Baby powder, also known as talcum powder, can help to manage some of the symptoms associated with excessive sweating, but it is not as effective as some other over-the-counter topical treatments. It is also important to note that there has been some controversy over whether or not baby powder is safe. The company Johnson and Johnson has been manufacturing baby powder for over 100 years and several generations have used it as a way to manage unwanted sweat.
What’s In Baby Powder and How It Works
Baby powder is typically made from a substance known as talc. It is a mineral found in clay that can be mined from underground deposits. It is one of the softest minerals in the world which is one of the reasons it is so useful. Talc is sometimes referred to as talcum powder, talcum, magnesium silicate, or cosmetic talc. In addition to baby powder, talc is used in several other cosmetic products like mascara, lipstick, blush, and many others. It is also used to make crayons, pills, chewing gum, and many other products. Talc gives these products a silky texture and the ability to absorb water easily. Some baby powders use cornstarch as an alternative to talc, but this is less common. It will say on the label if a particular brand uses talc or cornstarch.
People use baby powder to manage excessive sweat because it is both astringent and absorbent. Astringent means that a substance causes body tissues to constrict which helps them to remain dry. So, when you apply baby powder to your skin it absorbs extra moisture on your skin while also encouraging the skin to stay dry. Baby powder also reduces friction between body parts and acts as a barrier to protect skin. Historically, it was used by parents to prevent diaper rash on babies, although this practice is now discouraged by doctors. Many baby powders also contain a fragrance which helps detract from bad smells that often come along with heavy sweating. Most of the time people use baby powder to help with sweating in the axillary and groin regions, although it can also be used on hands and feet. It is generally less advantageous for those who have craniofacial hyperhidrosis.
Baby powder is not irritating and can be used on sensitive skin. However, it does have some downfalls. It tends to clump when exposed to lots of moisture which can be uncomfortable or unpractical depending on which part of the body it is used on. It is also not as effective as an antiperspirant when it comes to reducing sweat production. Finally, baby powder made with talc, has been subject to controversy for the last several years and no definitive conclusion has been made as to whether or not it is entirely safe to use.
The Difference Between Baby Powder and Antiperspirant
Antiperspirant is the first line treatment for people who have hyperhidrosis, a condition that causes the body to produce excessive amounts of sweat. It usually contains an active ingredient like aluminum chloride, or another type of metallic salt. The active ingredients in antiperspirant are so strong that they are actually able to prevent the body from producing sweat and the FDA classifies antiperspirants as drugs. This means that they are regulated by the US government. Unlike antiperspirants, baby powder can’t stop the body from producing sweat and it is not regulated by the FDA. Often baby powder is not a strong enough treatment alone for those with hyperhidrosis, but it can be a helpful alternative method to manage hyperhidrosis, especially for those with sensitive skin. If you are interested in choosing the right over-the-counter antiperspirant for your situation, or the right type of baby powder, it is a good idea to read the label on the products so you know which products will work best for your situation.
Baby Powder and Possible Health Concerns
It is thought that baby powder made from talc might lead to the development of cancer. This is because, in its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, which is known to be cancer causing.  Talc can be contaminated by asbestos because it lines some of the same mines that talc is taken from. However, it has not be proven that all talc is contaminated with asbestos. In 1976 the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA) said that all cosmetic products containing talc should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos. However, there is controversy over whether or not consistent exposure to Johnson and Johnson baby powder has led some women to develop ovarian cancer. Roughly 12,000 women filed a lawsuit against Johnson and Johnson citing that using baby powder is the cause of their ovarian cancer. So far, results from studies looking into whether or not baby powder causes ovarian cancer have been mixed. The nternational Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), currently does not classify talc as a carcinogen if it doesn’t contain asbestos. The same organization has also said that the use of talc containing powders on the genitals may be cancer inducing for humans. Better studies need to be conducted before an official consensus can be reached.
It is also important to note that baby powder should not be used as a preventative for diaper rash. This is because talcum powder is so tiny that is poses a risk for babies to inhale it and aspirate on it. Several babies have died from baby powder inhalation and doctors have been recommending against its use for decades.
If you have hyperhidrosis and you want to incorporate baby powder as a part of your routine it may be prudent to a little research beforehand. If you are worried about the health issues talc can cause, you can always try a cornstarch based baby powder. Cornstarch does not pose any of the same risks that talcum powder has and it is still quite effective at absorbing sweat.
- Freeman, S. (n.d.). Does baby powder stop sweating? Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/men/sweating-odor/baby-powder-stop-sweating
- Rabin, R. C. (2018, December 14). What Is Talc, Where Is It Used and Why Is Asbestos a Concern? New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/business/talc-asbestos-powder-facts
- Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
- Talcum Powder and Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer
- Gill, K. (2018, October). Does baby powder cause cancer? What to know. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323525.php