Baby powder is a typical personal care product found in many homes, especially for those living with babies and young children. Baby powder is commonly used in the skin’s sweaty areas and in baby’s diaper area, but in some instances, baby powder might be accidentally swallowed or even intentionally eaten (yes, you’ve read that right).
Some people, including pregnant women, may have that uncontrollable urge to eat baby powder or talcum powder. The habitual eating of non-edible items such as baby powder is termed as pica. However, just because some people are doing it doesn’t necessarily mean that eating baby powder is safe.
So if you’re curious what happens if you eat baby powder and whether it’s safe to consume it, then below are some facts that you may want to know.
Why do people eat baby powder?
People may have a taste of baby powder, soil, ash, hair and other non-nutritive items out of curiosity. However, once this practice turns into a habit, it may already turn into an eating disorder called pica. The eating baby powder or talc can be diagnosed as pica if the behavior is willingly done and lasts for at least a month.
In 2020, we heard news of a UK mom of five who admitted her addiction in eating Johnson and Johnson baby powder. Now diagnosed with pica syndrome, this woman narrated that she first tasted the Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder while drying his son off after a bath, way back in 2004. The odd craving then gradually make her addicted to baby powder, costing her an estimated amount of $10,500 for her talcum powder dependency.
Pica may be seen in children and is common among people with intellectual disabilities. In women, this condition is often observed during pregnancy, especially during the onset of pregnancy cravings. Though the exact reason behind pica during pregnancy is not yet established, dieticians are suggesting that it may be linked to deficiency in iron and other vitamins in the diet.
But is baby powder edible? What can be the effects of eating baby powder while pregnant? Now, let’s take a closer look at the safety of eating baby powder, especially during pregnancy.
Is baby powder safe to eat?
It is of public knowledge that the cosmetic care giant Johnson & Johnson’s recently faced a $100 million lawsuit against its baby powder. Around 10,000 women filed the lawsuit against J&J, claiming that the famous baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.
So it seems like something is lurking inside that pretty harmless bottle of baby powder that triggered an outburst of lawsuits towards the multi-billion dollar company.
Baby powder uses talc or talcum powder as its primary ingredient. Talc is a mineral that is derived from mining, primarily comprised of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Talc is known to keep the skin dry as it can absorb moisture, helps prevent caking and improves the overall feel of cosmetic products, the reason why it has long been used as a cosmetic ingredient.
However, the safety issues came into picture as concerns about the possible presence of asbestos in talcum powders arise. Asbestos is also a naturally-occurring mineral found in earth’s grounds and it may find its way to contaminate talc and talc-based cosmetics during the mining process. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, a substance that can trigger the development of cancer.
In fact, in 2019, Johnson and Johnson’s voluntarily recalled a particular batch of their popular baby powder due to the FDA’s detection of asbestos, in that specific sample. Nevertheless, due to these minor “leaks” the FDA also conducted a continuous testing of all talc-containing cosmetics.
So while there has been a huge debate as to the safety of using baby powders, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel suggests that cosmetic-grade talc that has no detectable fibrous, asbestos minerals, is relatively safe to be applied on the skin. However, talc shouldn’t be applied if there is a break or opening in the skin.
And going back to the question… is it safe to eat baby powder? With all the issues of asbestos in baby powders causing cancer and being a cosmetic produced to be applied only on intact skin, then most probably eating powder can cause serious health risks, especially if you’re craving for it while pregnant.
Effects of eating baby powder while pregnant
Pica is more common in children than in pregnant women, but it does happen. Pica cravings may involve non-nutritive but edible items like ice chips or cornstarch, but what’s more concerning is when pregnant woman already crave for a non-edible substance with potentially toxic ingredients when ingested, such as baby powder.
If you’re wondering what happens if you eat baby powder while pregnant, then here are some possible effects:
Malabsorption of nutrients
Eating non-edible items during pregnancy can take its toll on your nutritional status since it may interfere with the absorption of the healthy nutrients that you and your baby needs. In the long run, it may also lead to a deficiency.
Infections or illnesses
In case you’re wondering if you can get sick from eating baby powder, then the answer is likely yes.
Eating non-food items such as baby powder may increase your possibility to develop infections, especially in the digestive tract. Baby powders are not specifically packaged to be taken internally, why is why it may harbor some parasites or bacteria that may cause illnesses if ingested.
The consumption of non-edible substances like talcum powder can lead to a condition called toxicosis. Talcum powder contains various substances and chemicals that are not designed to be ingested.
There was a case of a pregnant woman who sought medical intervention due to multiple, vague pregnancy symptoms like fever, abdominal pain, headache, body pain, cough, nasal and throat irritation, and shortness of breath. The woman was diagnosed with talc toxicity after admitting that she had been eating baby powder since adolescence to cope with her anxiety.
Talc toxicity can be risky for both the pregnant mother and her baby, and may lead to untoward pregnancy outcomes.
To round it all up, eating baby powder can be harmful to anyone because it contains ingredients that are not ideally taken by mouth. Pregnant women are also more vulnerable to the dangerous effects of eating baby powder.
Therefore, if you know someone or if you are the one craving for baby powder while pregnant, then it is best to seek medical help immediately. Your Ob-Gyn can give proper advice on what you can do about your pica cravings, along with the appropriate tests and intervention to keep you and your baby safe.