Baby powder, the long-trusted staple of Johnson & Johnson, particularly the white bottle, has been used to prevent diaper rash for over a century. However, is it safe to use baby powder? That question found prominence in 2020 when the company decided to stop selling their talc-based variant in the United States and Canada, retaining only their cornstarch-based offering. Yet, around the world, both versions remain available.
The decision followed thousands of lawsuits accusing the company’s baby powder product of causing cancer. You may now be asking if it’s safe to use baby powder that contains talc.
To address your question quickly: yes, baby powder is considered safe for usage these days. However, there are some things parents should know to lessen the health hazards.
Is It Safe to Use Baby Powder on Babies?
Pediatricians aren’t necessarily worried about a possible relationship to cancer, despite the fact that many of the lawsuits filed over baby powder focused on that issue. (Many of the ladies who were diagnosed with cancer after rubbing baby powder on their genitalia for years were actually suffering from inside cancers.)
Instead, the greatest danger of powder for newborns and young children is to their lungs. “People who use a lot of baby powder, especially around the baby’s face, run the risk of the baby breathing in this very fine particulate matter,” says Joel Kahan, M.D., director of pediatrics at New York’s Syosset Hospital. A significant amount of weight might be hazardous for the kid.
This is not a brand-new worry. The risks of ingesting talcum powder were first brought to light in a 1981 publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report stated that these occurrences were “grossly underestimated” and that there was a 20% fatality rate among the 25 instances recorded.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has confirmed that parents should not use talcum powder in the nursery to prevent talc pneumoconiosis, a lung condition caused by inhaling talc particles. This recommendation was included in the AAP’s 4th edition of Pediatric Environmental Health, published in December 2018. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) described this as “the result of accidental inhalation of bulk powder if a can should tip over into a baby’s face.” Several baby deaths have been linked to talc-induced pneumoconiosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents find alternatives to baby powder, such as oil-based lotions and creams. Powders made from cornstarch are another option, as their bigger particles provide less of a risk to the airway than talcum powder. The effectiveness of these items in keeping infants dry is comparable.
Changing your baby’s diaper frequently is the greatest way to prevent diaper rash and other skin irritations. Changing your baby’s diaper often and removing soiled diapers is the single most critical thing you can do for your child.
Asbestos and Baby Powder
If you’ve heard that baby powder may increase your risk of cancer, here’s what you need to know: More than 13,000 people have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that the company’s product caused their cancer. Asbestos exposure is linked to the rare malignancy mesothelioma diagnosed in some of them. Reuters reported in 2018 that the corporation hid the fact that some of its talcum powder produced between 1971 and the early 2000s contained trace amounts of asbestos. Because of its capacity to absorb moisture, the naturally occurring mineral talc is utilized in a wide variety of consumer products, including makeup. It is found in subsurface deposits, which makes it vulnerable to contamination by asbestos.
The talc used in Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos, according to a company spokesman who spoke with Parents.com.
Susan Nicholson, M.D., vice president of women’s health at Johnson & Johnson, states, “Thousands of tests over decades repeatedly confirm this.” Our talc has been tested and certified to be asbestos-free by a number of independent laboratories and universities, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Mount Sinai Hospital, among others.
But as the Reuters article pointed out, the talc powder testing allows for some contamination and does not test every bottle. One batch of Johnson’s Baby Powder was voluntarily recalled in 2019. This action was taken when the FDA discovered asbestos fibers in a sample bottle. Johnson & Johnson claims it did not find asbestos in the same bottle of baby powder after re-testing it 15 times later that month. No asbestos was found in any of the 48 samples tested from the recalled bottles conducted by two independent labs.
Johnson & Johnson’s legal history includes victories, defeats, and mistrials. A New Jersey state jury issued a $750 million judgment against the business in February 2020. The Associated Press reports that in March 2019, a jury in Oakland, California, found in favor of one of the plaintiffs with terminal mesothelioma. About $29.1 million was given to her. This judgment followed another 2018 verdict in which a jury in Los Angeles awarded $25.7 million to one woman, and a jury in Missouri awarded $4.69 billion to 22 women (eventually reduced to around $2.1 billion in June 2020). A South Carolina jury in May 2019 became the fifth to rule in favor of Johnson & Johnson, finding that the company was not responsible for the plaintiff’s sickness.
The Cancer Link to Baby Powder
Some claimants claim they got ovarian cancer by using Johnson & Johnson baby powder for perineal care.
According to Dr. Nicholson, Johnson’s Baby Powder’s cosmetic talc is safe, supported by research, clinical data, and over 40 years’ worth of investigations by medical specialists. Numerous government and non-government organizations, including the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, have looked into the potential dangers of talc and conclude that it is safe and does not cause ovarian cancer.
There is not enough data to convince gynecologic doctor Stephanie Wethington that talc is a cause of ovarian cancer. Although she advises using unscented, simple soap products on the perineum rather than baby powder, it has nothing to do with the risk of ovarian cancer. The likelihood of irritation is lower with them.
Dr. Wethington, an assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Maryland, adds, “At this point in time, especially with the modern product, current testing, and current attention to the issue, I do think it’s safe. I don’t think we have any compelling evidence to indicate that it is unsafe.”
One case-control study from 1982 found that women who routinely used talcum powder on their genitalia and sanitary pads more than tripled their risk of developing ovarian cancer.
While some studies have identified an increased incidence of ovarian cancer in women who use baby powder, a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no such association. This was deduced after analyzing data from four studies involving over 250,000 American women.
Due to their reliance on the participant’s memory, case studies may contain inaccuracies. This is an example of recollection bias.
She recommends that people who have female reproductive organs look into their family tree and DNA instead. These factors have been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer, affecting about 20,000 women annually in the United States.
Dr. Wethington wishes that more focus was given to how intervention is possible and the information that all gynecologic oncologists believe every patient should be aware of in regard to ovarian cancer. As a result, we would be more advantageous and secure than if we had focused our attention on talc, which has been associated with ovarian cancer but may not be.
When And How to Apply Baby Powder
And if parents are set on using talc-based baby powder on their children despite the risks (we get it, rashes on infants can be rough), Dr. Kahan advises them to be careful while applying the powder and to avoid getting it in their children’s eyes.
Be extremely cautious and discerning in your use of it. He recommends using only a sprinkling of baby powder when applying it to a child’s bottom. Preventing infants from being exposed to the “plume of talc in the air” requires precaution.
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