Titanium Dioxide: What is it?
Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is one of the most widely used chemical additives in the food and cosmetic industries. The microcrystalline substance is coded E171 and is used to give a typical white tint. Titanium dioxide is found in high concentrations in chewing gum, candy, bakery products, cheeses, mayonnaise, and other sauces and is used to make toothpaste and sunscreen. Is it capable of generating cancer?
In France, the sale of titanium dioxide foods will be prohibited from January 1, 2020. It was previously believed that this additive could be rapidly eliminated from the body. Still, current studies have recorded its accumulation in the liver, lungs, intestines, and brain, particularly in children.¹ When this additive is in high concentrations, it is considered a carcinogen – it significantly increases the chances of getting cancer. (2)
The use of E171 is prevalent in the food industry. The vast majority of white products include titanium dioxide in their composition. The substance is estimated to be among the five most widely used nanomaterials globally, particularly candy, gum, and sweets.
Does titanium dioxide cause cancer?
The French national agency ANSES affirms that the use of foods with a high titanium dioxide content alters the absorption of nutrients and causes irritation and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract². In addition, this institution classifies the substance as a type 2b carcinogen – it has a potential chance of causing cancer.
Instead, the FDA considers this additive safe for cosmetic use. (5) In a report published in February 2019, this organization stated sufficient scientific evidence to allow this additive to manufacture in sunscreens. Who to believe?
What IARC Says About Cancer and TiO 2
The IARC (the most renowned institution in cancer research) concluded in 2010 that titanium dioxide is an additive possibly carcinogenic to humans by inhalation routes.
The rationale behind the IARC was based on the results of experiments with rats. In these studies, an increased likelihood of lung cancer and respiratory infections was observed after exposure of animals to titanium dioxide by inhalation.
These studies were not enough for the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to ban the use of titanium dioxide, but they were enough to reconsider its danger. In June 2017, the Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) concluded insufficient information to classify TiO2 as a type 1 carcinogenic additive but as type 2.
In conclusion, although there are still more studies to confirm the effects of titanium dioxide in causing cancer in humans. There is enough evidence to say that it likely is.
Inhalation Hazards from Titanium Dioxide
Like all additives and chemicals, the concentration determines toxicity. At low concentrations, TiO2 is not considered hazardous to health. However, microparticles of this material can accumulate in the lungs in high doses.
In the studies, scientists conducted more than 25 experiments on animals. In a study with experimental rats, they were given drinking water with titanium dioxide for 100 days. The result: precancerous intestinal tumors were detected in 40% of the animals.
Titanium dioxide foods:
- Chewing gums
- Candies, sweets, lollipops
- Cream cheese
- Meat products
- Crab sticks
It was believed that foods with titanium dioxide did not pose any health problems for a long time. The low concentration of this additive justified its use in the food industry. However, current studies confirm a possible risk of excessive consumption of this type of food.
While eating a couple of candies does not pose a danger to children. The habit of eating sweets every day is. The reason: is the titanium dioxide microparticles take time to be eliminated from the body.
In the studies above, gastric irritation microdamage caused by accumulations of the matter was detected. Traces of TiO2 require an extremely long time for their complete removal. When foods with titanium dioxide are included regularly, the body is exposed to these effects repeatedly.
Titanium dioxide brain damage
In a study where animals were exposed to TiO2 nanoparticles, it was confirmed that these could penetrate the brains of animals and damage neuronal connections³. Although this does not occur when titanium dioxide is consumed through food, it is essential for people who handle this material.
TIO2 nanoparticles damage mitochondria in brain cells. The accumulation of this molecule also increased the level of reactive oxygen species that could damage cell structures. Furthermore, glutamate concentrations were altered.
Titanium dioxide products
Titanium dioxide is traditionally considered a safe food coloring in low concentrations. Currently, it is used in a variety of products to whiten color and improve the characteristics and textures of foods. In particular, it is used to manufacture sweet products and candies.
In cosmetics, E171 is used for the manufacture of sunscreens. When applied to the skin, titanium dioxide forms a thin film that can reflect light. TiO2 can represent 1 to 10% of the total weight of these products, depending on the strength of the SPF, and it is used in the manufacture of anti-aging creams.
It is important to note that the French ban applies exclusively to food. The dangers of using titanium dioxide in external cosmetic products such as toothpaste, shampoos, gels, and baby powders have not been confirmed. Most international organizations affirm that it is not possible to get cancer from using cosmetic products with TiO2.
Titanium dioxide is one of the five most widely used nanomaterials in the food and cosmetic industry. It is considered a safe additive for external use. Recent scientific studies have shown that titanium nanoparticles are retained in the body. The effects of TiO2 in increasing the chances of cancer apply only when it is inhaled. There are still more studies to confirm the carcinogenic effects of foods with titanium dioxide. However, due to the high probability that this is the case, some countries, such as France, have advanced to banning it.