Amid concerns, why do we even have baby powder anymore?

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USA Today, Mary Bowerman

For decades, a staple of many parents’ changing tables was a container of baby powder, but as with many child-rearing recommendations some pediatricians now recommend avoiding the product completely.

The American Pediatric Association recommends against using baby powder, initially over concerns that talc, which was used in some products but has been largely phased out, could be inhaled and harm babies’ lungs. There are currently safer baby powder options that use cornstarch as a talc-substitute, like the Honest Company’s organic baby powder, which was recently voluntarily recalled over rash concerns.

But despite the alternative powders, the overall message is that the potential of inhaling any powder could be harmful, especially for premature babies or those with heart disease and asthma, says David Soma, a Pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children’s Hospital.

“The talc powder is more concerning than cornstarch based powder, but the big take home message is that we don’t recommend powders,” Soma said.

Soma said over the last five to eight years, he’s noticed a drop-off in parents using baby powder on their babies. But if it’s not recommended, why do we have it on shelves?

“There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children,” he said. “I’m not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions — I think it will stick around for a while.”

And for parents desperate to prevent diaper rash, there are options other than baby powder.

Michael Grosso, Chairman, Department of Pediatrics and chief medical officer at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in New York, said ditching the diaper when possible can help.

“Whenever practical, having a baby’s bottom bare is the best remedy,” he said in an email statement. “Of course that isn’t practical a lot of the time. Many pediatricians, myself included, recommend a petroleum jelly based product, whether plain Vaseline or A+D Ointment.”

For parents who chose to use the cornstarch-based baby powder, which has larger particles and is not believed to be as harmful as talc-based powder, it’s important to apply the product correctly, says Soma.

“If you elect to use it, try to keep it well localized to the diaper and away from any area that can be inhaled,” Soma said. “Use as little as possible, probably put it on your hands and transfer to the diaper area or gently sprinkle to the diaper area.”