WIKD: Titanium Dioxide

Titanium Dioxide, one of the top fifty “chemicals” produced worldwide.

On the label it is otherwise known as: 1385RN 59; 1700 WHITE; 234DA; 500HD; 63B1 WHITE; A 200 (PIGMENT) ; A 330 (PIGMENT) ; A-FIL; A-FIL CREAM; A-FN 3; AEROLYST 771

What is it? – A naturally ocurring mineral; the greatest covering and tinting powder of any white pigment used in nail, bath, and makeup products with white coloring; also used as an opacifier.  Found in cosmetics and food as well as household products. Titanium dioxide is both odorless and absorbent.

What does this ingredient claim to do/what is it known for? – Acts as a physical sunblock.  Some people are operating under the mistaken notion that all titanium dioxide is dangerous.  This conclusion is based on data used in the last few years by “watchdog” groups from a 1985 study on rats that classified the ingredient as a potential carcinogen because rats that were exposed to inhaled titanium dioxide particles for a whopping 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 2  years developed slight lung tumors.  Huh?! Firstly, as a human being I take the results of most animal testing with a grain of sodium chloride. (Er, salt.) Our physiology is so different from that of a rat, it’s very difficult to see the way the conclusions of this study apply to us in addition to these types of tests being unnecessary and cruel.  Secondly, I don’t think as a consumer you should be worried about this ingredient overall unless you’re snorting titanium dioxide all day every day…and if you are, you need some serious help and maybe a hobby.

Titanium dioxide is listed as a safe pigment, with no known adverse effects when used in cosmetics, and approved by the FDA when 99% pure. It is not listed as a carcinogen, mutagen, teratogen, comedogen, or as a known toxin or as a trigger for contact dermatitis.  Coarse or fine particles of the mineral are safe and effective at deflecting and absorbing UV light,  HOWEVER, if you are concerned, avoid using products with ultrafine micronized mineral pigments (nanoparticles) in sunscreens or color cosmetics. Normally, the size of the titanium dioxide molecule is too large to be absorbed by the skin, which is exactly what makes it an effective sunblock.  However, ultrafine particles of this and many other minerals have been shown to be dangerous and cause damage and disease to cells, the lungs, and the central nervous system.

Kumazawa, et. al. in their study, “Effects of Titanium Ions and Particles on Neutrophil Function and Morphology” concluded that the level of danger to the cell was highly dependent on the particle size of titanium dioxide. The jist is that the smaller the particle size, the more toxic it is.  Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are used in some sunscreens because they are colourless at that size but still absorb ultraviolet light, making the product more marketable across the board to people with different skin tones or to those who wish to wear a sunscreen under their makeup.  A number of studies from the last 5 years  indicate that nanoparticulate titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do not get past the epidermis (outer layer of the skin), and at present, the FDA has determined nanoparticles are safe when used in cosmetics and sunscreens.  If you remain undecided on the matter then do your research on a brand and product before you commit to buy!

What natural and/or cruelty free products have I tried that contain this ingredient? – The list is endless. Any white eyeliner or eye shadow likely contains this ingredient, as well as many nail polishes, face powders, deodorants, and shampoos.​​​

Aubrey Organics conducted tests in their sunscreens and addresses the issue on their website: “…The average particle of micronized titanium dioxide in Aubrey sunscreens has an average size of 202 nm, or twice the largest size considered a nanoparticle, while the average zinc oxide particle is more than 1,000 nm, or ten times the size of a nanoparticle.

Conclusion: Avoid or OK? – OK across the board in non micronized form, and there is still some debate in the natural community about safety of nanoparticulates of this ingredient.  If you are not yet decided on the issue, contact the brand before you make a purchase and make sure there are no nanoaprticles in their products before you buy.