There's a lot of things to worry about when you become a new parent, but you would think something like baby powder shouldn't be a concern, right? Sorry, but even though it seems like moms and dads have been using the product since the dawn of time and it's a staple on most baby aisles, baby powder is probably something you don't want anywhere near your kid.
But the good news is, you don't really even need baby powder. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and most pediatricians recommend not using baby powder.
Dangers of baby powder
It all comes down to the talc that's used in most traditional powders.
First off, there's the cancer factor. The American Cancer Society reports a high cancer risk in those who have long-term exposure to natural talc fibers at work. Also, a 2016 study found talc powder was associated with ovarian cancer, and women who used powder on their genitals had more than a 40 percent increased risk of cancer, according to The Huffington Post.
In March 2016, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Johnson & Johnson was being sued by over 1,000 women for covering up the cancer risk associated with their talcum powder in particular. Not exactly something you want to be lathering your baby up with.
Talc can also cause breathing issues and lung damage, according to pediatrician Jennifer Lowry of Baby Center. Avoid talc-based powders altogether as the small particles can easily be inhaled. Cornstarch powder, with its larger particles, is not as easily inhaled.
However, cornstarch isn't without its problems, either. Cornstarch can worsen a yeast infection of the skin, creating a really bad diaper rash that will have to be treated with anti-fungal cream. And even though it's not inhaled as easily as talc, it can still cause respiratory problems for babies — especially high risk babies, like premies, babies with congenital heart disease, and babies who've had RSV or frequent respiratory illnesses, says Lowry.
Battling diaper rash
So what do you do about diaper rash if baby powder is out?
It helps to change your baby's diaper often and reduce irritation by using fragrance-free wipes. As a preventive strategy, clean your baby thoroughly and then pat- or air-dry their bottom before applying a layer of diaper ointment or cream.
Many moms swear by zinc oxide creams such as Desitin to treat diaper rash, while others use petroleum ointment (like A+D Original Ointment) to prevent rashes. Triple Paste, Acid Mantle, Aquaphor and Boudreaux's Butt Paste are also popular options. Clotrimazole anti-fungal cream can be used for diaper rashes caused by yeast infections. When your baby does (inevitably) get a rash, try to allow them to go without a diaper when you can. This will allow the rash to dry out and reduce chafing from the diaper rubbing against her irritated skin.
Many babies get rashes between 8 and 12 months of age, when their diet changes. If your baby is constantly battling diaper rash, minimize consumption of acidic foods like citrus fruit and tomato products, says askdrsears.com. Also consider changing your brand of diapers, diaper liners and/or wipes. Some disposable diapers are more absorbent and fit better than others.
Never use any powder on your baby if the infant's skin is raw or oozing. Use a diaper ointment or cream and consult your doctor if it hasn't cleared up in a few days.
Beyond the bum
Some moms choose cornstarch or medicated cornstarch-based powders for parts of the body other than the diaper area. This can be particularly useful in humid climates. Use a light amount of powder in armpits, neck creases, leg folds and other areas, but don't allow it to build up. Clean any powder in the folds each and every time you change your baby's diaper.
How to use baby powder
If you do decide to use powder, remember to select the safer cornstarch-based powder — not talc. To apply, step away from your baby and shake the powder into your hand, says Andrew Weil, M.D. of drweil.com. Don't shake it directly on the baby or nearby. Then apply gently to avoid producing a cloud of powder. Store the powder out of your baby's reach.
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Originally published September 2011. Updated March 2017.