Titanium Dioxide in Food: Uses, Risks, and More

Medically Reviewed By Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS
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Titanium dioxide is a white, odorless powder that enhances the color of foods and other commodities like cosmetics and toothpaste. While it is generally regarded in the United States as safe for consumption, more research is needed into its effects on humans. Most research on the safety of titanium dioxide has been done on animals. People concerned about the effects of titanium dioxide on humans may want to avoid products containing the substance.

Read on to learn more about the uses of titanium dioxide in food, its safety, and possible risks.

Uses

A colorful assortment of candies
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Titanium dioxide can be used in food and food-related products in a few ways.

Food additive

One of the main uses for titanium dioxide is as a food coloring. As a pigment, it enhances the whiteness and opacity of foods such as:

  • candies
  • coffee creamers
  • pastries
  • sauces
  • spreads
  • edible ices

It can also enhance the flavor of non-white foods, most of which are processed. These foods include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • meat
  • fish
  • soups
  • breakfast cereals

Some alcoholic beverages, like beer and wine, also contain titanium dioxide.

Food packaging

Titanium dioxide is also used in food packaging materials, and research has shown that this packaging has antibacterial properties important for food safety.

In addition, a 2018 study found that food packaging made from titanium dioxide film delayed the ripening process of tomatoes. This may suggest that titanium dioxide can help prolong the shelf life of certain foods.

Other commercial products

Titanium dioxide is also used in commercial products like toothpaste and cosmetics. While these products are not foods, they may still affect the body through accidental ingestion or inhalation.

Titanium dioxide is also used as a pigment and UV filter in some sunscreens and cosmetics. It has been shown to be effective in protecting the skin against harmful UV rays.

Safety and risks

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved titanium dioxide for general use in foods at a concentration of no more than 1% of the product’s total weight. In 2019, researchers noted that because titanium dioxide’s oral absorption is so low, there is no established acceptable daily intake.

Oral consumption

To date, much of the research into the effects of titanium dioxide on the body has been done on animals. For example, a 2019 study on mice showed that titanium dioxide impaired bacterial function and increased inflammation in the colon. These changes were noted at concentrations of 2 and 50 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day.

Researchers have estimated that the dietary intake of titanium dioxide is around 0.2–0.7 mg per kg per day for adults in the United States. This amount may be higher in children due to their lower body mass and higher consumption of foods containing titanium dioxide, like candies.

The same researchers state that most ingested titanium dioxide is excreted after consumption. More research is necessary to determine how oral ingestion of titanium dioxide can affect humans.

Effects on skin

A 2019 review of the safety of titanium dioxide in cosmetics notes that most studies have shown that titanium dioxide does not penetrate the skin. This conclusion is further reinforced by the 2018 review of titanium dioxide safety.

Inhalation effects

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that exposure to titanium dioxide through inhalation can affect the respiratory system.

According to researchers, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that there is sufficient evidence to show that titanium dioxide is a potential carcinogen in animals. They concluded this based on animal studies that showed the development of respiratory tract tumors after prolonged titanium dioxide inhalation.

More research is needed to determine whether prolonged inhalation may increase the risk of cancer in humans. This may be particularly important in applying cosmetic sprays, which may be accidentally inhaled.

Side effects

Research into the side effects of titanium dioxide exposure in humans is very limited. While animal studies have shown that titanium dioxide may cause intestinal inflammation and respiratory tract tumors, researchers note that drawing conclusions about human effects from animal studies is problematic.

If you are worried about the side effects of titanium dioxide, it may be best to avoid products containing it. Titanium dioxide is commonly used in processed foods, so avoiding those foods could be beneficial.

Other frequently asked questions

Here are a few other common questions about titanium dioxide in food. Jared Meacham, Ph.D., R.D., P.M.P, M.B.A., CSCS, has reviewed the answers.

Is titanium dioxide harmful to the body?

Research into the effects of titanium dioxide on the human body is limited. Some animal studies suggest that it may cause intestinal inflammation in large amounts. Other animal studies have suggested a carcinogenic effect after prolonged inhalation. More research is necessary to determine titanium dioxide’s effects on humans.

What common foods contain titanium dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is often present in foods like coffee creamer, pastries, candies, and sauces. Non-white processed foods — like breakfast cereals, meat, and fish — can also contain titanium dioxide.

Is titanium dioxide banned in the U.S.?

The FDA has approved titanium dioxide for general use in foods in concentrations of less than 1% of the weight of the product.

Summary

Titanium dioxide is commonly used as a food additive to enhance color and taste. It is also present in food packaging and cosmetic products like sunscreen.

While titanium dioxide is FDA approved for general use in food, more research is needed to determine its effects on humans. In animals, it has been shown to have gastrointestinal effects and is a potential carcinogen when inhaled.

If you are concerned about the effects of titanium dioxide consumption, it may be best to avoid products containing the substance.

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Medical Reviewer: Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 10
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