Titanium Dioxide, Harmful to Skin?
Titanium Dioxide is not only found in sun creams, but also in make-up, toothpaste, and even food. We take in a vast amount of Titanium Dioxide through products such as chewing gum, ice-cream and marshmallows…Is that actually safe though?
Titanium Dioxide is extremely effective in reflecting light, making it a splendid white dye. This is naturally very useful if you want to make a brilliant white toothpaste. And that white sugar coating on the M&Ms has had some help from it too. Its good light reflecting properties make it effective as a sun filter. But is it really as safe in your products?
This ingredient is currently one of the most commonly used sun filters and seldom causes an allergic reaction. It protects against UVB-, and also partly against UVA rays. So it’s a good filter, but because it is a stark white material, when applied to skin your face will have the appearance of a geisha girl. The manufacturers have come up with something for this. By dividing the active substances into microscopic size particles, the cream becomes more transparent. This technique is known as nanotechnology and is rather controversial. The small particles of Titanium Dioxide are very similar to asbestos and if absorbed into your body are difficult to get rid of. In theory they can cause cell damage. Fortunately, uptake seems to be minimal in healthy skin.
This ingredient in nano-form has another big disadvantage; it can undergo a chemical reaction in sunlight. That is certainly not ideal in a sun protection product! Australian roofers have known this for a long time: if they touch a painted metal roof, with their Nano-Titanium Dioxide sun cream covered hands, corrosion spots appear on the roof within weeks where their hands have made contact with it. The combination of sunlight, water and Titanium in nano-form creates Hydroxyl radicals and these attack the coating of the roof. This results in rapidly ageing roofs which should last for decades! Colleagues Phil Barker and Amos Branch have written a scientific article about it. From their research it appears that it is only the Nano-Titanium Dioxide which causes problems and not the ordinary Titanium Dioxide! Research revealed that Titanium Dioxide derived from rutile was less harmful than when it is derived from anatase, the same as coated Titanium Dioxide. But how do you know when buying a product containing Titanium Dioxide, whether it is made from rutile, anatase or coated nano Titanium Dioxide? One last point of concern is that research has shown sun cream containing Nano-Titanium Dioxide to be harmful to the environment in shallow water, even the coated and rutile derived forms. And yet we know that each year around 36-56 tonnes of Nano-Titanium Dioxide is being released from our skin into the waters of coral habitats!
For me it is clear: it is a safe sun filter, but then without the use of nano-technology! Otherwise stay nice and pale, that is also fashionable…
(Dr. Jetske ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)