Titanium Dioxide in Food: Safety and Side Effects

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on November 26, 2023
4 min read

Titanium dioxide is a mineral that’s used as a white coloring in a variety of products, including sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, and plastics. The pigment grade is also known as titanium white, pigment white 6, or CI 77891; it's the whitest and brightest of all known pigments.

Titanium dioxide can boost and brighten colors because of how well it absorbs and also scatters light. In food and drugs, this additive is known as E171 and helps define colors clearly and can prevent degradation (cracking and breakdown of materials) from exposure to sunlight.

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. You can find it in food products like candy, coffee creamer, baking and cake decorations, and white sauces.


Titanium is a metal element found naturally in the environment. When it's exposed to oxygen in the air, it forms titanium oxides that are contained in many minerals, sands, soils, and dusts.

Manufacturers get titanium dioxide from minerals called brookite, rutile, and anatase. It's processed into a powder and refined to meet strict safety guidelines.

Titanium dioxide goes into many industrial and consumer products. It makes paper white and bright, it keeps plastics and rubber soft and flexible, and helps remove harmful emissions from car exhaust, among many other uses. In the drug industry, it's a key ingredient in pill capsules and tablet coatings to keep the medicine inside from being affected by sunlight. 

Titanium dioxide in food

Manufacturers use titanium dioxide in some packaging to protect food from exposure to sunlight. Lab studies show it may also help stop bacteria from growing, and break down a gas that makes many fruits and vegetables ripen faster. That can keep products fresher and give them a longer shelf life.   

It's also added directly to food; mainly for coloring, but also as a thickener and to keep some powdered food, like confectioner's sugar, from clumping.   

You can find titanium dioxide in products like:

  • ‌Milk
  • Coffee creamer
  • Salad dressing
  • Candy and sweets
  • Chocolate
  • Chewing gum
  • Snacks
  • Sauces
  • Vitamin supplements

‌If you're curious about whether something you’re eating contains titanium dioxide, you can check the ingredients list. But know that the FDA doesn’t require food makers to use its chemical name on an ingredients list. Instead, it could be listed as:

The agency makes this exception for several approved color additives. 

Titanium dioxide in sunscreen

The additive goes into a lot of personal care products to whiten and brighten colors and to make them opaque, like toothpaste and makeup.

In sunscreen, titanium dioxide is used as a barrier to keep the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays from damaging your skin. It's processed into much smaller particles than what goes into food, called nanoparticles. In this form, it becomes transparent, and also absorbs UV light so it doesn't reach your skin.

Titanium dioxide safety is evaluated by regulatory agencies all over the world based on scientific studies.

The FDA and certain others say titanium dioxide is safe to use in foods and personal care products. 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, though. The European Commission banned titanium dioxide as a food additive in the European Union in 2022.

That came after a 2021 report from an expert panel at the European Food Safety Authority, which reviewed data on titanium dioxide safety. 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 bodyabsorbs low levels of its particles – but the particles can build up as you eat more foods with this additive.

There's also evidence that inhaling titanium dioxide particles can be dangerous. That's mainly a concern for industrial workers. In places where it's produced, or where it's used to make other products, workers can breathe it in as a dust. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has exposure standards manufacturers must meet.

If you want to avoid titanium dioxide, read labels carefully and stick to minimally processed whole foods.


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.

Titanium dioxide is a mineral used in powdered form in a wide variety of products, mainly as a whitener. While it's been banned in Europe as a food additive, the FDA says it's safe in food, cosmetics, and sunscreen.