We are often asked why Childs Farm don’t produce a talcum powder as part of our range for babies and children. In light of the recent lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson (in which $72 million was awarded to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using their branded baby powder) I thought it would be a good opportunity to let you know Childs Farm’s reasons for not going down the talc road.
First and foremost, talcum powder takes moisture away from the skin. This is useful if you’re an athlete with particularly sweaty feet, but it is opposite to the Childs Farm ethos of producing toiletries that care for young skin by actively moisturising it.
If you’ve read the science bit on this site, you’ll know that healthy skin cells are full of water. This means they plump up against each other to form an effective barrier, keeping pollutants and bacteria from the outside world where they should be — outside. It’s only when the skin’s protective barrier is broken, due to irritation or dryness, that bacteria and infection can get inside and start causing damage.
Young skin has more water than an adult’s, but it also loses water more quickly. So, we need to make sure that our little ones’ skin is well-moisturised to stop it drying and cracking. This includes feeding skin from within (regularly drinking liquids) as well as from without (moisturising with a good-quality, natural cream that is made especially for the unique needs of children’s skin).
Talc is a mined mineral, consisting of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. As a powder, it absorbs moisture and keeps skin dry. Not only can it accumulate in the folds of your baby’s skin, its dusty particles can cause cause real trouble for baby’s small lungs when inhaled — and it’s not always easy to keep the powder out of the air where your baby might breathe it in. According to the US National Library of Medicine, accidentally breathing in a puff of talcum powder can cause not only breathing difficulties but also talcum powder poisoning.
Talc is often used on babies’ bottoms to soak up the moisture from wet nappies, so that wee doesn’t linger on little bums and irritate the skin. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it helps to prevent or cure nappy rash. While it does soak up the moisture from a wet nappy, it also soaks up the moisture from your baby’s skin itself, making nappy rash much, much worse. If your baby’s bottom is raw from nappy rash, it’s better to ditch the cloud of powder altogether, keep the nappy area clean and dry, and use creams instead.
Recently, I’ve looked at the websites of various childcare organisations from across the world: from NHS Choices, to The Royal Melbourne Hospital, to The American Academy of Pediatricians, and the message is always the same. ‘Talcum powder should not be used on nappy rash.’ ‘Don’t use talcum powder as it contains ingredients that may irritate your baby’s skin.’ ‘Talcum based powders aren’t recommended.’ ‘Talcum powder won’t protect against nappy rash and can cause friction and irritate your baby’s skin.’
Although the Johnson & Johnson’s lawsuit has been much in the news recently, findings are still mixed about the links between talc use and ovarian cancer. However, the point is — YOU DON’T NEED TALC, so why take any risk at all when you don’t need to?
The best way to deal with nappy rash is to prevent it in the first place. Even the most absorbent nappy leaves some moisture on baby’s delicate, new skin. This makes it harder for your baby’s skin to work as a barrier, and means it’s more likely to become irritated. So, change your baby’s nappy as soon as possible after it’s wet; wash little bottoms thoroughly with warm water and a flannel; make sure they’re properly dry in every nook and cranny; allow as much nappy-free time as you can; and apply a thin layer of moisturiser to a clean, dry bottom whenever you put on a fresh nappy. You can read more about nappy rash and how to avoid it on our fact sheet here.
The mechanism by which talc could cause cancer is due to its inflammatory properties. When absorbed into human organs, it causes inflammation, which can lead to scarring which can then lead to scar-based cancers. Minerals in talcum powder have been found in ovarian tumours, but The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use of talcum powder as only ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ and lists it in the same risk category as coffee and mobile phones. Reviews by Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society conclude that some studies have found a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but that others have not. Studies do not show a relationship between the amount of talc used and the likelihood of ovarian cancer — if there was a strong link, they would do. Research published in 1995 and 2000 conceded that it was plausible that talc could cause ovarian cancer, but there was no conclusive evidence. So, there are certainly stronger cancer risks than talc… But while it may not be 100% unsafe, a warm, fluffy towel is safer. Why take any chances when you don’t need to?