Titanium dioxide is a food additive that can be found in over 3,000 different products in EWG’s Food Scores database.
Most commonly used in candy, it can also be found in salad dressings, chewing gum, ice cream, frozen pizzas, drink and jello mixes and many other food categories. Titanium dioxide creates a smooth finish and adds shine and brightness to other colors.
This food chemical has been used in food for more than half a century, but recent studies show it may be harmful.
For years scientists have raised concerns about the potential toxicity of titanium dioxide.
In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority, or EFSA, assessed titanium dioxide and determined that the evidence available at the time didn’t conclusively point to any health problems for consumers.
But in 2021, EFSA reevaluated titanium dioxide to consider the impacts of its nanoparticle. After considering more studies, EFSA concluded that nanoparticle-size titanium dioxide can accumulate in the body, break DNA strands and cause chromosomal damage.
European food safety regulators have since labeled titanium dioxide as no longer safe for human consumption, due to its potential toxicity.
Animal studies show exposure to titanium dioxide is linked to immunotoxicity, inflammation and neurotoxicity.
A European ban of titanium dioxide in food took effect in 2022, but it is still legal for use in food in the U.S.
Titanium dioxide remains in many food products in this country because of regulatory folly by the Food and Drug Administration, which allows problematic food ingredients to remain undetected and unreviewed.
The FDA is reviewing the safety of titanium dioxide in response to an April petition from EWG and other environmental and public health groups. This is the FDA’s first comprehensive review of titanium dioxide since 1973.
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the California legislature to ban the manufacture, sale and distribution of foods in the state containing titanium dioxide, along with four other harmful food chemicals.
A.B. 418, authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-San Fernando Valley), will soon receive its final votes in the state legislature. If the bill is signed into law, the Golden State would be the first in the nation to ban these toxic chemicals from bread, salad dressings, frozen pizzas and other popular food items.
For those wishing to limit or avoid exposure to titanium dioxide in foods, there are some steps you can take.
- Check food product labels and avoid those with titanium dioxide. Food companies must list titanium dioxide on packaged food ingredient labels. In some instances, it may simply be listed as “artificial color” or “color added.”
- Consult EWG’s Food Scores database to find products without titanium dioxide. When you’re on the go, use our Healthy Living app to find products without toxic chemicals.
- Choose packaged foods that are certified organic, whenever possible. These products must meet strong standards that protect consumers from exposure to potentially harmful additives. Certified organic foods cannot contain artificial colors such as titanium dioxide.
- Avoid ultra-processed foods whenever possible. Many contain concerning ingredients in addition to titanium dioxide.
Titanium dioxide in sunscreen
Sunscreens made with mineral active ingredients, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, generally score well in EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens. They provide strong sun protection with few health concerns and don’t easily break down in the sun.
They are the only two sunscreen ingredients classified by the FDA as safe and effective. And though titanium dioxide is usually used in mineral sunscreens in the form of nanoparticles, evidence suggests that few, if any, particles penetrate the skin.
But a chemical’s safety when it’s used externally is not always the same as when it’s ingested. Different uses of the same ingredient may cause very different health outcomes.