Many Americans have recently fallen out of love with talcum-based baby powders amid increased scrutiny that the products may cause cancer. The nation’s biggest talcum powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is now reeling from brutal court losses to women alleging that asbestos contamination of its talcum-based baby powder line caused them ovarian cancer.
As a result, many people have either stopped using commercial baby powders altogether or started looking for safer alternatives. The good news is that there are several talcum powder alternatives you can make at home which are much safer and cheaper than their drugstore counterparts.
How Safe Is Store-bought Baby Powder?
The answer depends on each product’s ingredient list. The ingredient that has been linked to cancer and was behind Johnson & Johnson’s legal hurdles is talcum powder, a powder made from the world’s softest known mineral– talc.
Talcum powder is used in baby powders to help absorb any extra moisture from the skin and prevent skin-on-skin friction that leads to skin rashes such as diaper rash. But asbestos contamination of talcum powder makes it unsafe to use as it may cause ovarian cancer (if used for personal hygiene) and pleural mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of lung cancer (if inhaled). Some independent studies claim that talcum powder may be hazardous to human health on its own, but the jury’s still out.
Fortunately, more and more baby powder makers are now replacing talcum powder with safer ingredients such as cornstarch, arrowroot starch, and kaolin clay. Just read the ingredient list to make sure that the baby powder does not contain talcum and is made of mostly natural ingredients.
Safer DIY Alternatives to Talc-based Baby Powders
But the safest alternatives to talc-based baby powders are the ones you can make at home. Talc can be swapped for different types of natural starches such as cornstarch, rice starch, arrowroot starch, oat flour, or tapioca starch.
Baking soda and kaolin clay make safe alternatives as well – just make sure that your skin tolerates baking soda as it may lead to skin irritation with prolonged use. Also, ensure that the cornstarch you use carries the non-GMO label and that you don’t have a corn allergy.
1. Cornstarch is the most common and cheapest alternative to talcum powder. It is widely available in grocery stores, drug stores, and health stores. Cornstarch is a fine powder made from corn kernels, which is just as effective as absorbing moisture as talcum powder is.
Cornstarch has no side-effects and poses no health risks. One major downside is that it is often made from genetically modified crops, especially the cheaper products.
It can be used as-is or can be mixed (¾ cup) with baking soda (2 tablespoons) for a quick alternative to talcum powder. Don’t apply the mix to the face, neck, or intimate parts as the baking soda can be irritating.
2. Arrowroot powder and kaolin clay. Both of these ingredients are very gentle on the skin and make a great alternative to talcum powder. They can also be turned into an incredibly fine DIY talc-free baby powder for sensitive skin. Just mix ¾ cup arrowroot powder with ¼ cup kaolin clay and 10 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Blend the powders first and then add the essential oil. Just like store-bought baby powder, this DIY mix should be kept away from a baby’s face when applied to prevent accidental inhalation.
3. Oat flour. For a coarser but soothing DIY baby powder, you can use a mix of oat flour (or ground rolled oats), cornstarch, and arrowroot powder. Blend 1/2 cup of finely ground oat flour, 1 cup of arrowroot powder, and 1 cup of cornstarch (get organic ingredients if you’re using them on a baby). Add 4 drops of the organic essential oil of your choice (this step is optional). Store in an air-tight container.
Johnson & Johnson’s recent legal issues are a reality check for many of us since we have seen first-hand how everyday products can come with serious health risks, one of them being talcum powder. So, it is always best to use safer, DIY alternatives to store-bought products whenever you can. Fortunately, talcum powder can be easily swapped for other natural ingredients that are just as moisture-wicking and soothing but a lot safer to use.