The latest high-impact addition to my make-up stash has been a $2 sack of corn starch. No, I haven’t turned into a “if you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your face” woo-meister… here’s the lowdown.
Why Am I Putting Corn Starch on My Face?
I am an oily beast. My skin is generally hydrated and non-irritated, so it’s not my skin overproducing oil – it’s just naturally oily.
This means I tend not to wear moisturiser during the day, and even them my make-up will generally slide around and bunch up during the day. There are a few things I’ve found really handy for dealing with it, and one of the most effective things has been using a starch-based face powder.
I’ve tried a lot of different translucent powders to try to soak up oil, but the one that have worked best for me so far have been Williamspro Zero Powder, Jurlique Rose Silk Finishing Powder and Innisfree No Sebum Mineral Powder. Their top 3 ingredients:
- Williamspro Zero Powder: Certified Organic Arrowroot Powder, Australian Green Clay, Australian White Clay
- Jurlique Rose Silk Finishing Powder: Zea mays (Corn) Starch, Oryza sativa (Rice) Starch, Silica
- Innisfree No Sebum Mineral Powder (now slightly reformulated and called Matte Mineral Setting Powder): Silica, Corn Starch Modified, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer
So you can see – the top ingredients all include some form of starch.
There’s also been a trend of people using talcum powder on their face, so I unearthed this from Amazon:
Ingredients: Zea Mays (Corn) Starch, Tricalcium Phosphate, Aloe Barbadensis, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Fragrance
Note: no preservative. So why not try corn starch from the grocery aisle?
Issues with Corn Starch as Face Powder and Solutions
These are the most common objections to using food-grade corn starch as face powder that I’ve come across:
Corn starch can grow bacteria/fungus while in the container
This is probably the most common one: corn starch is food, and can breed fungus and bacteria while in the container. If you put that on your face, it can give you breakouts.
But as mentioned, Johnson’s Baby Powder has no preservative, and it’s sold commercially. Generally, super dry, dehydrating materials like starch are naturally anti-microbial if they stay dry – they’ll suck the moisture out of microorganisms and stop them from breeding, like a lot of other dried food items (rice, flour, pasta). However, it’s sold in a shaker bottle and doesn’t get dirty make-up brushes dipped into it repeatedly.
The safest thing to do is to replicate this – I use a sifter container and shake the corn starch into the lid and swirl my brush into that.
Corn starch can grow bacteria/fungus while on your face
But what about on your face, when the corn starch soaks up water and oil during the day? Can’t that help bacteria and fungus, especially when there’s naturally loads of bacteria and fungus on your face?
This one was new to me and properly freaked me out for a few minutes. But again, corn starch without preservative is sold as talcum powder for babies’ bottoms, which is much damper and grosser than your face. There’s actually been a study on corn starch powder under occlusive bandages that trap heat and moisture (they were meant to simulate plastic nappies). Even under these bacteria and yeast friendly conditions, it didn’t make a big difference compared to no corn starch, and there wasn’t a difference between cosmetic-grade corn starch and storebought corn starch.
Corn starch can cause allergic reactions
This is true, but it’s true for any “natural” product. Test it, and if you’re allergic don’t use it. “GMO-free” won’t make something less allergenic.
Corn starch from the grocery store is too clumpy to work well
I personally didn’t find this to be the case with the corn starch I used, and part of the reason it worked well is probably because of the sifter. I don’t think there isn’t really a way around this except for trial and error with different starch products.
How well does corn starch face powder work?
On my skin: amazingly well. It’s been the best powder I’ve ever tried for keeping oil at bay, and obviously it’s super budget friendly. I’m yet to try a different type of flour, but I’ve heard that rice and arrowroot flour work well too.
The biggest issue I’ve run into is that corn starch is a bit of a pain to get out of the sifter – I have to whack it out pretty firmly multiple times to get enough for one application, while properly formulated starch-based powders just need a gentle shake.
The other issue is that it can work a bit too well, and end up drying out your skin. When I started using tretinoin (more on that later) my skin got drier and flakier, and plain corn starch made my face flaky in the middle of the day. My sister who’s on spironolactone and has slightly drier skin also had this issue (yes, I make her test things for me). If you have dry skin you’ll only be able to handle a very light dusting.
One thing that works well for both of these is to mix the corn starch into another face powder until you have the right level of oil control. I’ve been amping up Jurlique Rose Silk Finishing Powder this way, plus it makes it last a bit longer.
I also found that it was a bit more whitening than most face powders I’ve come across. If your skin is darker this might not work as well for you.
I’ve also found that corn starch also works fantastically well as dry shampoo! My favourite dry shampoo (Batiste) uses rice starch as the main ingredient.
Leyden JJ, Corn starch, Candida albicans, and diaper rash, Pediatr Dermatol 1984, 1, 322-325.
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