Is it safe to use baby powder on my baby?
Using Johnson and Johnson Baby powder on your baby
You may have heard about the concern that prolonged use of talcum powder may increase the risk of ovarian cancer. There are over a thousand lawsuits and three jury verdicts against Johnson & Johnson. The attorneys at TheLawFirm.com are often asked by concerned women about whether it is safe to use baby powder on their baby.
We note that talcum powder is only used for a short time on babies. Our understanding of the science linking talcum powder to ovarian cancer suggests that prolonged use over a period of years is necessary to increase the risk of cancer. So, on that basis, it is unlikely that baby powder would be harmful to use on babies.
There is another risk however. The American Academy of Pediatrics points out that baby powder can cause breathing trouble and serious lung damage for babies if they inhale the particles. Because talc powder is so fine it's hard to keep powder out of the air when you're using it.
Even small amounts of talcum powder can irritate a baby's tiny lungs – especially if the baby is at high risk for respiratory illness. Those at high risk include premature babies, babies with congenital heart disease, and babies who've had frequent respiratory illnesses.
If your baby isn't at high risk and you decide to use baby powder, do so sparingly. Put the powder on your hands first, away from your baby, not directly on or near them.
Keep the powder container well out of reach of your baby and of any older brothers and sisters, too. You don't want small hands to get hold of it or knock it over and produce a cloud of powder that could be inhaled.
To prevent skin irritation, don't allow powder to build up. At every diaper change, wash away any powder that may have accumulated, especially in the folds of your baby's skin.
Until more information is available, TheLawFirm.com suggests that people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it. As always, speaking to your pediatrician is the best course of action if you have concerns about your babies health.
Keep reading for more information regarding baby powder and safe usage for infants
Non-Cancer Risks of Baby Powder Use in Infants
Aside from strong evidence linking long-term exposure to Johnson & Johnson talcum-powder products with deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and ovarian cancer, for decades experts such as the doctors and researchers at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have been warning of other, nearer-term risks associated with baby powder use in infants. Unlike the ovarian cancer and mesothelioma risks—which as yet have been limited to products made by consumer giant Johnson & Johnson—these short-term, non-cancer risks apply to baby powders generally.
TheLawFirm.com Sidebar: Tips for Safer Baby Powder Use
Although experts emphasize that baby powder use is not necessary for proper infant skin care, should a parent choose to use baby powder, it is important to take certain precautions in order to minimize exposure and reduce the risk of baby powder aspiration.
According to HealthyChildren.org, a parenting resource provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “If you use baby powder, pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from the baby’s face. Published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby’s lungs.”
The Risk of Baby Powder Aspiration
What is baby powder aspiration?
The US National Library of Medicine defines aspiration simply as “[b]reathing in a foreign object.” In the case of baby powder aspiration, then, the patient has breathed some quantity of baby powder into the lungs, which can result in coughing, choking, and other pulmonary issues.
Unlike the baby powder cancer risk—which presently involves only talc-based powders—aspiration is a risk associated with both talc-based and corn-starch-based baby powders.
TheLawFirm.com Sidebar: Are Corn-Starch-Based Baby Powders Safer than Talc-Based Ones?
Baby powders come in two general varieties: those made primarily from corn starch (corn-starch-based powders) and those made primarily from talc (talc-based powders).
While the long-term risk of developing mesothelioma or ovarian cancer presently has been associated only with talc-based powders made by Johnson & Johnson, the risk of baby powder aspiration is present with both talc-based and corn-starch-based baby powder products.
Experts have been warning about baby powder aspiration for decades
Since at least 1981, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been warning about the potential harms of baby powder aspiration. In August of that year that the AAP’s journal Pediatrics published a report under the alarming title “Baby Powder—A Hazard!” The report provided an in-depth, systematic look at the health impacts of baby powder aspiration on infants, and the results were staggering.
From the outset, the report’s authors stated unequivocally, “The object of this report is to point out the frequency of baby powder aspiration and the potential hazard of careless use.” Even while acknowledging that “[t]he true incidence of baby powder aspiration is grossly underestimated”, the report cites estimates that, in the early 1980s, as many as 50 serious cases of baby powder aspiration were being reported each year to the New York City Poison Control Center alone.
Further, available data has shown for decades that incidents of baby powder aspiration prove fatal in a shockingly high number of incidents. One study referenced in the AAP’s 1981 report examined 25 serious cases of baby powder aspiration and found approximately 20%—or one out of five—resulted in death.
The comprehensive study published in the August 1981 issue of Pediatrics was predated by a shorter, more narrowly focused article written by the study’s lead author Howard C. Mofenson. In this piece, published January 1981, Mofenson limited his focus to the Nassau County Medical Center Poison Control Center, where he and his colleagues were “astounded” to learn that over a six-month period in 1980, approximately one emergency call out of every 100 involving a child under the age of 5 related to a potential case of baby powder aspiration.
While acknowledging that more detailed research was still ongoing, Mofenson found the early results of his data collection to be alarming enough to share with pediatricians and the Consumer Product Safety Commission before he even had concluded the entire study, a drastic step that demonstrated a great deal of certainty in the study’s outcome and a great deal of alarm at what that outcome revealed. In summarizing their position, Mofenson and his co-author Joseph Greensher explained:
“Baby powder is not considered harmful by most parents. Physicians caring for children should emphasize to parents that powders are not considered essential to the routine skin care of infants, but if powders are purchased, they should be stored out of reach of children because of their potential hazard. Some powder containers have the appearance of a baby bottle and may be mistakenly used in such a manner.”
Although subsequent research showed a decline in serious instances of baby powder aspiration following the release of the 1981 study—a drop attributed to increased awareness—it continues to be a serious, potentially fatal condition of which a frighteningly large number of parents are completely unaware. If you choose to use baby powder products on your infant, whether you choose a talc-based or corn-starch-based product, make sure to take steps to minimize total exposure and limit the risk inhalation.
TheLawFirm.com Sidebar: Is Baby Powder Toxic if Eaten?
According to HealthyChildren.org, a parenting resource provided by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), both corn-starch-based baby powder and talc-based baby powder are harmless in the short term if eaten.
However, exposure to baby powder products also has been associated with the presence of monoisobutyl phthalate—a man-made compound suspected of impacting the functioning of the body’s hormones—in the urine of infants. While the long-term effects of exposure to this substance are largely unknown, phthalates generally have been associated with a variety of health problems, including abnormalities in the development of the male reproductive system in mammals.
The Risk of Phthalate Exposure from Baby Powder
In addition to the risks associated with baby-powder inhalation, for at least a decade, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also has been warning of the dangers of phthalate exposure in infants, sounding the alarm that many common infant-care products—including at least some baby powders—contain these potentially harmful substances.
What are phthalates?
Phthalates are a class of man-made chemicals found in many modern consumer products, including personal-care products. The National Center for Biotechnology Information describes phthalates as “a family of multifunctional compounds widely used as plasticizers, solvents, or additives in many diverse products such as PVC materials, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, pesticides, lubricants, and personal care products.”
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in excess of 470 million pounds of phthalates are either produced in or imported to the US every single year, with the vast majority being used in the production of PVC materials. (This makes sense, given that PVC is the second most popular form of plastic in the world, being used—according to the EPA—in such widely varied products as “wall coverings, tablecloths, floor tiles, furniture upholstery, carpet backings, shower curtains, garden hoses, rainwear, pesticides, some toys, shoes, automobile upholstery, food packaging, medical tubing, and blood storage bags.”)
Beyond PVC materials, phthalates also are contained in a variety of personal-care products, such as (again per the EPA) “cosmetics, nail polish, hair products, skin care products, and some medications.” Phthalates are also contained in at least some baby powder products.
Phthalate Concentrations in Infants
Somewhat predictably given their widespread use, there now exists a general scientific consensus that many forms of phthalates have found their way into the human body and that, frighteningly, concentrations of phthalates are highest in children and infants of the youngest ages. In a study published by the America Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in February 2008, researchers had sought to gain a greater understanding of phthalate exposure in infants by measuring phthalate levels in urine and comparing those levels against the products to which the child was reported to have been exposed over the previous 24 hours. (For the purposes of the study, the researchers relied on reports completed by the mothers of the infant subjects that listed which infant-care products had been applied to the infant’s skin during that period.) The infant-care products were divided into three main categories: lotions, powders, and shampoos. The results were alarming. Researchers detected measurable levels of phthalates in over 80% of the infants studied, with each category of infant-care product being associated with its own particular variety of phthalate. (It is important to remember that, since phthalates are man-made and not naturally occurring, the only way they could have ended up in an infant’s body is through some kind of exposure to the substance.) The revelation that associations between phthalate exposure and phthalate concentrations were strongest in younger infants was of particular concern to the study’s authors. Baby-powder products in particular were associated with measurable levels of monoisobutyl phthalate in infants’ urine. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in addition to urine, monoisobutyl phthalate also has been identified in human semen, saliva, and meconium (the early stool of a mammalian infant). According to the EPA, the most frequent method of phthalate exposure is through food ingestion, with other common methods including “inhalation, drinking contaminated water, and absorption through the skin.” With the known risk of baby-powder inhalation, this means that using baby powder on an infant may expose that child to phthalates through both the lungs and skin.
The Problem with Phthalates
The widespread use of phthalates in a variety of applications—including infant-care products like baby powder—continues despite mounting concern among experts as to the health implications of phthalate exposure. In particular, a growing body of evidence suggests that exposure to phthalates may interfere with the natural functioning of hormones in mammals.
This matters because, as the EPA puts it, “Given the importance of hormones in human physiology, there is concern in the scientific community over the potential for endocrine disruptors [like phthalates] to adversely affect children’s health, particularly in reproduction, development, and behavior.”
The news that phthalates might interfere with human development is particularly concerning when one considers the relatively high number of infant-care products—such as baby powder—known to contain phthalates and the strong correlation between younger age and greater concentrations of phthalates in the body.
Specifically, certain phthalates are thought to be dangerous because they are suspected endocrine disruptors, substances that disrupt the natural functioning of hormones. A condition known as “phthalate syndrome” characterized by developmental abnormalities of the reproductive organs has been observed in male rats exposed to high levels of phthalates, with the impacted animals showing symptoms such as decreased sperm count, undescended testes, and malformation of the penis. Per the EPA, based on observations such as these, the National Research Council “has concluded that prenatal exposure to certain phthalates produces reproductive tract abnormalities in male rats, and also concluded that the same effects could plausibly occur in humans.”
TheLawFirm.com Sidebar: Did You Know… Some Phthalates Are Banned from Use in Children’s Products?
Already, some phthalates have been deemed so hazardous to the health of infants and children that they have been banned from certain uses under federal law. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) explicitly declared three forms of phthalates forbidden for use in child-care products and toys.
In the decade since CPSIA became law, a great deal of new information has come to light about the dangers of phthalate exposure. Can we trust the dysfunctional United States Congress to keep the law up-to-date with the latest science? Educate yourself with the information you need to protect your family at TheLawFirm.com.
Despite mounting concerns over the potential impact of phthalate exposure, there has been a relative dearth of studies exploring the potential effects of phthalate exposure on human health. What research does exist in this area, however, presents plenty of cause for concern.
For example, one study cited by the EPA revealed “an association between increased concentrations of phthalate metabolites in breast milk and altered reproductive hormone levels in newborn boys.” Meanwhile, two studies conducted in New York City on groups of children aged 4 through 9 found “associations between prenatal exposure to certain phthalates and behavioral deficits, including effects on attention, conduct, and social behavior.” Other studies have shown associations between prenatal exposure to phthalates and “preterm birth, shorter gestational length, and low birth weight.”
Demonstrating the global scale of this potential health crisis, similar results have been replicated by researchers outside the United States. For example, studies looking at South Korean children aged 8 to 11 showed that children with higher levels of phthalates in their urine also demonstrated more symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), had lower IQs, and were less attentive than children with lower phthalate levels.
With potentially hazardous substances like phthalates saturating our environment, it might seem impossible for concerned parents to do anything to protect their children. But there are concrete steps one can take to help reduce phthalate exposure, starting with limiting or eliminating completely the use of baby powder products, which have been linked to the presence of certain phthalates in the human body.
TheLawFirm.com Sidebar: What is monoisobutyl phthalate, and why is it showing up in the urine of human infants?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), exposure of an infant to baby powder is strongly associated with measurable concentrations of monoisobutyl phthalate in the infant’s urine. So, what is monoisobutyl phthalate, and how did it get there?
In short, monoisobutyl phthalate is yet another of the hundreds if not thousands of man-made substances now ubiquitous in our modern world despite our understanding shockingly little about their potential impacts on human health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 470 million pounds of phthalates are either produced in or imported into the United States every single year, mostly for use in PVC materials.
Not surprisingly given its prevalence in the environment around us, monoisobutyl phthalate has been found in measurable concentrations within the human body, including in:
• Meconium (stool of infants)
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