A Sparkling Vintage Life

talcWhen I was young and visiting my grandmother, I found it fascinating to watch her pat her skin with a large fluffy powder puff after a bath. She let me try it, and I still remember the silky coolness of the puff and powder. On a later birthday I received my own box of dusting powder and puff, but I was never as consistent at applying it as she was. Somehow dusting powder seemed old-fashioned and not something “modern” teenage girls did–and I very much wanted to be a modern girl!

In college I developed a fondness for sprinkling Johnson’s Baby Powder over my skin after a shower on hot days. But the process felt utilitarian and lacked the luxurious, feminine, and even mildly self-indulgent quality of my grandmother’s silky powder puff.

What is talcum powder, anyway? It’s the loose, powdered form of the mineral hydrated magnesium silicate. Applied to the skin, it absorbs moisture and keeps you feeling and smelling fresh and cuts down on chafing and heat rash. Especially in the days before modern anti-perspirants and deodorants, talcum powder helped prolong the clean sensation of freshly washed skin.

Today companies such as Heathcote & Ivory and Crabtree & Evelyn carry beautifully scented talcum powders, while those trusty standbys Johnson’s Baby Powder and Gold Bond Powder are available at your local drugstore. Some antique powder boxes are truly collectors items and can be very ornate, decorated with ribbons, lace, inlaid wood, ivory, and even gemstones.

Warning: Some sources warn of the potential health risks of using talc, including lung and ovarian problems. These problems, found in rodent studies, mostly occur when large amounts are breathed in over an extended period of time (such as in a mine or a factory). To be safe, avoid sprinkling it on underwear or sanitary products. Crabtree & Evelyn also offers talc-free dusting powders. If you’re concerned, you can substitute cornstarch or arrowroot powder to get similar results. Add a drop or two of essential oil to a container of cornstarch or arrowroot powder to scent it.