Baby Powder Overview
Baby powder is a common product with many cosmetic and hygienic uses. Originally, it was marketed to help treat diaper rash and skin irritations for babies.
Over time, people started to use the product for other reasons. Baby powder naturally absorbs moisture and odor, so people used it as a substitute for deodorant, a dry shampoo and a cure for common skin problems.
Baby powder is usually made up of talc or cornstarch. Companies will also add other ingredients to give the product other healing properties.
Because baby powder is cheap and has many different uses, it became very popular in the 20th century. However, baby powder has been a cause for concern in recent years.
Lawsuits have linked talc-based baby powder to ovarian cancer. Studies have shown that samples of talc may contain small amounts of cancerous materials.
Most recently in April 2023, baby powder maker Johnson & Johnson said it would pay almost $9 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits blaming its talc products for causing cancer. The proposed settlement has not yet been approved.
The Origins of Baby Powder
Baby powder has been in use for over 100 years. One of the earliest mass producers of baby powder was Johnson & Johnson®, who started selling it in 1894 after customers said that small containers of talc cured their baby’s diaper rash.
From there, other companies such as Mennen, Diaparene and Borozin manufactured their own baby powders. The product soon became a staple of child care.
When the product was first introduced, companies like Johnson & Johnson noted it could be used on adults and children. Many baby powders from the turn of the century are marketed as “toilet and baby powder” or even just “toilet powder.”
Later on, some companies would develop products similar to baby powder but made for adults, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower powder.
Baby Powder and Talc
The ingredients in baby powder changed with each company. Common ingredients early on were borax, sodium bicarbonate and zinc. Many companies also would add fragrances to baby powder to give it a pleasant smell.
However, most baby powders used talc as their main ingredient. Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that is extremely soft. It is found all over the world, including the United States, Europe and China, and it can be easily extracted from the ground.
However, talc frequently appears near cancerous materials. Small traces of these harmful materials can make their way into the baby powder that is sold to the public.
Why Was Talc Used in Baby Powder?
The natural softness of talc makes it very good at absorbing moisture and odors, especially in its powder form. Because of this, many companies proudly advertised talc as the main ingredient of baby powder when it was first introduced.
Companies claim that talc helps:
- Reduce skin irritation
- Diminish body odor and sweat
- Ease razor burn after shaving
- Keep bedding cool and dry
- Treat sunburn
- Relieve symptoms of diseases like measles
Baby Powder and Cancer
For the first 60 years after baby powder was introduced, it was believed to be very safe to use. However, troubling statistics began to emerge in the late 1960s about talc. Some tests on talc samples found trace amounts of cancerous materials.
By this point, Johnson & Johnson was the main producer of talc-based baby powder. Instead of changing the ingredients used, they continued to use talc because many other tests found no traces of cancerous materials.
According to documents later released from lawsuits against them, Johnson & Johnson regarded studies that found cancerous materials in talc as outliers and downplayed them. However, some studies continued to find cancerous materials in the company’s talc samples through the 2000s.
In recent years, thousands of women and their families have started legal proceedings against Johnson & Johnson. These women have stated the company failed to warn the public about the cancer risk and they developed ovarian cancer as a result.
Baby Powder Today
In the present day, baby powder is not as widely used when compared to 100 years ago, but it continues to be used by many families. Many of Johnson & Johnson’s original competitors have gone out of business, but retailers and grocery stores still make store-brand versions of baby powder.
The ingredients used in baby powder have also changed. Most brands now use cornstarch as the main ingredient instead of talc. These brands put phrases like “talc-free” on the front of their products so consumers know what they are buying.
Despite the public’s concern, some companies still make baby powder with talc. For example, Johnson & Johnson continues to sell one talc-based baby powder though all of their other powders use corn starch.
If you or someone you love is concerned about the baby powder they are using, check the ingredients and consult with your doctor. Your doctor can determine if the baby powder you are using could be dangerous and monitor you for early warning signs of cancer.
Though baby powder companies insist that their products are safe, new lawsuits have linked some talc-based powders to ovarian cancer. Talcum powder use is an important thing to consider if you or someone you love has developed ovarian cancer.