Kaolin is a soft white mineral that has a large array of uses. It is most commonly found in the form of a fine clay that was originally produced in China, which is why this material is sometimes referred to as “China clay.” Among the many uses for this mineral are the paper industry, medications, skincare products, porcelain, and cosmetics. Sources of it can be found all over the world, including the United States, China, Brazil, Australia, and parts of Eastern Europe.
The name comes from the Chinese “Gaoling,” a reference to a mountain that provided an early source of the raw mineral. The Chinese used it to produce their famously fine porcelain, and when European explorers were introduced to Chinese ceramics, many of them remarked on the delicate quality of the work. This was made by possible by kaolin, a material that Europeans were not familiar with, and European ceramicists spent centuries trying to replicate the techniques used to produce it.
Today, the secret of Chinese ceramics is out, and manufacturing companies all over the world use kaolin in their ceramics. In high concentrations, the mineral produces fine white pieces with a high level of tensile strength, and it can be used to produce several styles of ceramic. Clay made with it can also be combined with other clays to create specific blends.
The mineral also has an ancient use as a skincare product. Like other clays, it is very absorbent, and it can pull oils and dirt out of the skin. It is commonly used in face masks or as an additive to baths to soothe the skin, and it is also included in numerous cosmetics. Powdered forms may be dusted on the face to absorb oil and reduce greasiness, while mineralized creams can be used to soothe dry skin or to reduce oiliness, depending on how they are formulated. Companies that carry natural skin care products often stock pure kaolin, which people can use to make their own cosmetics and skin care products.
Another historic use of this mineral is as a remedy for gastrointestinal upset. People once ate it because the clay coated the stomach to soothe irritation, and it absorbed bacteria and viruses that caused disease, as well as absorbing loose water, which caused the stools to firm. Some cultures continue to eat clays for stomach pain, and the mineral has also been integrated into many stomach care products, such as the liquid suspensions people take to treat diarrhea.
One of the most widespread uses of kaolin today is in paper manufacturing. The mineral is used to coat and fill paper, and the paper industry demands huge volumes of it annually. Varying levels of the mineral can be used to change the texture and appearance of paper products.