Is Baby Powder Safe? Does It Cause Cancer?

Baby Powder Safety Concerns

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Baby powders have been in use for years. Parents use them for keeping the baby dry from sweat, moisture, and even to keep the baby smelling good all day. However, in the past few years, there have been increasing concerns regarding the safety of baby powders.

In this MomJunction post, we tell you about the risks, side effects, alternatives, and safe ways to use baby powders.

Difference Between Baby Powder And Talcum Powder

Talc or talcum powder is made by crushing and powdering a mineral called talc, which consists of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen elements. There are no additions in pure talcum powder. It is widely used in products such as deodorizing powders for adults and several other consumer products (1).

Baby powder is a type of astringent powder made with a combination of talcum powder and corn starch (2). This powder helps in keeping the baby’s skin dry from perspiration while also helping prevent diaper rash.

Is Baby Powder Safe For Babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of any baby powder that contains talc (3). Most baby powders contain talc because it has good moisture absorbent capacity. It is a fine powder that can be easily inhaled by the baby, thus increasing the risk of lung problems.

Even if a baby powder does not contain talc, do not use any baby powders unless recommended by your doctor as there is not enough research-based evidence to prove its safety.

Possible Side Effects Of Baby Powder

The following are the possible side effects associated with the use of baby powder.

1. Respiratory illness

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, inhalation of talcum baby powder can cause breathing problems and even lung damage in babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that prolonged exposure to talc may cause adverse effects on the lungs and might also lead to talc pneumoconiosis (4)

Some research studies indicate that inhalation of talcum powder could trigger aspiration pneumonia or lead to the formation of a granuloma (2). There is also an increased risk of scarring of the lungs, shortness of breath, and chronic cough (4).

2. Cancer

The most commonly asked question about the use of baby powder is “Does baby powder cause cancer?” According to the American Cancer Society, talc that is contaminated with asbestos is a potential carcinogen, which can affect the lungs on inhalation. Talc and asbestos have chemical similarities due to which talc has also been correlated to cancer (5). However, most baby powders of reputed brands process the talc to eliminate asbestos before the manufacturing process.

Research done by the World Health Organization noted that the topical use of talcum powder in the perianal region or genital area might lead to an increased susceptibility to ovarian cancer in women (6). But there is no research to note the risk of cancer among babies.

There is no conclusive evidence to prove that baby powder can cause cancer except powder contaminated with asbestos. More research is needed to know if the baby powder is a carcinogen for babies. Seek the doctor’s consent before beginning to use baby powder for your baby.

Tips To Use Baby Powder Safely

If you are using baby powder, then the following instructions might help you use it safely.

  • Read the powder’s contents mentioned on the label.
  • If possible, avoid using a powder that contains talc. You can choose baby powders that contain only corn starch and other additives.
  • If you plan to purchase baby powder with talc, then choose those made by reputed brands. It will ensure that the baby powder is not contaminated with asbestos.
  • Do not put the baby powder directly on the genital area. Instead, you may apply a thin layer of the powder on the skin surrounding the genitals.
  • Do not apply it to the baby’s face to avoid accidental inhalation or ingestion of the powder.
  • Take care that the powder does not enter the baby’s eyes.
  • Dispense the powder on your hand instead of dispensing it on the baby’s body directly.
  • Keep the baby powder out of their reach.

Home-Made Alternatives For Baby Powder

If the purpose of using baby powder is preventing sweating and moisture, then you can choose to air-dry the baby. You can also consider using a soft cloth to wipe any perspiration (7). The following options may be used as an alternative to baby powder (4). Remember to consult the doctor before using any of them on the baby.

1. Cornstarch powder

Cornstarch is a carbohydrate that is found in corn. It is silky and has good absorptive properties for both moisture and oil. It is also easily available.

A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology states that cornstarch is not likely to cause ovarian cancer.

2. Arrowroot powder

Arrowroot is a starchy powder made from the roots of some plants. The food-derived starch is light and silky in texture. It is gentle on the baby’s skin. It also has significant absorbent properties and hence may be used as a replacement to baby powders.

3. Kaolin clay

The cosmetic clay powder is smooth and gentle on the skin and does not leave the skin excessively dry.

4. Calendula, lavender or chamomile essential oil (optional)

You may use up to ten drops of either of these oils in a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil. Using oils is optional since they mainly help in keeping your baby smelling good.

Some people also use magnesium carbonate and baking soda. But these substances are not smooth and might cause irritation to the baby’s skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is it okay to use baby powder on a diaper rash?

Do not use baby powder for diaper rash. Instead, pat the baby dry and let him/her air-dry. It is better to apply a barrier cream containing zinc after every nappy change. Give the baby a little diaper-free time for the skin to be able to breathe (7).

2. Can baby powder cause yeast infection?

Baby powder has no direct impact on the occurrence of yeast infection in babies. When used in small quantities, the baby powder might help in treating yeast infection as it absorbs moisture and helps in keeping the area dry. However, judicial use is suggested, and it should be kept away from the baby’s nose and face. Use it after consulting the doctor. (8)

Baby powders are commonly used, and parents might not be aware of the potential side effects. More research needs to be done to know if baby powders are harmful. Keep the powder away from the baby’s eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals. Always read the label before purchase and only buy baby powder by a good brand.


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