News from CRIS: What's the Risk? - Titanium Dioxide

September 13, 2022

What is titanium dioxide?

Titanium is a common metal element frequently found throughout nature. In our environment, titanium is naturally exposed to oxygen, forming titanium oxides that we find in many minerals, dusts, sands, and soils.

Titanium dioxide is one of the many oxides formed naturally in our environment. Manufacturers source this mined mineral from rutile, brookite, and anatase. It is then processed and refined to meet stringent safety guidelines based on the end-use for the mineral. 

Titanium dioxide is an insoluble mineral, meaning it cannot dissolve in water. Known for its bright, white pigment, manufacturers use titanium dioxide in many different capacities, including in cosmetics, foods, and drugs. 

When manufacturers add titanium dioxide to foods and other ingestible products, it’s typically referred to as E171, which relates to food-grade purity.

What does titanium dioxide do? 

Titanium dioxide can amplify and brighten white opacity because of its exceptional light-scattering properties. In food and drugs, these properties help to define colors clearly and can prevent products from UV degradation. 

In cosmetics, titanium dioxide’s properties enhance coloration and can help protect skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays.

What is an exposure route? 

Exposure routes are the pathways that allow ingredients to enter our bodies. Primary exposure routes include: 

  • our digestive tract through eating and drinking. 
  • topically via our skin. 
  • through our respiratory tract by breathing. 
  • occasionally, through our blood and eyes.  

How are we typically exposed to titanium dioxide? 

There are many ways we’re exposed to titanium dioxide in our everyday life. Below are the most common ways we encounter titanium dioxide. 

Digestive System Exposure 

We’re most often exposed to E171 through the foods we ingest. We find E171 in many food products, like popsicles, ice cream, gum, and more. Another way we ingest E171 is through pharmaceutical drugs. Many pills and capsules contain E171 as an inactive ingredient.  

Less frequently, we ingest E171 through liquids such as salad dressing, dairy products, and some artificially colored drinks. However, since E171 is insoluble, manufacturers must use other stabilizers to keep E171 suspended in liquids as an emulsion; otherwise, it will settle to the bottom. 


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