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Titanium dioxide in personal care products can be problematic

Titanium dioxide can be problematic if eaten or inhaled. The substance is widespread in cosmetic and personal care products including products that we "eat" or inhale during use.

Katja Laukkonen Ravn · 24. august 2021
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Titanium dioxide: Problematic to eat and inhale

Titanium dioxide can be used as an additive in food. It can also be added as a dye in white and colored cosmetics and as a UV filter in products for sun protection.

EU Food Safety Agency (EFSA) concluded in May 2021 that the substance is not safe as an additive in food and drink.

The substance can accumulate in the body and it cannot be excluded by EFSA that the substance damage human genetic material (DNA) when we eat it.

Furthermore, EU has classified Titanium dioxide as suspected of being carcinogenic by inhalation.

Titanium dioxide still legal in cosmetics

Titanium dioxide is still allowed in cosmetics and personal care products up to certain concentrations. The most recent opinion from the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) concludes that the substance is safe to use also in products that lead to inhalation of the substance.

The new assessment by EFSA of titanium dioxide as not safe in food has not yet been taken into account in an SCCS assessment of cosmetics and personal care products.

Ecolabelling Denmark has decided that the substance no longer is allowed in products that you inevitably eat or inhale during use. However, there is a transition period where eco-labeled lip balms and toothpaste can still contain the substance.

Titanium dioxide is widespread shows data from the cosmetic app Kemiluppen

More than 70 % of the loose powders and foundations that are evaluated in the app Kemiluppen contain titanium dioxide and may therefore lead to consumer exposure through inhalation during use.

Titanium dioxide is also very widespread in lip products that you will “eat” part of during use.

Especially in lipsticks where 91 % of the 178 lipsticks in the app Kemiluppen contain titanium dioxide.

If you want to brush your teeth with a toothpaste without titanium dioxide, you also have to look carefully. Almost 2 out of 3 of the toothpaste registered in the database contain the substance according to the ingredienlist on the product.

Titanium dioxide is listed as Titanium dioxide or CI 77891 on the products.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals updates rating for several cosmetic products

Due to the new knowledge and assessments of titanium dioxide, The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals updates the assessment of the substance in two types of care products:

  • Care products that you inevitably eat a part of when using: These are, for example, toothpaste, lip balm and lipstick. These products get a medium chemical rating, the C-mark. This means that there is a concern about ingestion that you as a consumer may want to consider.
  • Care products and cosmetics that you can inhale during use: These are, for example, aerosol sprays, loose powder and loose foundation. These get the worst chemical rating, the C-mark. Regardless, that the substances are still permitted and that the products in themselves might not pose a risk CMR substances always get the lowest score. 

Titanium dioxide in sunscreen is not problematic

Many products other than lip balms and loose powders can contain titanium dioxide. This applies, for example, to sunscreens and skin creams or colored cosmetics such as mascara and foundation.

The substance is not considered problematic in this type of product. They are not 'eaten' in the same way as products for the lips and mouth, nor is there a risk of inhalation.

Therefore, Titanium dioxide is not rated in these products.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals: Consumers need to know

“In the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals, we constantly try to follow what researchers and authorities report on chemicals and convert this into consumer advice. Although EFSA's clear message on titanium dioxide is about the use of the substance in food, we know that certain personal care products are also "eaten". We believe this is relevant information for users of this type of products, so that they can take it into consideration when choosing which products they want to buy and use. ”

Stine Müller, project manager at the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

4 tips to avoid eating or inhaling titanium dioxide

  • Choose loose powder or loose foundation without titanium dioxide content.
  • Consider choosing lip care products and toothpaste without titanium dioxide.
  • Avoid foods with titanium dioxide. Check the content declaration on the food for the name ‘titanium dioxide’ or E171. The substance is used mainly in sweets.
  • If you already have products on the shelf at home with titanium dioxide, you do not need to throw them away. If you want to reduce your total exposure to unwanted substances, you can in future choose loose powder, lip balm or toothpaste without the substance.

Want to know more of Titaninum Dioxide?

  • Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring color pigment.

    It is used, among other things, as an additive in food, chemical products such as paints, in medicines and in cosmetics and personal care products.

    The substance makes products such as chewing gum, sweets and dietary supplements appear chalky white. It can also be used as a dye in colored products.

    In foods, the substance has no nutritional value or functional value other than color. The advantage of the naturally occurring mineral is that it is not affected by sunlight or oxygen.

    Possibly carcinogenic by inhalation

    In 2020, titanium dioxide was classified as a possible carcinogen by inhalation.

    Despite the classification, the EU Scientific Committee (SCCS) considers that the substance is safe to use also in cosmetics and care products that leads to exposure by inhalation.

    SCCS opinion Titanium dioxide

    Reassessment in food

    In May 2021, the EU Food Safety Agency EFSA published an assessment of titanium dioxide in food. This assessment states that it is not safe to use in food.
    EFSA cannot rule out that the substance may harm human genetic material (DNA) by intake. When a substance can damage genetic material, it also leads to a suspicion that the substance may be carcinogenic.
    At the same time, titanium dioxide can accumulate in the body because the substance is excreted only very slowly.

    Thus, EFSA cannot set a safe level of how much titanium dioxide we can consume.

    The European Commission is heralding a future ban on titanium dioxide as an additive in food. The ban is expected to be effective during 2022.
    Titanium dioxide has been banned in food in France since January 2020. Our European sister organization BEUC has also long campaigned for a ban on the drug in food throughout the EU.

    Titanium dioxide: E171 no longer considered safe when used as a food additive