Titanium dioxide is a light, fluffy, white powder (500g is approximately a cubic liter of the loose powder). It appears in a lot of recipes because it is responsible for brightness and opacity. As you can probably guess, it’s a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In soap, it works beautifully to whiten and brighten bars. In face powders, blushes, and eye shadows it gives you a bright, opaque base to build other colours on top of—it is the canvas for your concealers, your tone eveners, and whatever else you like. It is the “white-out” of cosmetics.
When it comes to safety, I’m always glad when you’re doing your research into your ingredients! I’ve done lots, too, and I feel ok about using titanium dioxide.
For starters, the study that associates cancer with titanium dioxide was done in rats, and was with high-dose exposure to ultrafine titanium dioxide. These circumstances are not the ones we use titanium dioxide in at home! From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety:
With such widespread use of titanium dioxide, it is important to understand that the IARC conclusions are based on very specific evidence. This evidence showed that high concentrations of pigment-grade (powdered) and ultrafine titanium dioxide dust caused respiratory tract cancer in rats exposed by inhalation and intratracheal instillation*. The series of biological events or steps that produce the rat lung cancers (e.g. particle deposition, impaired lung clearance, cell injury, fibrosis, mutations and ultimately cancer) have also been seen in people working in dusty environments. Therefore, the observations of cancer in animals were considered, by IARC, as relevant to people doing jobs with exposures to titanium dioxide dust. For example, titanium dioxide production workers may be exposed to high dust concentrations during packing, milling, site cleaning and maintenance, if there are insufficient dust control measures in place. However, it should be noted that the human studies conducted so far do not suggest an association between occupational exposure to titanium dioxide and an increased risk for cancer.
Here’s a few extra points:
- It gets a 1–3 on The EWG’s Skin Deep database. That’s actually really good, in line with many of the carrier oils we use.
- The higher rating (still just a 3/10) is for applications where a lot of it is inhaled. This risk can be mitigated by using dust masks and ensuring the final products are “weighed down”, as discussed here. To me, this is like wearing oven mitts when taking a hot tray out of the oven.
- Micronized titanium dioxide is much more of a risk when it comes to trans-dermal concerns, and none of my recipes will ever call for micronized titanium dioxide.
- Many fine powders are hazardous if inhaled (clay, silica), and many more things are bad for you if they end up in your lungs (water!). This doesn’t mean they are unsafe in all applications.
In most cases, titanium dioxide cannot be easily replaced. Zinc oxide works in some applications (like soap), but not all—especially not cosmetics! Readers have tried it and reported awful results.
Posted in: Safety