Baby Powder vs Talcum Powder Explained for New Parents

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It’s a well-known phenomenon that products branded for women will almost always come marked up.

If it’s pink, it costs more! That’s the rule!

But there’s something similar that happens with baby products. Sometimes it’s hard to know if you need to pay more for the baby version, or if the generic adult version will do just fine.

So let’s examine: What’s the difference between generic talcum powder vs baby powder?

Photo by Mike Mozart/Flickr

A lot of baby powder is made from talcum powder, which is a fine powder made from the absorbent mineral talc, plus some extra fragrance or other ingredients. But many companies are actually shifting away from the use of talc on the advice of the American Pediatric Association, and using more cornstarch-based powders, instead.

But there’s more to know! Read on for the full difference between talcum powder vs baby powder.

What is Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is a fine white powder made from the mineral talc, which itself is made of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen.

Its primary characteristic is how absorbent it is, so we humans love to use it to keep our skin dry. It’s present in a ton of different cosmetic products and makeup (like blush) for this reason.

It wicks away moisture and leaves skin feeling fresh and smooth. It also prevents friction, so it’s common for people to use it on areas of skin that rub together.

However, in recent years there’s been some evidence of a link between exposure to talc and some kinds of cancer.

So far, studies are inconclusive and more research is needed — for now, talcum powder is still available in all stores, but it’s worth watching.

Another concern is that talc is heavily related to asbestos — they’re similar minerals, although asbestos is now a known carcinogen. Some research has found traces amounts of asbestos in talc-based products.

But still, you can buy talcum powder almost anywhere and use it at your own discretion, and it’s still found in makeup and, well, baby powders.

What is Baby Powder?

Baby powder soothes skin and absorbs moisture, helping keep baby’s skin (usually in the diaper area) dry and smooth.

When moisture builds up and sits against the skin for too long, that’s when you’ll run into issues with diaper rash.

A little preventative baby powder after a diaper change is a good way to stop a rash before it begins.

A lot of parents like to use baby powder while treating diaper rash, as well, to keep it from getting any worse.

There are a lot of different kinds of baby powder to consider.

One of the most common products you’ll see in stores and on Amazon is Johnson & Johnson’s Aloe & Vitamin E baby powder.

This is actually a cornstarch powder — a food instead of a mineral — and it comes with a few other soothing ingredients mixed in like aloe, vitamin E, and a pleasant, gentle fragrance.

You’ll also find a lavender and chamomile cornstarch powder from J&J.

And of course, the traditional Johnson & Johnson original baby powder (Amazon link) is made from talcum powder, with no other ingredients besides a gentle fragrance.

Another popular option on the market is Burt’s Bees baby powder, which is another cornstarch-based product.

Generally, pediatricians prefer cornstarch-based products over talc-based products, but interestingly, the American Pediatric Association is not a huge fan of any kind of baby powder. The potential for young babies to inhale powder particles is a real risk, they say.

The APA advises that it’s better to use products like vaseline and Aquaphor to treat and prevent diaper rash, but if you do choose to use powders, use cornstarch and use it sparingly!

Wait, explain the differences between baby powder and talcum powder one more time!

Once upon a time, most baby powders were made from talc, or contained mostly talcum powder along with a few other added ingredients (like fragrances).

Today, many companies are beginning to pivot away from talc and instead are offering cornstarch powders.

Cornstarch is a food-based product with larger particles, but is similarly absorbent and effective against moisture.

You can still currently choose what type of baby powder you want to buy. Both talc and cornstarch powders are available at all stores, and you can usually choose products with add-ins like lavender, chamomile, aloe, and more.

(Some of these ingredients claim to help with calm, sleep, skin irritation, and more.)

However, it’s worth repeating that the APA does not recommend the use of powders for treating and preventing diaper rash on infants, as there’s a risk young children could inhale too much powder.

Your best medically-approved options are:

  • Change diapers frequently
  • Allow diaper-free time as much as possible
  • Use vaseline and Aquaphor to prevent/treat rashes

Wrapping Up

So there you have it!

Talcum powder is often the main ingredient in baby powder, but is becoming less and less so. You’re more likely to find cornstarch powders on store shelves as those are considered safer.

But again, pediatricians prefer parents avoid powders in the diaper area altogether and stick to creams like vaseline and other holistic methods of preventing diaper rash.

And to answer the other question: yes, you will PROBABLY pay more for baby-branded talcum powder like Johnson & Johnson than you would for a big old tub of generic talcum powder.

But if you want to go by the book, it’s best you avoid it altogether.

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Hope this helps!