What is Titanium Dioxide?

Daniel Judd BSc MBiol


What is Titanium Dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is a mineral made up of the metal titanium and oxygen. It occurs naturally but has to be refined from ores before it can be used. Once refined it looks like a fine white powder and is commonly used in sunscreens and other cosmetics products.

It is its white colour that makes it one of the most used pigment in the world and it is in everything from paper and paint to food, milk and cosmetics to give them a white colour. It is also used to thicken things like toothpaste. It also increases the opacity of the mixture it’s in, useful when a cloudy or see-through appearance would be unappealing.

Arguably, most important in terms of skin care however, is the use of titanium dioxide in sunscreen where it works as the active ingredient, protecting the skin from UV damage.


How does it work?

The UV rays from the sun can be incredibly damaging to the skin. Once they penetrate your skin cells they create dangerous and reactive molecules called free radicals. Free radicals cause massive damage inside the cell, targeting your DNA creating mutations that can potentially lead to cancer. The inflammation seen during sunburn is your body’s way of protecting from UV caused cancer but this process damages the collagen in your skin so while it might stop cancer it will cause wrinkles, sagging and aged looking skin.

Sunscreens work by blocking UV rays before they can enter your skin cells. Titanium dioxide in the sunscreen works by directly absorbing the UV rays, stopping them dead before they reach your skin.



Side effects:

Titanium dioxide is generally considered safe when used in creams like cosmetics and sunscreen but may cause dry skin, irritation or acne. It is thought to be hazardous when inhaled as a fine powder but this does not apply to creams. It is however possible to have an allergic reaction to titanium dioxide.

Interactions with other medicines: 

Titanium dioxide applied to the skin is not known to interact with any medicines.


Some other names it goes by:

Anatase, anatase titanium dioxide, brookite, nano-anatase, nano-TiO2, rutile, Titania, titanium dioxide, titanium oxide, titanium white, dioxotitanium