News from CRIS: In the News - Titanium Dioxide & Regulatory Agencies

June 13, 2023

What is titanium dioxide? What does titanium dioxide do?

Titanium dioxide is a white, powdery substance that is widely used as a pigment, brightening agent, and protectant in various food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and other industrial uses.

It is a naturally occurring oxide of the metal titanium. Titanium dioxide forms when titanium is exposed to oxygen, creating many differing titanium oxides found in minerals, dusts, sands, and soils.

Titanium dioxide added to foods and other ingestible products is commonly known as E 171, indicating its high food-grade purity.

Titanium dioxide amplifies and brightens 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.

How are we exposed to titanium dioxide?

There are three main ways we are exposed to titanium dioxide: 

  • Digestive system: We're primarily exposed to E 171 through the foods we ingest and the medications we take. 

  • Integumentary system (e.g., skin): We apply titanium dioxide to our skin through sunscreens, makeup, lip balms, nail polish, and other cosmetic products.

  • Respiratory system: In industrial settings, people can be exposed to titanium dioxide through inhalation. Inhalation exposure to titanium dioxide is exceedingly rare for most people.

Why do many researchers and regulatory agencies agree titanium dioxide is safe?

In 1979, researchers conducted an in-depth, foundational study in animals that looked at lifelong exposure to titanium dioxide, up to very high doses (approximately 5% of their diet). The study followed the animals through their entire life cycle of two years to observe any adverse health impacts. 

Researchers did not find any adverse health effects due to titanium dioxide consumption via food, including the occurrence of cancer. 

Studies like the above-mentioned foundational study are still considered the best-in-class because they look at chronic exposure over a lifetime which more completely characterizes the potential health impacts, as you can observe potential toxicities throughout all stages of life. 

Additionally, many studies published in the scientific literature administered titanium dioxide to research animals in irrelevant ways, like through drinking water rather than in their diet (1,2).

Are nanosized titanium dioxide particulates harmful?

Some regulatory organizations have raised concerns about the size of titanium dioxide particles found in food products. They worry because some particles can be smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter, which is considered "nano" size. However, it's important to note that most of these particles in food are larger, typically in the micron diameter range (1,000 nanometers).

Particles smaller than 100 nanometers tend to clump together or agglomerate when present in water or digestive fluids. As a result, their ability to pass through biological barriers becomes extremely limited. Similarly, particles larger than 100 nanometers struggle to move across these barriers because they are too big.

How do Western regulatory agencies view titanium dioxide?

Every country has its own processes to ensure food safety; in this post, we're looking at the Western regulatory agencies, although we anticipate additional safety reports from the rest of the developed countries soon.  

Why has the European Union's Food Safety Authority banned titanium dioxide in food? Is it harmful to our health?  

Overwhelmingly, research relevant to human exposure shows us that E171 is safe when ingested normally through foods and medications (1,2).

While some data suggest that E 171 could cause harm, those research processes did not design their studies to model how people are exposed to E 171. Research that adds E 171 to drinking water, utilizes direct injections, or gives research animals E 171 through a feeding apparatus does not replicate typical human exposure, which occurs through food and medicine consumption.

Read more in-depth about the titanium dioxide risk at


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