Is It Safe to Use Baby Powder?

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding baby powder and whether or not it’s safe for use for treating or preventing diaper rash in babies and other skin problems in adults. Since it has been linked to respiratory problems in babies and some types of cancers such as ovarian cancer in adults, it’s time to take a good look at it and see what’s the deal.

The reason for the concern is the main ingredient used in most baby powders called talc, which has spiked some controversy over the years. Namely, Johnson & Johnson, the most well-known brand that sells baby powder, has paid more than $4.5 billion in damages after being sued by over 20 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. 

The women filing lawsuits against the company claimed it’s the main culprit for their diagnosis, which had developed over years and decades of them using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, or more correctly talcum powder. The company is currently facing thousands of similar lawsuits.  

So, do the lawsuits have merit? How is baby powder connected to respiratory problems and cancer? Is there a safe way to use it? How about a safer baby powder option as an alternative to talc powders? 

We’ll try to answer these questions below, so keep on reading. 

How is Baby Powder Linked to Respiratory Problems?

Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral with great moisture-absorbing and friction-reducing properties, which is why it’s the primary ingredient in most baby powders. This moisture-absorbing ingredient can also be found in other skincare products besides baby powders so always make sure you read the ingredient list in order to avoid it.

Talc itself contains silicone, magnesium, and oxygen and the tiny talc particles are easily inhaled as opposed to cornstarch particles which are larger in size. This inhalation can irritate the sensitive baby lungs and cause respiratory problems later on, especially if the talcum powder is regularly used on the baby’s skin. Some studies even suggest that long-term inhalation of the talc particles can increase the risk of lung cancer due to talc containing asbestos which we’ll explain in the next part of this article.

Fatalities due to talcum powder in babies are a very rare occurrence, but still an occurrence, so be careful when buying your next baby powder. Avoid talcum powder at all costs if your baby already has respiratory problems like asthma – just to be on the safe side.

How is Baby Powder Linked to Cancer?

Now we’ve come to the big C and its connection to talc-based baby powders. Let’s start by saying that talc, in its natural form, does contain asbestos. If you’re not exactly sure what asbestos is, it’s enough to know that it’s a mineral substance that can be the cause or increase the risk of many types of cancer, or in other words a carcinogen according to the American Cancer Society.

Since many women regularly use baby powder for their genital area, those who’ve been using talc-based baby powder for many years have a higher risk of contracting ovarian cancer. Thousands of the Johnson & Johnson lawsuits are actually from women who’ve been using their baby powder for a long time and have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. 

In a more recent lawsuit from 2018 by a man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma due to using their products since his birth, the company was found guilty of selling baby powders with asbestos-contaminated talc and paid almost $40 million.

In a similar case from 2017, a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer due to using Johnson & Johnson talc-based baby powders for decades won and received over $400 million from the company in damages. 

There are thousands of other similar cases, so be careful with talc-based baby powders - even though there aren’t any studies that 100% confirm this and the company swears their products are safe for everyone.

How to Safely Use Baby Powder  

First of all, avoid talcum powders or talc-based baby powders - because until further research, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If you must use them, do it the right way and avoid inhalation as much as possible.

Even though the safe alternative, cornstarch powder, can also be inhaled and damage delicate baby lungs, the chances are very slight - cornstarch particles are larger than talc particles. Due to this fact, doctors and pediatricians recommend cornstarch powders as opposed to talc-based ones, but still, you should use them cautiously. There are other safe alternatives which contain tapioca starch, oat flour, baking soda, and so on.

Here are some guidelines and tips that’ll help you to safely use baby powder.

  For a list of safer talc-free baby powder alternatives, check out our Best Talc-free Baby Powders guide.