In the mid 1990s there was a brief news release regarding the potential for talcum powder to cause cervical or lung cancer. Despite the flurry of distress the news release left behind, there was very little follow up information offered and not much more was heard about whether or not talcum powder was safe to use on babies, especially little girl babies.
This, naturally, will leave many new parents wondering if baby powder is even safe or if they should be skipping this common preventative for diaper rash during routine changes?
Defining Talcum Powder
Talcum powder is derived from talc, which is a naturally occurring mineral. The original form of talc is very soft and when it is ground up it becomes a very loose powder. The dust created from talcum powder is often referred to as the hazard. Baby powder is almost always exclusively formed from talc and a mild bonding agent to help reduce the amount of dust.
Talc is formed by numerous magnesian minerals coming together. Carbon dioxide and water join the minerals and create the solid form of talc. It can be mined from the Earth with relative ease and plentiful around the mountain ranges of the world. Most mines are found throughout developed countries and even in the far reaches of the world. Its rather convenient availability and ease of mining are what keeps it very cost effective and relatively cheap to purchase.
How Talcum Powder Is Used
Talcum powder actually has a lot more uses than just preventing diaper rash. It is also used to make crayons, lubricants, and even paper. The primitive form of talcum powder has the ability to absorb moisture at a high rate. This helps prevent moisture from laying directly against the skin and causing irritation.
Talc is also used in sports, particularly basketball and gymnastics to prevent slipping hands. The drying effect is potent and effective which enables athletes to perform better. For many athletes, this powder has helped improve their careers or brought them Olympic medals.
The Safety Concerns of Baby Powder
While there is little to no real evidence that supports the increased cancer rates from exposure to baby powder, there are some health concerns. Breathing in talcum powder directly is ill advised. The normal amount that floats through the air is generally not enough powder dust to cause any significant health problems. However, breathing in the powder directly can cause aspiration pneumonia, which is commonly called granuloma.
This condition is generally not found in those who use baby powder appropriately. It is a condition that is commonly found in individuals who have been inhaling cocaine that has been blended with talcum powder to increase the volume and increasing the overall profit from the sale.
Proper Use of Baby Powder
When you apply baby powder you will want to help reduce the exposure of dust. Your baby’s lungs are much smaller and are not capable of handling the same amount of dust as your lungs can. This means you want to avoid heavily shaking the powder or creating large dust clouds during diaper changes.
Holding the open end of the bottle as close to the diaper as you can without touching it, give a mild squeeze to the container. Most of the containers are now made from a flexible plastic to allow for proper distribution of the powder. When you gently squeeze the powder should fall out onto the diaper.
You can also choose to apply the powder directly to the baby’s skin to prevent too much powder from remaining in the diaper. A single shake from close to the baby’s bottom is enough to dispense the powder without creating a cloud of dust. You can then distribute the powder evenly with your hand, taking care not to create any excessive dust. Take your time.
The last thing you want to do is shake the container from high above the baby or the diaper, as this releases more dust into the air. It is also harder to control the volume of powder that comes out in this manner.
Are There Alternatives to Baby Powder?
There are alternatives to traditional talc based baby powder if you do not feel that the risk of exposure is a good idea. Babies with lung diseases or slow to develop lungs should not be exposed to any kind of particles that have the potential to make them ill.
Talcum powder can be replaced with corn starch powder. While there is still a granular risk it is not as high. Corn starch produces less of a cloudy response than talc and thus the risk is reduced. Corn starch can still provide an excellent barrier against wetness and diaper rash. It doesn’t typically have that same trademark good smell, which is why a lot of people still gravitate toward traditional baby powder.