Cleopatra was the queen of self-care. Period.
She taught us about bathing in milk, honey face masks and the silkiness of body powders. Powders made from talc were infused and scented with herbs and liberally dusted around the body by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans; they were used to control body odour and reduce chafing – handy when you’re working in 40-degree sunshine.
Fast forward to the 1500’s - combine a venereal disease, self-conscious royals and poor hair hygiene and the need for powdered wigs was born. These wigs (called perukes) were all the rage, thanks to syphilis. Yep, syphilis. This STD causes several problems: open sores, rashes, blindness, dementia and you guessed it – hair loss. To avoid embarrassment, royals began to wear long wigs which suddenly became a status symbol and that’s when powder took on a new purpose: to whiten your wig. These powders were also scented with lavender or orange to hide the smell of the less-than-regular bathing.
The ‘powder’ that these ancient Egyptians and hairless syphilis sufferers used was talc. Talc itself is a clay mineral made up of hydrated magnesium silicate – it’s light, smooth, fluffy and astringent by drawing excess moisture from the skin, thus reducing the intensity and severity of rashes. Therefore, talc has been used to not just cut down on body odour of ancient man, but also for diaper rash, fungal infections and more.
Too good to be true? Correct. Talcum powder is still commonly available, although its use has waned in recent years due to a causal link between talc and cancer. Confusingly, it’s not talc itself that is linked to cancer, it’s the nasty natural neighbour of talc that causes contamination whilst being mined: asbestos. Using talc (and therefore asbestos) can result in the inhalation of significant amounts of powder, causing acute or chronic lung irradiation, known as talcosis. Unfortunately, it’s not just your lungs you have to worry about. Women have been persuaded by advertisements to dust themselves with talc to mask alleged genital odours, meaning this carcinogenic powder quickly became a symbol of freshness and cleanliness. A court ruling awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for claims that a well-known brand’s talc-based baby powder was responsible for cases of ovarian cancer.
Thankfully, we live in a world where we’ve found lovely alternatives to talcum powder – so you can dust yourself like Cleopatra without the risk of carcinogen exposure.
Some popular green alternatives to look out for are:
Cornstarch: Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm of a corn kernel and is a great natural alternative to talc. The consistency is the same, so it'll help soak up wetness just as well.
Arrowroot starch or tapioca starch: Arrowroot is derived from several tropical South American plants. Tapioca starch is derived from the crushed-up pulp of the South American cassava plant, a woody shrub. Both are used in paleo recipes as alternatives to flour and cornstarch, so they're easily found at natural food stores.
Baking soda: Otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate. This common pantry item can be used in place of baby powder – although be careful as some people have baking soda sensitivities which can cause rashes and redness.
Our Body Powders use cornstarch as our talc-free base. We have a blend of organic Lavender Essential Oil and Tea Tree – perfect for use after sports or after a trip to the swimming pool. The combination of Tea Tree and Propolis, which are both high in antimicrobial action, make this a great powder for combatting fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.
We also have a blend suitable for the gentlest of skin - Organic Baby Powder -using calming chamomile, it’s light, fine and perfect for baby’s delicate skin.
Top uses for body powders:
1. Thicken your eyelashes. The powder will bulk up the lashes before applying mascara.
2. Set your makeup. Dust lightly on after applying makeup to help it stay on longer without running.
3. Absorb wetness. From 100% humidity in Vietnam to rainy weeks in Vancouver – a body powder will help soak up wetness (from your skin and your clothes!)
4. Dry shampoo. Sprinkle onto hair and brush through with a comb to soak up excess grease and oiliness.
5. Fight waxing pain. Dust onto waxing area first, then apply wax. The wax will stick less to the skin.
6. Dry and freshen feet. Sprinkle onto feet and then apply socks to keep feet smelling fresh for longer (also useful before a sweaty workout!)
7. Freshen shoes. Add a little touch to sneakers if things start to smell a bit… overpowering.
8. Dry and treat athlete’s foot. Soak up moisture after your swimming session – as mentioned before, we recommend our Lavender and Tea Tree to benefit from the antimicrobial action!
9. Diaper changes for babies. Nappy rash? No more!
10. Freshening dry pet shampoo. Apply to your pet’s coat to lessen the ‘wet dog’ smell. Just ensure that any essential oils in the powders are safe for your pet.
11. At the beach. The powder will help separate the wet sand from your skin.
12. Fight bugs. Notice a couple of creepy crawlies in your house with no invite? Create a line of powder across your doorway or window-sill and ants won't cross it!
What ways do you use body powder? Write in the comments below!