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What is Titanium Dioxide?

Karyn Maier
Updated May 21, 2024
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Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring oxide of the element titanium. Also referred to as titanium (IV) oxide or titania, this substance also occurs naturally as three mineral compounds known as anatase, brookite, and rutile. However, it is most commonly extracted from titanium tetrachloride by carbon reduction and re-oxidization. Alternatively, it may be processed from another oxide called ilmenite, which is subjected to reduction with sulfuric acid to achieve pure titanium dioxide.

There are a number of industrial applications for this mineral. For one thing, it has very high refraction properties. In fact, titanium dioxide is one of the whitest materials known to exist on Earth, which has earned it the nickname "titanium white." For this reason, it is often included in many cosmetic preparations to reflect light away from the skin. It is also a major component of sun block to deter the absorption of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, the concentration of which determines the product’s Sun Protection Factor, or SPF.

As a pigment, titanium dioxide is used to enhance the white color of certain foods, such as dairy products and candy. It also lends brightness to toothpaste and some medications. However, it is also used as a food additive and flavor enhancer in a variety of non-white foods, including dried vegetables, nuts, seeds, soups, and mustard, as well as beer and wine.

Since this substance reflects light so well, it is ideal for use as a protective coating for many products, such as automobile parts and optical mirrors. It is also incorporated into paint. In fact, due to its refractive ability, it is a component of paints used to coat cars, boats, and airplanes. In addition, titanium dioxide is found in a number of construction and building materials. The plastic industry also makes use of it as a coating to absorb UV light and render increased durability.

Since titanium dioxide accounts for roughly 70 percent of the pigment used commercially on a global scale, there have been concerns raised over its toxicity in the workplace. In response, a number of global agencies have advised manufacturers to update material safety data sheets and occupational hazard training programs based on current safety reviews. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has now classified this substance a potential carcinogen based on the rate of incidence of respiratory tract cancer in rats after prolonged inhalation of titanium dioxide dust particles. However, as a food additive in minute quantities, this material is considered safe for human consumption.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to All The Science is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon950401 — On May 10, 2014

Titanium dioxide in regular administration over the long term produces premature ejaculation, sexual weakness and respiratory problems, dryness of nose, dry coughing, and lupus.

By anon938432 — On Mar 09, 2014

About three years go I started getting sick. I itched so bad. I could not sleep and then I broke out with water-filled blisters. I went to a lot of doctors who said they did not know what was wrong. So I took things in my own hands and started eliminating one thing at a time.

I first started writing down everything I had in the bathroom. For all the vitamins, I checked the ingredients, then checked my medicines. Toothpaste made my mouth burn, and then my mouth broke out in blisters. I went to the dentist and he said it was something I ate. I went to the health food store, and bought Tom’s toothpaste but not all Tom’s is titanium-free.

I then noticed the ingredients in all the medicines and vitamins. I found a web site and put in all the things that I was taking on a list and asked what ingredients were the same in all these things. Titanium dioxide was in all of them! The drugstore where I go checks all my medicines and I buy almost all vitamins and toothpaste in the health food store. But, I have to watch all soap. All bar soap has titanium -- even the bar soap at the health store. It is in shampoo, candy, all gums, breath mints and soups and food. I even went to the Jewish Hospital and they told me I wasn't titanium sensitive, then I broke out in blisters while there. I still had one doctor who said she still did not believe it was the titanium! But, the truth is I had to do all the research myself. My pharmacist is impressed!

By anon930722 — On Feb 05, 2014

I am trying to dissolve titanium dioxide (fully) even when I use warm water there are still tiny specks left behind.

By anon926353 — On Jan 18, 2014

I noticed an increase in eczema and burning in my nose while taking generic Zoloft. I also noticed an increase in bleeding hemorrhoids. I stopped the medication and the symptoms left. Weeks later, my anxious feeling returned so I decided to try it again, but just one 25 mg oral dose set off an eczema flare and burning hemorrhoids.

One day later, I taped a broken 50 mg generic zoloft to the inside of my elbow with a few drops of water. I went back to rest and I noticed a stinging feeling at the site of the taped med. Then it began to itch. Two hours later, I removed the pill and tape to find tiny blisters with red welts that itched. I went to the PA and she consulted with a pharmacist. This med is in everything! It is something many people are sensitive to.

I cannot use some shampoos because they make my head itch! Now I find out it is in soaps, cosmetics and sunscreen breaks my skin out. We need to avoid this substance.

By anon352340 — On Oct 22, 2013

What is the use of Titanium dioxide in solar energy?

By anon343002 — On Jul 26, 2013

I am taking medical pills coated with red titanium, and my cough intensified. Should I stop taking the pills?

By anon338166 — On Jun 11, 2013

I was prescribed Caltrate 600+D by my doctor. I began taking it at bedtime. After several weeks, I began to wake up at night with severe headaches and felt as if my eyeballs were spinning in their sockets. I would wake several times during the night feeling as if I had a brain tumor. If I got up in the night to use the restroom, I felt like I could hardly walk. The next morning the headaches would last until mid morning.

This went on for several months. When I thought back on when this all started, I realized it was as soon as I began taking Caltrate. I immediately stopped and have not had a problem since! Beware!

By anon333349 — On May 04, 2013

Vitacost has banned titanium dioxide from all its supplements? I have a supplement that contains it. Should I stop using it?

By anon312961 — On Jan 09, 2013

The canned soup industry is getting worse. Campbell's has a line of 'natural' ingredients for a few soups. However, msg is rampant in most of their others, but I was aghast to see titanium dioxide listed on a can just the other day at the grocery store. Get those poisons out of there. Read labels to save your health.

By anon310807 — On Dec 27, 2012

I got my dogs rawhide gingerbread men for Christmas. They both got very ill and vomited for the whole day after they ate most of the rawhide.

I read the label and it has titanium dioxide in it. Also a caution that it may cause gastric upset. Yes, it really upset their tummies. I'll never buy them anything with that in it again. Please read the package before buying. It's the one thing I did not do.

By anon298764 — On Oct 22, 2012

How can titanium react with engine oil, and when we put it in the sun, will the oil become clean?

By anon247701 — On Feb 14, 2012

Does anyone know how does the titanium oxide coating process work. Like what are the chemicals involved in the pretreatment stage?

By anon225372 — On Oct 26, 2011

It the ultrafine particles that you need to worry about. Talking about particle diameter of <100 nanometers. And you have to breathe these in as the cancer is related to lung cancer. So TiO2 in commercial products such as makeup and toothpaste and whatever isn't really a problem. Has to be in the air to breathe in.

By anon176259 — On May 15, 2011

I took Ibuprofen for a toothache along with my Valproic Acid and like comment number number five felt like I was dying. Blood pressure dropped and I was lying on the floor, crawled to the door and phoned an ambulance. Blood pressure went back up but for four days I felt unbalanced while walking, an up and down motion, many other strange things were happening in my body, felt like anaphylactic shock.

I had to treat myself as no one knew what was wrong, even though I told the medical attendants what I thought had happened and that both the Valproic acid and the Ibuprofen contained titanium dioxide. I Have since noticed this is in toothpaste and hair shampoo. I threw it all out. No idea where to go about this nor who to talk to about it, but my feeling is that if it used in anything we ingest is highly dangerous.

By anon169586 — On Apr 22, 2011

When I read the article that Titanium Dioxide has now classified this substance a potential carcinogen based on the rate of incidence of respiratory tract cancer in rats after prolonged inhalation of titanium dioxide dust particles. I now fear if I'm going to use those commercial products that contains this substance, specifically the soap and toothpaste that I am now using. Please, I need more explanations and articles about the good benefits as well as bad effects of using Titanium Dioxide. We really know that it is not a big joke of having a cancer nowadays. Cancer is really horrible and terrible. --Libra

By anon142015 — On Jan 12, 2011

Twice I have been prescribed medication containing titanium dioxide, and both times the side effects from the drug were enough to make me believe that I was dying. I will never take this drug again.

By anon129231 — On Nov 22, 2010

I have just discovered a nasty allergy to titanium dioxide. I have never heard of another. I am 64 years old and only realized this product was the cause of serious stomach pain. Now I cannot wear makeup (I have always had trouble with it, runny eyes and tight itchy skin just didn't know why).

I have red hair and the skin that goes with it and can't wear sunscreen, also most multi vitamins and some prescription meds have this mineral in them.

By WaterHopper — On Jul 20, 2010

Titanium alloys are very strong and durable. They are also resistant to high temperatures. It has been claimed that it is as durable as steel, just 50% lighter.

By chrisinbama — On Jul 20, 2010

Titanium dioxide was actually discovered at the beginning of the 19th century. It wasn’t until much later that it was released to wider use. It is the most widely used white pigment in the world. It is used in the form of odorless powder and is used to provide whiteness to products such as enamel, porcelain, plastic, paper, and paint. It is also used in sun block, creams, and toothpaste.

One of the great things about titanium dioxide is that it has the ability to disinfect and clean itself when it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation. For that reason, it is used often in the medical industry.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to All The Science is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's...
Learn more
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