Is baby powder safe? Does it actually cause cancer?
It all depends on one ingredient that is commonly used...
You might have come across news articles highlighting the health risks of baby powder: in particular related to cancer. As concerned parents, it's normal for you to wonder, is baby powder safe?
Let's find out.
The Ingredient To Be Concerned About Is...
Baby powder and some other cosmetic products, often contain talcum powder. This consists of a mineral known as talc.
Talc, in its natural form, contains asbestos -- which without a doubt is cancer-causing when inhaled or ingested. However, according to the American Cancer Society, in the States at least, talcum powder products have been asbestos-free for a long time.
Is Baby Powder Only Made of Talc?
The powder that we love sprinkling on our babies' bottoms is generally made from:
- Cornstarch, or
As parents, we know that it us mostly used on a baby's bottom to keep it dry. But what you might not have known is that many women also use baby powder on their genitals to get rid of odours.
And both men and women might use it on other parts of their body for rashes, or to reduce friction against clothes.
What's the link between baby powder and cancer, then?
In July 2018, a popular baby powder brand was ordered by court to pay millions of dollars in compensation to 22 women who claimed use of the powder gave them ovarian cancer.
As of now, over 6,000 lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturing giant. Most of them have been filed for women who have ovarian cancer, who claim they've used this powder for years on their genitals.
The company in question firmly asserts, however, that their powder products are asbestos free. But in April 2018, this same manufacturer of baby powder was found guilty in a trial which accused them of selling contaminated baby powder.
The plaintiff is a man named Stephen Lanzo. He said he developed mesothelioma, which is a deadly cancer linked with asbestos exposure. He says he got this cancer due to regular use of baby powder right from his birth in 1972.
However, the baby powder manufacturer remains firm on its stance that it's talc products are asbestos free.
What does research say?
Studies have mainly focused on ovarian cancer and lung cancer. When it comes to lung cancer, things are quite clear: those exposed to talc in its natural form at work (like miners) are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer to due constantly breathing talc particles.
Moreover, the American Cancer Society confirms that there is no documented connection between cosmetic products with talcum powder, and lung cancer.
The connection between ovarian cancer and talc products is a bit more complex. Health experts say when products with talc are applied on the genital area, bits of talc can enter the body.
Scientists investigating the link between powder and ovarian cancer actually found particles of talc in the ovarian tumours.
In a recent 2018 meta-analysis of all studies looking at the link between ovarian cancer and use of talcum powder, a connection was confirmed, albeit a weak one. Weak because the methodology of most studies involved women being asked to recollect when they started using powder. And it was hard to determine and measure the accuracy of their memories.
So, is baby powder safe?
As you can see, science is yet to confirm that baby powder causes cancer for sure. But there definitely is a weak link, so it's best to err on the side of caution.
Mums and dads, cancer aside, if your baby inhales baby powder by mistake, it can cause breathing problems. Also, there is no medical reason to use powder on your baby. Still, if you cannot stop using powder on your little one, remember these guidelines:
- Never shake baby powder directly on your baby. Sprinkle it on a clean cloth first. Then pat the cloth on your baby's body.
- Avoid getting it in your baby's eyes.
- Do not sprinkle baby powder on your child's genital area.
- Keep power away from your face and baby's face to avoid risk of inhalation
- If possible, select talc-free options, such as baby powder made with corn starch, arrowroot starch or tapioca root starch.
- Consider replacing baby powder with a zinc-cream substitute, if the reason you use powder is to prevent nappy rash.
In Singapore, here are some talc-free baby powder options for you:
We hope you found the answers to your question, "is baby powder safe?" in this article. As mentioned earlier, the use of baby powder is not essential. So, until the current medical and legal debate around the safety of this product ends, think about avoiding baby powder.