Baby powder has been in the headlines frequently over the last couple of years, leaving many to wonder what that means for their personal routines.
The most recent case involved Patricia Schmitz, who was awarded $12 million in June 2019. The jury agreed that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) baby powder and Cashmere Bouquet face powder from Colgate-Palmolive were contaminated with asbestos and had caused her disease. The sums involved were smaller than past cases, but the focus on mesothelioma and the jury's belief that the presence of asbestos was a factor in the woman's health raised the profile of the case.
A Reuters investigation several months prior focused on asbestos in consumer products. The report revealed that J&J had kept that information from regulators and the public. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen.
Previous cases had focused on the connection between the baby powder products and ovarian cancer.
A jury in St. Louis awarded $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages to 22 women who sued Johnson & Johnson claiming they developed ovarian cancer from years of using the company's talcum powder products. The July 2018 verdict was the largest against the company regarding its baby powder and Shower to Shower powder products. It followed cases with awards ranging from $26 million to $117 million.
Johnson & Johnson insists the correlation between talc powder and ovarian cancer has not been proven. The company and Colgate Palmolive echoed the same sentiment about the asbestos ruling.
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 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. TheAmerican Cancer Society lays out the medical case but says the links are not clear.
Consider these safe alternatives
If the news leaves you questioning your baby powder usage, there's an easier answer. There are some 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, so the powder smells pretty nice, and there are fragrance free options available as well. Just to name 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.