“A woman without paint is like food without salt,” said Roman philosopher Plauthus or your grandmother, who knows? While the Japanese used rice flour to powder their faces white, ancient Egyptians blended talc with clay to keep their bodies cool under the hot sun, preventing the emergence of wrinkles. The talc mineral was discovered to be water-repellent, soft, and platy, making it a perfect ingredient for powder since it whitens and keeps skin dry. Today, talc is used as a basic component in different cosmetic products, ranging from makeup to body powders.
However, in a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, talcum has been linked to the increased risk of ovarian cancer, especially when it’s regularly used around the pelvic area. They’ve called it “possibly carcinogenic.” Johnson & Johnson recently gave a large payout to a woman after doctors found talc in her ovaries, causing inflammation and the progression of ovarian cancer.
Talcum powder is made purely from crushed talc rocks, which contains different minerals including asbestos that can be harmful when inhaled. While the talcum powder released commercially no longer has asbestos, particles still remain. These minuscule particles can easily travel into our bodies when used.
When further research by different agencies yielded varying results, there was no clear evidence to claim that talc is carcinogenic. This has led researchers to believe that cosmetic talcum powder can be hazardous depending on its consumption.
To play the safe card, one can always swear off talc altogether. A talc-free lifestyle can also be an active choice against excessive mining, consequently doing a lot of good for the environment.
There are many other powders—with ingredients such as white clay, organic herbs, and cornstarch—that can be alternatives to talc. These products function just as well in keeping skin dry, restoring dead skin, and preventing rashes.
Homemade powder is similarly very easy to make. By mixing natural materials, and maybe even putting in a few drops of fragrance oil of your choice, you can now swear by your very own blend for a non-toxic antiperspirant.
This story was originally published in Southern Living, July 2016.
Writer: GABRIELLE ABRAHAN
ILLUSTRATION DANICA CONDEZ