Mud, mud, glorious mud!
Rhassoul Mud helps to draw out impurities and give skin a deep cleanse. The only known natural deposit of rhassoul (or ghassoul, as it’s known locally) is found in the Atlas Mountains, around 200km from the historic city of Fez in Morocco.
Mining for mud
In a remote desert region of Morocco, more than 100 men work at the ghassoul mining site in the Moulouya valley, extracting rhassoul clay from mines that burrow up to three miles inside the Atlas Mountains. In this region, there are hardly any other employment prospects, so this provides valuable work opportunities for the local communities.
The name of ghassoul derives from the Arabic verb 'rassala' which means 'to wash'. It is thought to have been used since around 12th or 13th century, and is traditionally used in Turkish baths as well as for body and skin masks, shampoo and soap.
Rhassoul clay is found underground where it is trapped amongst other mineral deposits, so it needs to be carefully extracted using traditional, manual methods, without the use of explosives. When a mine can no longer be used it is bricked back up again and a new gallery is opened up. At any one time there are usually around seven galleries in operation.
Around two metric tonnes of rhassoul is mined every day, which equates to around 20kg per person. It’s hard work, especially in the humidity of the North African continent, and so workers earn a daily rate rather than being paid for what they collect.
The miners, who range in age from 18 to 60, live near the site. There is a purpose-built mosque, pharmacy, cafe and meeting hall located near the mines, and the men live on site for six days a week, working eight hours a day with a two hour break. They travel home to their families every Monday.
From wet to dry
Around 25km from the mining site is an area dedicated to the drying of the rhassoul. At this point the mud is mixed with water to create a slurry, which is manually filtered by hand through a mesh. It is then spread over a concrete plain to dry in the sun for a day or two.
When the mud has dried, it is transported to the processing plant in Fez, where it is sieved, powdered and packaged. Many local women are employed to weigh and package rhassoul, which is sold to the local domestic market, and can bag up to one tonne of rhassoul per eight hour shift.