Baby Powder: Parents wonder, what’s the big deal?

People are jumping up and down about baby powder. For parents who are new to the whole world of all the parenting things they need to know (and don’t), it can be confusing. They probably don’t even know what baby powder is, and they need to be prepared right from pregnancy to make judgments about whether to use it or not?

Let’s talk about it.

Baby powder: what is it?

Historically, baby powder was also known as talcum powder, and was the refined, powdered form of the softest mineral on earth: talc. Talc is found in rock deposits and is mined like many other minerals. Talcum powder is made from the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. These elements combined in powder form absorb moisture. They also help to reduce friction. Talc has been used for centuries. It’s in the foods we eat, including chewing gum, rice and olive oil. You can also find talc in makeup, soap and antiperspirant.

Only pharmaceutical grade talc is supposedly used in products sold today. Once mined from the earth, talc is crushed, sorted and assigned a grade. The talc ore that meets standards is then milled to a powder and tested for particle size and confirmed to meet FDA purity requirements.

Did you know that some products sold as “baby powder” are actually made with corn starch rather than talcum powder?

What do parents use baby powder for?

Baby powder (such as Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder) is commonly used to absorb moisture and reduce friction. When applied to the skin, it can help prevent skin irritations like chafing. These powders are often used to prevent diaper rash around infants’ bottoms and genital areas.  Parents will dust the baby’s bottom or genital areas before putting on a new diaper in a diaper change to help keep the skin dry.

Baby powder use in diapering has been declining over the years, probably as the use of disposable diapers increased. Modern day disposable diapers do a pretty darn good job of sucking up the wetness from little kid pee and poo.

Baby Powder in the News

Baby powder made headlines in recent years after Johnson and Johnson was sued by multiple women who claimed the baby powder cause their ovarian cancers. Other suits claimed that the product caused their mesothelioma. At the heart of this lawsuit was the allegation that the product contained asbestos, that the company knew about the contamination since the 1970s, and didn’t say anything.

Johnson and Johnson has been very vocal about denying that its product contains asbestos, and the link between talc and cancers is hardly well-established.

Should parents avoid baby powder because of the risk of cancer?

I strongly believe that parents should do their own research and make their own decisions. Look at labels, and talk to your pediatrician. That being said, there has been quite a bit of research done about a possible link between talcum powder and cancer.

Three major independent cohort studies of more than 80,000 women who used talcum powder for feminine hygiene have thus far concluded that the use of talc is not associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Some case-control studies have shown a small statistical association between ovarian cancer and talc use. Other similarly designed case-control studies have shown no association between talc use and ovarian cancer. Experts are skeptical of case-control studies because the results are inconsistent. These type of studies often show small positive results that could be due to limitations of the study design.

The limitations of these studies include “recall bias,” which is when people with a disease are more likely to remember things in their past than people without a disease. In these case-control studies, the women know they have ovarian cancer, so will try hard to remember anything that might be important to why they got this terrible disease. This can artificially make it look like women with cancer used more talcum powder, when actually it is because they were better at remembering what their feminine hygiene habits had been over the years.

Prospective studies are considered more reliable. No woman knows she will get ovarian cancer, so they do not have recall bias. Overall no association between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer has been found in these studies.

Mesothelioma is a cancer associated primarily with exposure to asbestos. There are no scientific studies indicating that inhalation of the cosmetic talc causes mesothelioma. In fact, studies of thousands of people who were exposed to talc on a daily basis—through their work mining and milling talcum powder, show that none developed mesothelioma.

Should you avoid baby powder for yourself and your children? I made the decision to avoid using it with my three children. I wasn’t sure how much to be worried about baby powder (and since cancers associated with its use don’t appear for many years, I still don’t) so it is just something I do without. And frankly, we managed just fine without baby powder in the diaper phases for all three of the kids.

Notes regarding disposable versus cloth diapers–I did use cloth diapers with two of my three kids, and we did not use baby powder with them. Cloth diapers do not absorb the wet quite as well as disposable diapers. But even cloth diapers have improved greatly from the days of a pinned up cloth surrounded by plastic pants. The days of a child just swimming in liquid after peeing their diaper are long gone, regardless of what kind of diaper you are using.

I didn’t find that baby powder was necessary with cloth diapers to keep the kids free from diaper rash or irritated skin. So long as I changed the cloth diapers regularly and washed them with a bit of vinegar, we actually had fewer issues with diaper rash when the kids were in cloth diapers than we did when they were in disposables.

In general, I try to avoid products that are not necessary, whether they are considered dangerous or not. I wasn’t sure about baby powder, and then just realized that we didn’t need it, and from then on, I didn’t use it. Not because of my concerns about cancer, but because it was an unnecessary expense. The utility of the product was probably more an an influence on me than the scary news articles.

What else do people use baby powder for? Is it effective?

Many women apply baby powder to their perineum, underwear or pads to keep the area fresh and dry and to reduce feminine odors. Adult men and women may also use baby powder on other parts of their body to soothe rashes or ease friction on the skin.

Baby powder also has a variety of uses around the house that have nothing to do with your baby. Below we list some uses for baby powder you’ve probably never considered.

Dry Shampoo

Baby powder is perfect for use as a dry shampoo. sprinkle it onto your comb and then run the comb through your hair to the roots. It removes oil and grease and makes your hair look freshly washed. This works really well for blondes (or greys). If you are a brunette, add just a touch of cocoa powder to the baby powder before combing it through. Redheads can add a bit of cinnamon. Not only will your hair look great, it will smell amazing and stay that way until your next shower.

Furry Friends

Baby powder works for your furry friends too. If your pet is between baths rub a handful or two into their fur. Allow it to sit for a couple of minutes and then brush. it remove oil buildup and makes their coats look freshly washed. it can eliminate that dog smell.

Remove Sand

It helps to remove the sand that finds its way onto your clothing and into your car or house after a day at the beach. sprinkle a bit of powder over anyone who is covered in sand after your day of fun. The powder will make it much easier to just brush off the sand and you’ll be much happier not having that sandy mess all over your car or your living room.

Remove Grease Stains

Baby powder is great for removing grease stains. If you get grease on your clothing, apply a sprinkling of baby powder to a cotton ball and dab at the grease. Rub the powder into the stain really well and then just shake or brush off any powder that is leftover. The baby powder will bring the grease out of your clothing and keep it from leaving a stain.

Untangle Necklaces

The next time you get tangles in your favorite necklaces, reach for the baby powder. sprinkle a bit on the chain making sure that it gets into all the little crooks and crevices. The powder will loosen up the knott, making it much easier for you to get it out without worries of kinks or breaks in the chain.

Prevent Chafing

If you run long distances you may experience chafing. A little baby powder will clear that right up and help to prevent it on your future runs. sprinkle the powder anywhere that normally chafes before you run. It will help to eliminate friction so your skin will stay smooth and pain-free. This works for any movement that normally causes friction like inner thighs and under arms.


Baby powder is an ant repellant and many other bug-like pests. sprinkle a bit around your window panes, in the cracks on your floors, or around your picnic blanket. ants won’t cross the powder so you’ll be safe from those little pests as long as you are inside the baby powder line.

Freshen Shoes

If you have stinky shoes, baby powder can do wonders to eliminate that odor. sprinkle a light dusting of baby powder inside all of your shoes that have odor and allow them to sit overnight. In the morning, shake out the baby powder or leave it in for really bad odors.

Protect Flower Bulbs

When you buy new flower bulbs, place a few into a Ziploc bag with about three tablespoons of baby powder. Seal the bag and give it a shake. The baby powder will coat the roots of the bulb, protecting it from rot and it wards off voles, grubs and moles that may be eating your bulbs before they have a chance to grow.

Moldy Books

Books that have acquired mold while being stored can have a fresh start with a bit of baby powder. Allow your books to dry by opening them up and letting them air dry for a few hours. Sprinkle baby powder between each of the pages. Stand them upright and leave them alone for a day. Brush out the powder and they will smell and feel much better and be without dangerous mold and mildew.

Game day

Adding baby powder to playing cards is an age-old trick that makes your cards much easier to handle and keeps them from sticking together. place cards in a plastic Ziploc bag along with a few shakes of baby powder. Seal bag well and shake it a few times to distribute the powder evenly.

Treat Your Gloves

If you use rubber gloves for cleaning, make them easier to get on and off by applying a bit of baby powder before you put them on. sprinkle your fingers with a light covering of baby powder. The powder helps to eliminate moisture which is what makes those rubber or latex gloves difficult to get on and off.

Cool Your Sheets

Cool sheets are wonderful during the summer months but sometimes it’s so hot that your sheets may feel anything but cool. sprinkle a bit of baby powder between your sheets a few minutes before bed time and you’ll enjoy a much cooler night’s sleep. Baby powder cools things down wonderfully and smells heavenly.


Baby powder is a great aftershave for men and women. After you shave, sprinkle a bit of baby powder onto freshly shaven area and rub it in. Baby powder has a natural cooling property which will eliminate irritation that shaving may have caused. It’s perfect for sensitive skin

Make Deodorant

If over the counter deodorants leave you feeling a bit irritated or red, baby powder is an excellent alternative. sprinkle a handful of baby powder into the palm of your hand and rub it into your underarms. It works great to eliminate odor and it naturally absorbs moisture so it will keep you dry and fresh.

In your closet

Add a bit to a jar and leave it in your closet. Or put some in a sachet and place in your dresser drawer. The moisture removing properties of baby powder will keep closets from smelling musty. you can use it to freshen up your carpets as well. sprinkle a light covering on your carpets, let it sit for about fifteen minutes and then vacuum up those odors.


If you apply a bit of baby powder before you apply your wax it will help make the entire process less painful. The powder absorbs moisture which allows the wax to work better because it will adhere to every hair.  It also protects the skin leaving it much smoother and less red.

Alternatives to Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder

Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is still on the shelves in most pharmacy sections of your local grocery store, Target, Wal-Mart or Walgreens.  A 22oz bottle runs about $5.

If all the information provided has your head spinning and the back-and-forth has you questioning your baby powder usage, here are some other options to use instead::


Found in the baking aisle of your local grocery store, cornstarch is a great natural alternative to talc. The consistency is close to 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 to on your baby’s sore bottom, try this recipe with some extra ingredients to help soothe.

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. As a matter of fact, I keep one container in my pantry, one under my sink, one in my laundry room and one in the bathroom.

Oat flour

Try this if you’re looking for a slightly coarser powder than the ones mentioned above.

Commercial baby powder alternatives

• Burt’s Bee’s Baby Dusting Powder (7.5 oz for $7) 

• Honeybee Gardens Deodorant Powder (4 oz for $8)

• The Honest Company Organic Baby Powder (3.4 oz $14)

What are your thoughts on baby powder? Let us know what you think in the comments.