Is Baby Powder Safe for Babies?

baby powder

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Baby powder is made from the mineral talc or corn starch. There are no medically necessary uses for baby powder, but some parents use it on their infants and toddlers to keep diapered skin dry and rash-free. Research has shown that this practice may lead to breathing in of fine powder particles, which make their way into the lungs and can lead to respiratory problems. Other research has tied talc use to certain types of cancer.

Possible Health Effects

Several studies have been done on the possible health effects of talcum powder and baby powder use over the years. Many of the results have been inconclusive, but there are two possible associations that parents should know more about.

Respiratory Issues

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the talc or cornstarch in baby powder can be particularly harmful to babies because they can breathe in the tiny particles in the powder, damaging their lungs. As a parent changing upwards of 10 diapers a day, you could also be at risk for wheezing, coughing, and shallow breathing, or even chronic lung irritation.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintain that inhalation of talc might be harmful to the lungs. More sensitive individuals may also develop symptoms of asthma or pneumonia due to continued and abundant use, although your usage would probably have to be in excess of what is typical in the course of diapering a child.

Cancer Concerns

While there has been some evidence of a connection between talc and cancer, it's still unclear whether there's a direct link.

The most-often cited risk surrounding the use of talc powder is a concern that it may make its way into a woman's reproductive tract. For example, there have been reports of talc found in ovarian tumors in women who reported daily use of baby powder daily in their genital area.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute did find that while there was no proven link between using talcum powder in the perineal (genital/bottom areas) and overall ovarian cancer risk, there was an association between talcum powder use and invasive ovarian cancer. 

The World Health International Agency for Research on Cancer also classified talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans," putting baby powder on a list of a lot of other things that might cause cancer, including the whole-leaf extract of aloe vera. However, more research is needed to confirm whether or not baby powder causes cancer, but this research is worthy of some pause.

Using Baby Powder Safely

Again, there is no definitive need to use baby powder, even though it may have been a diaper station stable for years. If you choose to, however, you might want to consider using extra caution, especially with girls, as the powder may travel up through the vagina. Limiting the amount you use and how often you use it may also be wise.

To prevent your baby from breathing in the baby powder, apply the baby powder to your hand first, away from your eyes, nose, and baby, then pat the powder onto the legs and the skin around (not directly on) the genitals. Be sure to never shake the baby powder onto your baby directly, and always keep baby powder out of reach of children.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pairaudeau PW, Wilson RG, Hall MA, Milne M. Inhalation of baby powder: an unappreciated hazard. BMJ. 1991;302(6786):1200-1. doi:10.1136/bmj.302.6786.1200

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Making baby's room safe. 2015.

  3. Van huisstede A, Noordhoek hegt V, Otte-holler I, Looijen-salamon M, Rudolphus A. Talcosis due to abundant use of cosmetic talcum powder. Eur Respir Rev. 2010;19(116):165-8. doi:10.1183/09059180.00001310

  4. Gertig DM, Hunter DJ, Cramer DW, et al. Prospective study of talc use and ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000;92(3):249-52. doi:10.1093/jnci/92.3.249

  5. Carbon Black, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2010.

Additional Reading

By Chaunie Brusie, RN
Chaunie Brusie is a registered nurse with experience in long-term, critical care, and obstetrical and pediatric nursing.