What Is It?
Titanium dioxide is a naturally-occurring mineral found in the earth’s crust. Because of its white color, opaqueness, and ability to refract light, the ingredient is often used as a pigment, brightener, and opacifier, which is an ingredient that makes a formulation more opaque. Titanium dioxide is also a UV filter and so is an effective active ingredient in sunscreens. It’s often used in cosmetic loose and pressed powders, especially “mineral powder” cosmetics, in addition to other cosmetics, lotions, toothpaste, and soap.
The Health Concern
Titanium dioxide can be both safe and unsafe, depending on its use. When inhaled, titanium dioxide is considered possibly carcinogenic to humans. This means that in products that contain powdered titanium dioxide like loose powders, pressed powders, eyeshadows, and blushes in which the makeup is in powder form, titanium dioxide can be inhaled. Titanium dioxide is also an occupational chemical of concern, as workers might inhale titanium dioxide when manufacturing products.
While loose titanium dioxide presents a problem, titanium dioxide within sunscreen formulations presents a much safer option than conventional sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. However, titanium dioxide may become dangerous when it is nanoparticle size. Generally, nanoparticles can be 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Despite nanoparticles becoming increasingly common across industries, they have not been properly assessed for human or environmental health effects, nor are they adequately regulated. Researchers don’t quite understand the impacts nanoparticles could have on human health and the environment. However, because of their infinitesimally small size, nanoparticles may be more chemically reactive and therefore more bioavailable, and may behave differently than larger particles of the same substance; these characteristics may lead to potential damage in the human body or ecosystem.
Because of the uncertainty of the impacts of nanoparticles, Made Safe exercises the precautionary principle, meaning we avoid nanoparticles smaller than 100 nanometers until more extensive scientific testing proves their safety.
Made Safe only allows titanium dioxide as part of sunscreen formulations, diaper creams, and in some cases, non-powdered personal care products. All titanium dioxide must be non-nanoparticle.
How to Approach Titanium Dioxide in Products
- Avoid titanium dioxide in powdered cosmetics, including loose and pressed powders, eyeshadows, and blush.
- Some sunscreens will say “non-nano” on the label. Choose those, and if the label doesn’t specify if titanium dioxide is nanoparticle size, call or email the company and ask the particle size of the active sunscreen ingredient.
- Look for the MADE SAFE seal on products, which means they’re made without unsafe titanium dioxide and other ingredients linked to human health and ecosystem harm.