Baby Care

Do You Baby Powder When You Diaper? Don’t!

January 9, 2023


By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

Sometimes it’s really hard to fathom old school parenting practices. When racing through a diaper change, can you imagine reaching for a bottle of baby powder?

(Eye roll.)

Turns out not having time for powder is a good thing. Those little particles of dust can spell real trouble for baby’s small lungs when inhaled, especially if she’s already battling any respiratory issues.

Baby powder ingredients can be problematic, too. Have you ever read the label on a bottle of baby powder? It tends to be short—talc and fragrance—and anything but sweet. That fragrance may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals you for sure don’t want on or around your little bundle (for more on fragrance, click here). But the real concern here is talc, which can contain asbestos, a carcinogen. There should not be any asbestos in baby powder, but sometimes there is, according to a just released report on mesothelioma, a lung cancer, and commercial cosmetic talcum powder products—including women’s cosmetics.

This new study, “Asbestos in Commercial Cosmetic Talcum Powder as a Cause of Mesothelioma in Women,” is the latest in the body of evidence on talc and consumer products. Consumer (as opposed to worker) exposure to talc has also been studied for possible links to ovarian cancer, especially as most people dust the stuff in/around genitals (it’s not just used for diapering) where particles might be able travel up and into the ovaries.

The American Cancer Society says it’s critical to distinguish between talc that contains asbestos and talc that does not when it comes to links to cancer. From their website: “Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled. This type of talc is not used in modern consumer products. The evidence about asbestos-free talc, which is still widely used, is less clear.”

Unfortunately, this distinction isn’t simple to make. As this most recent study published online in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health shows, everyday products on store shelves sometimes contains asbestos fibers even when they shouldn’t. Translation? There’s no real way for parents to know what’s in those bottles of powder. We as consumers can’t be on top of manufacturing chains. It’s also not reassuring that evidence about the asbestos-free products is “less clear.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies “genital use” of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Chances are this is not the last study on this topic.

Thankfully, you just don’t need the stuff. Got a rash on that adorable baby butt (or your own, less cute version)? Skip all powders. True, there are talc-free options, but they, too, can cause lung irritation and breathing trouble. Ditch the cloud of powder altogether. Keep the diaper area clean and dry. And use creams instead. Of course not all diaper creams are created equal. But that’s another post.


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