Ditch your Baby Powder and use totally tubular Arrowroot Powder

Tubular is slang for awesome or cool, originating in Southern California during the 1970s/1980s. A Tuber is also a root vegetable. Like a potato.

I think many of us grew up with that smooth blue-tinged bottle of baby powder sitting on our bathroom shelf. It was a staple in my house, for our bums as babies, for sweaty feet, and for awkwardly chafing teenage thighs. Have you ever stopped to think about what is actually in that miracle powder? I finally did and now that bottle sits unused, shoved to the back of the closet.

The alternative? ARROWROOT POWDER! It’s amazing and it’s way better than talcum/talc powder*. Here’s the bottom line, and look below this chart for the gritty details.

Talc powder Arrowroot powder
― Mineral that is mined from ore.
― Mining damages ecosystems, and threatens wildlife like India’s tigers.
― Needs to be processed to remove asbestos and contaminants.
― May be linked to cancer if contaminated with asbestos.
― Occupational exposure increases risk of lung cancers and respiratory issues.
― Products contain toxic fillers and fragrance.
― Pro: keeps you dry and chafe-free.
― Plant based.
― Easy to grow and process.
― Simple, no extra chemicals.
― Powder is extracted using traditional low-heat methods.
― Can add your own scent with essential oils easily.
― Pro: keeps you dry and chafe-free.

Why do I love arrowroot powder so much?

It serves the same function as baby powder, but it’s simple, cheaper, and free of fragrance and toxic fillers.

Arrowroot powder is a starchy white powder extracted from the tropical plant species of Maranta arundinacea, originating from South America. Arrowroot is a tuber, similar to potatoes. Arrowroot cultivation dates back to between 8200 BCE and 5600 BCE, making it one of the oldest domesticated crops. Arrowroot plants are hardy, easy to grow, and require few external inputs to grow. From my research, it seems that plants yield a reasonable amount of final product so there is not issue with needing to plant massive crops to keep up with demand. Additionally, I could not find any information about issues concerning energy or toxic chemical use to assist in processing. On the contrary, it seems that arrowroot powder is still extracted using traditional low-heat methods, making it a pretty sustainable alternative to baby powder.

Old timey plant biology diagram of Arrowroot.

I read in a few places that sometimes arrowroot powder is combined with potato starch and marketed as simply arrowroot powder, but I’m skeptical of these claims given regulations on food labels and my inability to find concrete evidence of this practice. I will continue to look into this.

Arrowroot is used not just for personal care products, but it’s also a common replacement for cornstarch in foods (it’s gluten free). It’s a popular thickener for jams, soups, and sauces.

Where can you buy arrowroot powder? Literally everywhere! I buy mine in bulk at PCC Natural Markets, but Bob’s Red Mill makes some and their products are sold in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. You can also find it on Amazon, Vitacost, and other online stores.

Arrowroot is so much more interesting because it’s so simple:

Baby powder appeals to some people because of the fragrance, but as we learned in previous posts fragrance is something to avoid in personal care products. If you want a nice body powder with a fragrance, you can easily buy essential oils, botanical fragrance oils, and extracts to add to your arrowroot powder. You have flexibility to choose your own scent – you’re no longer constrained by the marketing gods of Johnson & Johnson!

DIY projects for all-over body powders are becoming more popular and arrowroot is a great base for these. You can add cocoa powder, cinnamon, and micas to give your powder some color or shimmer. I like adding citrus essential oils and a light silver mica to my body powder during the summer.

Then, if you’re feeling really adventurous and DIYing it up, you can even grow arrowroot plants and make your own powder! Here are a couple resources I found about this:

 

The problem with talc:

Talc ore is the softest mineral in the world, composed primarily of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. As an ore, it contains asbestos. Commercially sold talcum powder is supposed to be asbestos free, but the risk of contamination is a concern. A study in 2011 found that approximately 60% of baby powder in Korea contained asbestos. Multiple agencies, including the EPA and the NTPˆ consider asbestos a known human carcinogen. That means it’s linked to cancers, primarily lung and ovarian cancer.

The cancer risk of talc powder is unclear, with many agencies suggesting that asbestos in talc is not a big concern. Maybe that’s true? I don’t know for sure, and they are still conducting tests on this issue. But, do you really love your baby powder that much to risk the possibility if there’s a perfectly good alternative?

The possible link between baby powder and ovarian cancer gained widespread media attention last year when Johnson & Johnson lost three court cases over the issue starting in 2014. Some new research indicated a link between talc-containing baby powders and ovarian cancer. The data was not 100% conclusive, but it was enough to raise suspicions and concern.

Risk of contamination was significant enough to cause the European Commission to restrict the use of talc in consumer products.

Additionally, there is concern over the ecological impact of mining and the health risk to miners and factory workers in processing plants. Talc powder is a possible occupational hazard linked to lung irritation, respiratory problems, and cancer.

Another alternative to baby powder is cornstarch. It’s simple and affordable, although corn has it’s own plethora of issues being a major industrial monocrop. Partly for those reasons, and because I just like doing the different thing, I’ve always been a huge fan of arrowroot powder.

 

Safety note: It’s always important to be careful when handling any loose powder that has a chance of floating all over. I use a mask when handling my mineral cosmetics and mixing powders.

*Talc has many applications, and some might be just fine, but I’m focusing specifically on personal care products here.

 

References

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html
http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/talc/
https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/jun/22/world.antonybarnett
http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/25/health/talc-safety-explainer-hln/index.html
https://www.consumersafety.org/products/talcum-powder/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maranta_arundinacea
https://downshiftology.com/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-arrowroot-powder/
http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/behind_the_label/462086/behind_the_label_talcum_powder.html

ˆ Denotes a term that is defined/explained under the terms/concepts/glossary page of blog. Symbol found following the word the first time it’s used in a post.

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