Studies suggest that people are more likely to buy and eat foods that are brighter or more vibrant in color. And titanium dioxide is one way to make that happen.
What Is Titanium Dioxide?
Titanium dioxide is a powder that’s also used as a white pigment in a variety of products such as sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, and plastics. The pigment grade is also known as titanium white, pigment white 6, or CI 77891; it is the whitest and brightest of all known pigments.
Titanium dioxide can boost and brighten white opacity because of how well it scatters light. In food and drugs, this additive is known as E171 and helps define colors clearly and can prevent UV degradation (cracking and breakdown of materials).
You can find titanium dioxide in food products like candy, coffee creamer, baking and cake decorations, and white sauces. E171 is often used to give a natural whiteness and opacity to foods, helping make them better-looking.
How Is Titanium Dioxide Made?
In the environment, titanium is exposed to oxygen, making the titanium oxides found in many minerals, sands, soils, and dusts.
Manufacturers get titanium dioxide from minerals called brookite, rutile, and anatase. It is processed and refined to meet strict safety guidelines.
Uses of Titanium Dioxide in Food
In food, E171 is always combined with other ingredients like proteins and fats to create the additive.
You can find titanium dioxide in products like:
- Coffee creamer
- Salad dressing
- Candy and sweets
- Chewing gum
- Vitamin supplements
If you're curious about whether something you’re eating contains titanium dioxide, you can check the ingredients list.
Is Titanium Dioxide in Food Safe?
The FDA and certain other regulatory agencies around the world say that titanium dioxide may be safely used for coloring foods. The FDA provides strict guidelines on how much can be used in food. The limit is very small: no more than 1% titanium dioxide.
Not everyone agrees it’s safe, though. The European Commission will ban titanium dioxide as a food additive in the European Union after Aug. 7, 2022.
The decision came on the heels of a 2021 report from an expert panel at the European Food Safety Authority, which reviewed of data and studies on titanium dioxide. The panel said it couldn’t rule out concerns that the food additive might be able to damage DNA and possibly lead to cancer. They explained that after you eat something that has titanium dioxide in it, your body absorbs low levels of its particles – but the particles can build up as you eat more foods with this additive.
If you want to avoid titanium dioxide, be sure to read labels carefully and stick to minimally processed whole foods.
While it’s always a good idea to check the label, just know that the FDA doesn’t require food makers to list titanium dioxide by name on an ingredients list. The agency makes this exception for several approved color additives. Instead, titanium dioxide could be listed as:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial color added
- Color added
Does Titanium Dioxide Cause Cancer?
Some people have concerns about the safety of titanium dioxide because of reports linking it to cancer.
But that depends on how titanium dioxide is being used and how you might come into contact with it. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on studies that showed more lung tumors in rats associated with breathing in titanium dioxide.