Diatomaceous Earth

Reviewed on 6/11/2021
Other Name(s):

Amorphous Silica, Diatomite, Kieselgur, Kieselguhr, Moler, Tripolite.


Diatomaceous earth is a type of powder made from the sediment of fossilized algae found in bodies of water. Because the cells of these algae were high in a compound called silica, the dried sediment produced from these fossils are also very high in silica. These deposits are found all over the world. The ancient Greeks used diatomaceous earth to make building materials, like bricks and blocks. Later on it became popular in Europe for various industrial uses.

When taken by mouth, diatomaceous earth is used as a source of silica, for treating high cholesterol levels, for treating constipation, and for improving the health of skin, nails, teeth, bones, and hair.

When applied to the skin or teeth, diatomaceous earth is used to brush teeth or remove unwanted dead skin cells.

Diatomaceous earth is also used in industry. It is used to remove unwanted material from drinking water. It is also used as a filler or to prevent formation of lumps in foods, medicine, paints and plastics, and pet litter. It is used to clean up spills or for insulation in industry, as well as to scrub things. Diatomaceous earth is used as part of various chemical tests. It is also used as an insecticide.

How does it work?

Diatomaceous earth is a powder containing about 80%-90% silica. Diatomaceous earth is thought to kill insects by dehydrating them or drying them out. Also, the powder allows liquids to flow through while capturing unwanted material.


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Uses & Effectiveness

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • High cholesterol levels. Early research suggests taking diatomaceous earth might reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood patients with high cholesterol levels.
  • Constipation.
  • Health of skin, nails, teeth, bones, and hair.
  • Insecticide.
  • Removal of dead skin (exfoliation).
  • Source of silica.
  • Teeth cleaning.
  • Other uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

Side Effects

There isn't enough reliable information available to know if diatomaceous earth is safe or what the side effects might be. Side effects in people who work with diatomaceous earth in large amounts include serious lung problems, even lung cancer. When rubbed on the skin, diatomaceous earth might cause wounds or loss of parts of the skin.


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Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking diatomaceous earth if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Lung disease: Some forms of diatomaceous earth may be harmful to the lungs, especially if inhaled. Breathing in diatomaceous earth might result in lung problems in people that already have some problems in their lungs. This includes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc. Use cautiously.


The appropriate dose of diatomaceous earth depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for diatomaceous earth in children or adults. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

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Antonides, Lloyd E. (1997). Diatomite (PDF). U.S.G.S. Retrieved December 12, 2010

Bennett DC, Yee A, Rhee YJ, Cheng KM. Effect of diatomaceous earth on parasite load, egg production, and egg quality of free-range organic laying hens. Poult Sci. 2011;90(7):1416-26. View abstract.

Danil de Namor AF, El Gamouz A, Frangie S, Martinez V, Valiente L, Webb OA. Turning the volume down on heavy metals using tuned diatomite. A review of diatomite and modified diatomite for the extraction of heavy metals from water. J Hazard Mater. 2012 30;241-242:14-31. View abstract.

Gallagher LG, Park RM, Checkoway H. Extended follow-up of lung cancer and non-malignant respiratory disease mortality among California diatomaceous earth workers. Occup Environ Med. 2015;72(5):360-5. View abstract.

Mewis I I, Ulrichs C. Action of amorphous diatomaceous earth against different stages of the stored product pests Tribolium confusum, Tenebrio molitor, Sitophilus granarius and Plodia interpunctella. J Stored Prod Res. 2001;37(2):153-164. View abstract.

Moisan S, Rucay P, Ghali A, Penneau-Fontbonne D, Lavigne C. Silica-associated limited systemic sclerosis after occupational exposure to calcined diatomaceous earth. Joint Bone Spine. 2010;77(5):472-3. View abstract.

Nattrass C, Horwell CJ, Damby DE, Kermanizadeh A, Brown DM, Stone V. The global variability of diatomaceous earth toxicity: a physicochemical and in vitro investigation. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2015 10;10:23.View abstract.

Park R, Rice F, Stayner L, Smith R, Gilbert S, Checkoway H. Exposure to crystalline silica, silicosis, and lung disease other than cancer in diatomaceous earth industry workers: a quantitative risk assessment. Occup Environ Med. 2002;59(1):36-43. View abstract.

Rushton L. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and occupational exposure to silica. Rev Environ Health 2007;22(4):255-72. View abstract.

Tu KL, Sharon VR, Fung MA. What on earth?!: diatomaceous earth as evidence of delusional infestation. J Cutan Pathol. 2011;38(10):761-4. View abstract.

Wachter H, Lechleitner M, Artner-Dworzak E, Hausen A, Jarosch E, Widner B, Patsch J, Pfeiffer K, Fuchs D. Diatomaceous earth lowers blood cholesterol concentrations. Eur J Med Res. 1998 8;3(4):211-5. View abstract.

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