Baby powder has been in the headlines often over the last few years, pushing many to question their personal routines. And for good reason — it's a confusing array of information.
While some cases against talcum powder maker Johnson & Johnson have focused on the connection between baby powder products used for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer, other cases have dealt with the presence of asbestos in the powder.
A well-publicized Reuters investigation took a deep dive on asbestos in consumer products, especially talc. The report revealed that J&J knew about the connection and kept that information from regulators and the public. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen.
Johnson & Johnson insists the correlation between talcum powder and ovarian cancer has not been proven. The company echoed the same sentiment about asbestos and mesothelioma.
In the most recent case, an appeals court in Missouri overturned a $110 million verdict in October 2019, saying the Missouri court lacked the authority to make such an award to the plaintiff, who said her baby powder use led to ovarian cancer. It's just one of roughly 15,000 cases against the company. The largest case up to this point is a July 2018 case that produced a record $4.69 billion talc verdict against J&J from 21 plaintiffs. The company is appealing.
The first study conducted on talc powder use on female genitalia found a 92 percent increased risk for ovarian cancer with women who reported using the talc for this purpose. But not all doctors agree. "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. The American Cancer Society lays out the medical case but says the links are not clear.
There are many cases still to be worked out. In the meantime, you have the opportunity to consider other products. There are plenty of safe options to use instead of 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 on your baby's sore bottom, try this recipe for homemade baby powder.
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.
Oat flour: Try this if you're looking for a slightly coarser powder than the ones mentioned above.
Commercial baby powder alternatives: These products are talc-free and some combine the items listed above with essential oils. There are fragrance-free options available as well. To name just a few:
- Burt's Bee's Baby Dusting Powder
- Honeybee Gardens Deodorant Powder
- Nature's Baby Dusting Powder (fragrance-free)
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.