Talcoholic

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Daniel Maier falls prey to the lure of white powder.

 

In the school changing rooms, I would cast envious glances at the other boys. No, not because I had a preternaturally tiny penis. That never bothered me. It was because of the speed with which they could dress after showering. A cursory flap of the towel and my classmates were dry. But my skin lacked whatever moisture-repellent magic it was that drove water off theirs like condensation down a window. For me, it was like trying to towel-dry wet cardboard. They’d be off to Geography while I was still trying to negotiate the damp out of an increasingly irritated armpit or ankle.

 

If only I’d discovered talc sooner. I know that to many, the word suggests the floral fug of a maiden aunt’s medicine cabinet, but to me it’s still wreathed in a miasma of clumsy 70s masculinity. Talcum powder. The stuff of sales reps’ overnight bags and last-minute Christmas gift sets. Nevertheless, for the likes of me, cursed with areas of towel-defying skin that persist like pockets of rebel resistance, it’s tinned manna.

 

Talc and talcum powder are not, strictly speaking, interchangeable terms. Talc is a mineral – the softest known to man – used in industries as diverse as paper manufacture and food.  It’s produced everywhere from Europe to South Africa and Brazil, though principally in the Far East. Talcum powder is talc in its loose form.

 

From brand to brand, the main variables are scent and price. There’s little appreciable variation in texture and a glance at the list of ingredients suggests that expensive powders are built on the same foundations as their budget counterparts – though apparently you have to be careful with the cheap stuff, sometimes it’s cut with cocaine. I’m funny.

 

The dramatic price hike from popular talcs to boutique options gives us pause to consider how differently these products are designed to be deployed. There’s an implication with the high-end powders that they’re meant to be used sparingly: dusted post-haircut, perhaps, about the neck of a patron of Geo. F. Trumper’s Mayfair establishment. If you prefer to clap great clouds of the stuff about like a pumped-up Muscovite weight-lifter, the cheaper options may prove more prudent.

 

With the exception of Johnson’s Baby Powder, which lists as its ingredients only talc and parfum, all the powders tested feature the common fragrance sweeteners citronellol and coumarin, plus various combinations of others like limonene and linalool (which is of course the funnier form of linalol, though not as funny as linarofl).

 

A word on packaging. Three of the talcs tested – Trumper’s, Taylor’s and Fenjal – come in identical 100g shakers, with a twist top to open and close the holes. All three are sold with a label covering the holes, which is to be removed before use. And peeling off this label leaves on all three a horrible gluey residue, which neither time nor scraping can defy. Given that my sample returns a 100% sticky matter record, I have to assume this is true of every tin or talc to hit the shelves. Whether there is a trio of guilty manufacturers here or whether, as I suspect, all the three products originate in the same factory, I find such a basic design flaw quite unfathomable. How has no-one noticed?

 

Johnson’s Baby Powder (500g – £1.24)

The daddy of powders, its charm comes from the comforting familiarity of its scent. If you don’t buy into that as much as I do, the intense sweetness may hold little appeal. A more absorbent, talc-free version is also available, which, like most products sold as ‘dusting powder’, is cornstarch-based.

 

Imperial Leather (300g  – £1.05)

Another talc with a nostalgic hook, Imperial Leather’s scent is faithful to its namesake soap. Warm and masculine, with a spicy note from clove oil-derived ingredient isoeugenol. Excellent value and my personal favourite. Other size options (like Johnson’s, which offers 100g, 200g and 500g containers) would be handy.

 

Geo. F. Trumper (100g – £15)

Trumper was established in 1875 and this talc has an appropriately old-fashioned dustiness about it. The powder has a scent that’s rich, sophisticated and a little cloying. It demands to be sprinkled conservatively.

 

Fenjal (100g- £3.79)

A mid-price option from the Swiss skincare brand. The talc has a pleasantly biscuity, vanilla smell. But if you’re looking for something blokey, the pink lilies on the Fenjal homepage are a clue that this was not, perhaps, designed with you in mind.

 

Taylor’s of Old Bond Street – Sandalwood (100g – £8.95)

For a Sandalwood talc, Taylor’s doesn’t boast an especially bosky fragrance. Instead it’s a little thin and nicely soapy. One of four talcs in the Taylor’s range.

 

Cuticura Mildly Medicated Talcum Powder (250g – £4.20)

The word ‘medicated’ doesn’t exactly spatter a product with sex and danger. Cuticura’s talc is simple, practical and deeply unfoxy. It sports allantoin, which promotes healing and acts as an anti-irritant. Sadly, in terms of fragrance, it gets woodiness all wrong and using it feels a bit like being trapped in an old plywood drawer.

 

 

 

Image credit: Austin Kirk / Flickr Creative Commons

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