, lowering the risk of low bone mass which is associated with problems like osteoporosis.8Building on this, some suggest that taking diatomaceous earth which contains silica, an oxide of silicon, as part of your diet could help with the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, though, DE contains silica in a form that is poorly absorbed by the body, if at all. As a result, the amount of silicon released might be too tiny too make an effect.9
Proven Benefits And Uses Of Diatomaceous Earth
It Decontaminates Water
There’s not much doubt about this quality of diatomaceous earth. It has been traditionally used as an industrial-grade filter.10 That is because it can leach out heavy metals from water.
[pullquote]Trust any filter that comes with a diatomaceous earth precoat. DE helps keep water significantly free from heavy metals and virus.[/pullquote]
Diatomaceous earth filters can also remove 80% of virus – including poliovirus 1, echovirus 5, and coxsackievirus B5, and coliphage MS2 – present in tap water. These were present in the water even after it had been filtered.11 They are also used to filter cysts, algae, and asbestos from water. No wonder the U.S. army used it to filter their water during World War II.12
It Is A Potent Insecticide
[pullquote]Keep a bag of diatomaceous earth handy for easy and effective pest control.[/pullquote]
The efficiency of DE in killing insects and mites was put to use as early as 1960 when it was used in the first pesticide.13 When sprinkled on insects, it absorbs the lipids from their exoskeletons and kills them by dehydrating them entirely. Food grade DE is widely used by farmers for grain storage both as insecticide and as anti-caking agent. So a lot of your food actually contains this earth.
You can also use it at home to kill bed bugs, ticks, mite, ants, cockroaches, and spiders – any insect for that matter. Because it is generally safe, you could also apply it directly on your cat or dog’s fur to kill fleas or ticks.14
|↑1, ↑10||Notification of Gras Determination for Composite Filtration Media. FDA.|
|↑2||Diatomite. U.S. Geological Survey.|
|↑3||Wachter, H., M. Lechleitner, E. Artner-Dworzak, A. Hausen, E. Jarosch, B. Widner, J. Patsch, K. Pfeiffer, and D. Fuchs. “Diatomaceous earth lowers blood cholesterol concentrations.” European journal of medical research 3, no. 4 (1998): 211-215.|
|↑4||Johnson, Whitney. “Behind exfoliation.” Professional Beauty Jul/Aug 2014 (2014): 62.|
|↑5||Polished to Perfection: Behind Exfoliation. The International Dermal Institute.|
|↑6, ↑13||Diatomaceous Earth General Fact Sheet. National Pesticide Information Center.|
|↑7||Jugdaohsingh, Ravin, David M. Reffitt, Claire Oldham, J. Phillip Day, L. Keith Fifield, Richard PH Thompson, and Jonathan J. Powell. “Oligomeric but not monomeric silica prevents aluminum absorption in humans.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 71, no. 4 (2000): 944-949.|
|↑8||Jugdaohsingh, R. “Silicon and bone health.” The journal of nutrition, health & aging 11, no. 2 (2007): 99.|
|↑9||Martin, Keith R. “Silicon: the health benefits of a metalloid.” In Interrelations between Essential Metal Ions and Human Diseases, pp. 451-473. Springer Netherlands, 2013.|
|↑11||Farrah, S. R., D. R. Preston, G. A. Toranzos, M. Girard, G. A. Erdos, and V. Vasuhdivan. “Use of modified diatomaceous earth for removal and recovery of viruses in water.” Applied and environmental microbiology 57, no. 9 (1991): 2502-2506.|
|↑12||Bhardwaj, Vipin, and Mel J. Mirliss. “Diatomaceous Earth filtration for drinking water.” Water Encyclopedia (2005).|
|↑14||Diatomaceous Earth General Fact Sheet. National Pesticide Information Center.|