The headlines about baby powder and its connection to ovarian cancer may raise more questions than answers. In February 2016, a Missouri court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of Jackie Fox, a woman who died of ovarian cancer. The lawsuit said her death was linked to her 50-year daily habit of applying baby powder. But Johnson & Johnson insisted a correlation between talc powder and ovarian cancer has not been proven.
Two other Missouri court cases against Johnson & Johnson went in favor of the women who sued, leaving the company on the hook for $197 million. And more than 2,500 lawsuits are pending in the state. But in a lawsuit decided on March 3, the jury ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson, Reuters reports. The plaintiff was Tennessee resident Nora Daniels, who alleged that she used their baby powder for 36 years and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013.
Prosecutors say Johnson & Johnson knew about the risk since the early 1980s and did not protect its customers. In fact, the first study conducted on talc powder use on female genitalia found a 92 percent increased risk for ovarian cancer with women who reported genital talc use. But still, other doctors disagree. "Several decades of medical research do not support the hypothesis that use of talcum powder causes ovarian cancer," said Dr. Hal Lawrence, chief executive officer of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
If all this back-and-forth has you questioning your baby powder usage, fear not. There are some safe alternatives to talc powder:
Cornstarch. Found in the baking aisle of your local grocery store, cornstarch is a great natural alternative to talc. The consistency is exactly the same, so it’ll help soak up wetness just as well. Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm of a corn kernel and is often used to help thicken sauces.
Arrowroot starch or tapioca starch. Both staples in a paleo baker’s kitchen, these starches are all-natural alternatives to talc. Arrowroot is derived from several tropical South American plants. Tapioca starch is derived from the crushed-up pulp of the South American cassava plant, a woody shrub. Both are used in paleo recipes as alternatives to flour and cornstarch. If you’re using it to on your baby’s sore bottom, try this recipe with some extra ingredients to help soothe.
Baking soda. You thought sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda, only had 100 uses. Well, here's one more: This common pantry item can be used in place of baby powder. Some people even use it as deodorant, applying some to their underarms each morning. It can also deodorize the air. As a matter of fact, I keep one container in my pantry, one under my sink, one in my laundry room and one in the bathroom.
Oat flour. Try this if you’re looking for a slightly coarser powder than the ones mentioned above.
Commercial baby powder alternatives. These products combine the items listed above with essential oils, so the powder smells pretty nice. Just to name a few:
- Burt’s Bee’s Baby Dusting Powder
- Honeybee Gardens Deodorant Powder
- The Honest Company Organic Baby Powder
- Nature’s Baby Dusting Powder
Here's one last reason to consider the all-natural route: Talc is poisonous when inhaled or swallowed. It can cause breathing problems, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics urges caution when it comes to using talc powder on babies.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in November 2016.