Baby Powders Dangerous? (Updated Pedcast)

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 Introduction

Welcome to another edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, a board certified pediatrician with a lot of experience and a whole lot to say. From the basinet to the board room, if it involves kids, we talk about it here. Imagine this Norman Rockwell scene– a baby’s room, a changing table, and powder going everywhere with a giggling baby kicking and enjoying being liberally sprinkled. The baby has a nice dry bottom and is enjoying the nice aroma of the powder not to mention the wonderful feel of powder on their skin. Mom and baby are very happy.  Your great grandma loved baby powders because they were super absorbent, prevented rashes, and felt great on the baby. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to powders that you should know about! There are things all parents need to know about using baby powder, which is what we are going to discuss today. Before you start sprinkling powder around your baby and yourself, take a listen to this pedcast and learn why the use of baby powders are controversial and potentially harmful to you and your baby!

Musical Introduction

What are powders?

Powders are created when solid substances have been crushed, ground, or pulverized into very small particles.  When these dry small particles are collected they are called powders. I guess it is possible to make a powder out of any solid substance and they can have many varied uses; from makeups to lubricants like graphite all the way to cocaine and gunpowder. Powders are amazing things! Today, we are going to limit our discussion to baby powders, the kind that are used on a baby’s bum. Chemically, baby powders are usually made of either talc, a mineral mined in many locations in the U.S. or from cornstarch. When it comes to powders the smaller the particles, the higher the quality of the powder. That’s why talc was so valued as a powder–talc can be pulverized into very small particles. It makes the best powder!  The small size of the particles creates a super-large surface area to absorb lots and lots of moisture. The ultra small particles also give this powder a silky smooth feel that both moms and babies really enjoy.  The powder keeps junior’s bum dry, silky smooth, reduces the friction of the diapers, and absorbs chemical irritants in their urine and poop.  What’s not to love?

If powders work well, what’s the problem?

You know by the title of this pedcast, that there must be a dark side to powders. Well, you are right. Here are some observations that make pediatricians and other health experts worry about people using powders, especially talcum powders around babies.

Workers in talc factories often have lung problems that are thought to be directly related to their inhalation of powder.

Some babies who have inhaled large amounts of powders have had lung problems.

Some naturally occurring Talc has asbestos fibers in them, thus creating the long-term concern about lung and ovarian cancers.

In fact, a jury in 2017 awarded a cancer victim  $100,000,000, finding liability against the Johnson and Johnson Company due the plaintiff’s exposure to powder.

The irony with powders, especially those that contain talc, is that what makes them so useful also makes them more hazardous to use– their small particle size. These very small particles, microns in size, can drift down deep into your and your baby’s bodies and sit there for long periods of time. These particles can provoke allergic reactions, scarring of your baby’s lungs, or possibly even cancers.

 

How do I Keep My Baby’s Bum in Shape without powders?

Our friends across the pond, the Brits, call diapers Nappies ( I love that term). So how do you keep your baby’s nappies happy? How can you keep the delicate skin on their bottom from breaking down if you can’t use powders? Here are a few tips that can help keep your baby’s bum in good shape:

-Frequent changing of diapers

-Careful cleaning with lots of water and meticulous gentle drying before new diapers put on is the key.

-Avoid chemical wipes. In my experience, these often cause problems.

-Remember, babies skin thinner that older people. Be very gentle when cleaning their skin and only use a soft wipe with lots of water.  A soft cotton diaper cut up into squares makes a good cleaning clothe that won’t break their skin.

-Barrier creams are very helpful keeping irritating poop or pee away from the babies skin. I love these.

-For babies with eczema, using chlorine free diapers can be very useful.

-And of course, avoid using powders. They can be dangerous to your family’s health.

Outro

Well, that wraps up today’s pedcast. If you enjoy learning about child health with pedcasts, please take a minute to write a review on iTunes or subscribe to my blog at www.docsmo.com. You can also spread the DocSmo word by hitting the like and share buttons on my Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Instagram accounts.

This is Dr. Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E in Charlotte, NC, hoping you are now more aware, of the dangers of powdery air

Until next time

SmoNotes:

  1. “How Can I Make Sure My Baby’s Bedroom Is Safe?” American Academy of Pediatrics : Healthy Children 10 June 2010: 1. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/pages/Make-Babys-Room-Safe.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:%20No%20local%20token&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000 000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:%20No%20local%20token>.

2. American Cancer Society. 04 Nov. 2010. 02 Apr. 2011 .

<http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer>.

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