Johnson & Johnson was recently ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer. The woman used the talcum powder for 50 years, and lawyers argued that the company knew the risks of using these products and failed to warn consumers. This has understandably caused a wide range of concerns in parents who may use these products themselves or on their children. Le Bonheur Pediatrician Jason Yaun, MD, weighs in on this topic for readers below.

babypowder2Baby powder is used by many parents when changing diapers to prevent friction and absorb extra moisture. However, there is a real risk of powder inhalation that can occur when applying this to the child, as it is almost impossible to keep the powder out of the air. In some cases, the child may play with the powder or even confuse it with a bottle. Inhaling the powder can actually cause breathing problems, severe lung damage and even death. While only a small percentage of children may experience breathing problems and complications, this is an unnecessary risk given that there is no real medical indication for these powders. Therefore, pediatricians generally recommend against using these products.

If you do choose to use these products on your child, keep these things in mind:

  • Keep the powder away from the child’s face.
  • Put the powder in your hands first, away from the baby, and then apply to the baby’s skin.
  • Only use it sparingly, and remember to keep the bottle put away so that children don’t have access to it.

Products made with cornstarch should be used instead of products made with talc, as these particles are larger and more difficult to inhale, but they may still cause problems. Don’t use these products around any high risk patients with preexisting lung problems, such as premature infants, children with recent lung infections, or those with asthma. Alternative options to treat diaper rash include over the counter creams and ointments.

While the jury has decided the case against Johnson & Johnson, as of right now, no studies show a definitive link between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society has said it is not clear if these products increase the risk for cancer, while the World Health Organization has stated that talc is possibly carcinogenic to humans. Women may want to consider avoiding products with talc or use them sparingly until more is known.