What do you get when you mix baby powder with water? No – you don’t get babies. We’re going to explore whether you can mix baby powder with water and why you might want to do this. Interestingly, it has very little to do with babies.
Scientifically speaking, the answer to whether you can mix baby powder with water depends on what the baby powder is made from. Baby powder made from talcum will create a gritty paste. This will eventually dry into a weak chalky cement type substance. If the baby powder is made from cornstarch, mixing it with water will result in a fluid-solid hybrid mixture.
A tub of baby powder can be found in most households, even in homes without babies. We can use it for various reasons, from avoiding painful chafing (ouch!) to creating a dry shampoo and refreshing smelly shoes. These are all applications for baby powder when sprinkled directly from the tub. But what about mixing water with baby powder? A baby powder/water mixture has several interesting applications – from science experiments to beauty hacks.
Baby Powder Made From Talc
Originally, talcum powder was marketed as baby powder. Talcum powder comes from the mineral ‘talc’, which is made up of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. This mineral is mined from the ground, similar to copper or gold, and mostly in China. Because of its moisture-absorbing qualities, it was discovered to be useful for keeping skin dry. Talcum powder also prevents friction and the resultant painful rashes. With some clever marketing, it became extremely popular with new moms for many years. Most people will recognize the light, clean scent of talcum powder that is instantly associated with the smell of a baby.
What Happens When You Mix Talcum Powder With Water?
If you were to sprinkle talcum powder onto water, it would neither rise nor sink initially. Instead, the powder would sit on the surface. This is known as surface tension. When mixed, the water will become cloudy. Whilst talcum powder absorbs moisture, it cannot dissolve into a clear solution, as salt or sugar does. As you add more talcum powder to the water, a paste will form.
Cornstarch-based Baby Powder
In recent years, cornstarch has become a more common ingredient for baby powder. Like talcum powder, it has absorbent properties and has many similar uses. However, where talcum powder has a mineral base, cornstarch is a commonly found food ingredient. It is made up of slightly larger particles than talcum powder. For these two reasons, it is considered a safer alternative to talcum-based baby powder.
Cornstarch and Water
Cornstarch mixed with water makes for a fascinating solid-liquid hybrid. The viscosity of the mixture changes with force, as opposed to heat. This means that if you press the mixture quickly, the starch molecules will cling together, and water will get trapped between the starch chains. This creates a semi-rigid structure. If you press the mixture gently, the starch molecules won’t cling together, and water won’t get trapped. It will flow like a liquid. The scientific term for this mixture is a non-Newtonian fluid.
Cosmetic Uses for a Baby Powder Mixed with Water
Baby powder mixed with water has a few interesting cosmetic uses:
- DIY face mask
Talcum powder mixed with a few drops of water creates a DIY acne-fighting mask. The talcum powder helps dry out annoying pimples and prevents pores from becoming clogged.
- DIY face wash:
A mixture of cornstarch baby powder, glycerin, and water make for a very effective yet gentle facewash. Simply mix two tablespoons of baby powder with the same amount of glycerin and add half a cup of water. Heat gently to thicken and then allow to cool.
- Make-up setting technique:
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat because technically, the baby powder and water aren’t mixed before applying. The technique is a Korean beauty trend called Jamsu. After putting on your concealer and foundation, apply a thick dusting of baby powder to your face. Then dunk, yes – dunk your face in a basin of cold water for about 30 seconds.
The water will wash away the powder, and your foundation will still be perfect, your pores will be almost invisible, and what’s more, you will be fresh-faced for the entire day.
A Fun Experiment With Talcum and Water
A bowl of water, some talcum powder and a few drops of liquid soap are the ingredients for a fun science experiment with little children.
Sprinkle the talcum powder on top of a bowl of water and watch how it floats. Then add a few drops of liquid soap and see how it makes the powder run away towards the sides of the bowl. We mentioned earlier that when the powder floats on top of the water, this is called water surface tension. The addition of soap breaks down the tension.
Fun with Cornstarch and Water
As we mentioned earlier, the mixture of cornstarch and water is called a non-Newtonian fluid. But there is a much quirkier name for this mixture – it’s called oobleck – from the Dr. Suess book, ‘Bartholomew and the Oobleck’.
Oobleck is even more fun than the water-talcum surface tension experiment.
In a bowl, add one cup of water to two cups of cornstarch or cornstarch-based baby powder. Mix the two ingredients well to form your oobleck. You can also add a few drops of food color to your water if you would like a colored oobleck.
This simple mixture provides hours of fun for your kids (or you) – squishing hard to see it solidify or squish it gently to allow it to liquify.
The Dark Side of Baby Powder
The original baby powder, made from talc, first came on the market in the late 1800s after it was discovered that it was useful for easing skin irritation. It soon became popular with new mothers.
Since the 1970s, however, research has emerged that talc particles used around the genital area of a woman posed a cancer risk. This is in part because talcum powder has occasionally been found to be contaminated with asbestos.
A 1982 study by Professor Daniel Kramer claimed that women who used talc around the genital area were three times as likely to develop ovarian cancer. Other studies of talc miners suggest that this substance can also create an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
Results of studies have varied, and it seems that the jury is still out on the talc risk. However, major producers of talcum powder have argued that since the findings have been inconsistent, they will not include the risk as a warning label on the packaging for their talc-based products. This has not stopped the lawsuits from being filed, and to date, more than 34 000 lawsuits exist in the US alone related to this controversial issue.
The risks surrounding talcum powder have led to the rise in popularity of cornstarch-based baby powder. But this is not without its dangers. Any sort of powder, when inhaled, could be dangerous to babies’ lungs.
It is therefore recommended that you should never shake baby powder liberally around a baby. If you do choose to use it, pat it on gently with a cloth and don’t apply to the genital area or near the face. Better still, experts recommend using one of the alternatives to baby powder, such as a zinc-based diaper rash cream.
We’ve discovered that baby powder can be mixed with water with varying results and for various reasons. These mixtures can be used for DIY cosmetic purposes, or they can be great learning opportunities as science experiments for kids.
As with anything in life, we suggest that you do your research carefully and be aware of the potential dangers. Where possible, it is probably best to avoid using talc-based products at all.