DEAD SEA BLACK MUD: MEDICAL GEOCHEMISTRY OF A TRADITIONAL THERAPEUTIC AGENT
The mud is now marketed worldwide, often advertised with images and text evoking the mystery, symbolism, legend, and history associated with a region sacred to three of the worlds major religions. An Internet search or trip to the shopping mall reveals no shortage of sitesreal or virtualto purchase Dead Sea mud masks, creams, shampoos, and related mud-enhanced products.
Despite the extensive therapeutic and cosmetic use of the Dead Sea muds, there apparently has been no assessment of levels of toxic elements (Pb, As, Cd, Hg, etc.) in the mud. There are three pathways by which such elements might enter the human body. First, toxic elements might be directly absorbed or enter through abrasions or other compromises in the integrity of the skin to which it is applied. Second, dried mud could be inhaled or incorporated into house dust. Third, children might play with the mud and deliberately eat it (pica), or transfer the material inadvertently from hand to mouth.
We first examined 32 samples collected from 5 black mud deposits (Lisan Marl, Pleistocene Age) on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Atomic absorption revealed no special enrichment of 12 trace elements in the mud, as is typical of organic-rich black muds and shales. The low concentration in these Dead Sea black muds may be related to its low organic content (avg. 0.7%).
Subsequent analysis of 17 commercial cosmetics, including packaged mud, for 65 elements by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry revealed no toxic elements at elevated levels of concern. From a toxic-elements standpoint, the Dead Sea black muds and derivative products appear safe for the consumer.
Whatever the therapeutic benefits of the mud, comparison of the elemental compositions of the consumer products with that of the pure mud had one disturbing aspect: such products as shaving cream, hand and body lotion, shampoo, and moisturizer in fact contained very little mud. In contrast, the packaged mud and facial mask products were closer to full strength.