Titanium dioxide was introduced in sunscreen in 1952 when zinc oxide and its derivatives were also used as physical blockers. FDA approved the usage of titanium dioxide in sunscreen in 1999. (1)
Sunscreen is crucial in shielding the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays and sun radiation, (2) which can lead to premature aging, skin cancer, sunburn, and wrinkles. (3) There are two varieties of sunscreen: chemical/organic and physical/inorganic. (4)
Chemical sunscreen can absorb UV light and transform it into heat energy emitted from the skin. (5) Physical sunscreen scatters and reflects visible and UV rays, making a shield for people sensitive to the sun. (4)
Titanium dioxide is one of the common ingredients in physical sunscreen. It is a white, water-insoluble pigment used in foods, paints, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and plastic. (6)
Titanium dioxide is an FDA-approved sunscreen ingredient that offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. (1)
A 2023 study reported that chemically dormant, inexpensive, and nontoxic compounds are usually considered safe (GRAS). (8)
Nevertheless, titanium dioxide has some cons, such as white cast on the skin. (1) It can irritate your throat, nose, and eyes. (9) It is also harmful to aquatic life and can cause problems upon inhalation. (10)
Continue reading to learn more about titanium dioxide in sunscreen.
How Does Titanium Dioxide Work in Sunscreen?
Titanium dioxide works in sunscreen in the following ways.
- Titanium dioxide is used with zinc oxide to restrict absorption and blocks the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. It is considered broad spectrum. (1) UVB rays cause skin cancer and sunburns, while UVA rays cause wrinkles and premature aging. (11)
- Titanium dioxide’s large particle size and high refractive index reflect and scatter light in different directions. When UV rays come in contact with titanium dioxide particles, some get reflected away from the skin, decreasing the radiation amount that can cause skin penetration. (1)
- Titanium dioxide protects the skin from different types of light such as ultraviolet (UV), visible light, and infrared (IR). (1) UV light can lead to skin cancer and sunburn. (12) Visible light is visible to the eyes and has colors including yellow, blue, red, green, violet, and orange. IR light makes things feel hot and warm. According to researchers, titanium dioxide protects the skin from UV, infrared, and visible light. It also scatters visible light (290–700 mm) and UV radiation instead of absorbing it. (4)
- Titanium dioxide is dormant as it doesn’t react with skin or other substances, making it gentle and safe for sensitive skin without causing allergies or irritation. (1) It also lacks photoreactivity. Therefore, it is preferred by people with allergies and children. (1)
- Titanium dioxide is stable and does not degrade or lose its power under heat or sunlight, making it a long-lasting and reliable ingredient of sunscreen. (13)
- Sunscreen containing titanium dioxide is invisible in cosmetic formulations due to its ultrafine particle size. It does not lead to contact dermatitis or photo-allergic reactions and is unlikely to irritate the skin. It is stable and does not break down with time. (13) Nano titanium dioxide is usually used in present times. When this particle size is decreased to nanometers, it absorbs UV rays. Simultaneously, visible light scattering can be ignored due to small particle size. Nano-sized titanium dioxide can absorb UV rays and transmit visible light, solving the aesthetic concern of inorganic sunscreen cosmetics. (1)
Titanium dioxide possesses convenient chemical properties that enable its widespread usage at a relatively low cost. (1) According to researchers, the market for titanium dioxide sunscreen is enormous (14) due to its popularity and easy availability in stores or online platforms.
Benefits of Titanium Dioxide As a Sunscreen
The benefits of titanium dioxide in sunscreen are as follows:
- Broad-spectrum protection: Titanium dioxide gives broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays, (1) which cause premature aging and sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer. (3)
- Safe for sensitive skin: Titanium dioxide is usually suitable (8) for all skin types-?, including sensitive skin. (4) It is unlikely to cause allergic reactions or skin irritation. (13)
- Noncomedogenic: Titanium dioxide nanoparticle sunscreen is noncomedogenic. (15) It doesn’t clog pores or lead to breakouts or acne.
- Stable: Titanium dioxide is known for its stability. (8) It doesn’t lose its effectiveness or degrade with time.
- Antimicrobial and antibacterial properties: According to researchers, titanium dioxide has antifungal and antibacterial properties that shield the skin from gram-negative and gram-positive bacterial pathogens. (8)
Drawbacks of Titanium Dioxide As a Sunscreen Ingredient
The disadvantages of titanium dioxide as a sunscreen ingredient are as follows.
- Titanium dioxide can leave a white cast. The white cast is a noticeable opaque and white appearance on the skin that some people may find unappealing. (1)
- Exposure to titanium dioxide can irritate the throat, nose, and eyes. (9)
- Titanium dioxide can be potentially harmful if inhaled and can irritate the lungs. Its continuous exposure can lead to bronchitis, which causes phlegm production, coughing, or shortness of breath. (9)
- Titanium dioxide may be a broad-spectrum shield but may provide limited protection and may not give protection against UV rays, such as UVA1 rays. (1)
- According to experts, the nanoparticles from titanium dioxide may affect the environment, especially aquatic life. (10) These nanoparticles are washed off and enter the water supply.
Advantages of Titanium Dioxide-Based Inorganic Sunscreen Over Organic Sunscreen
Titanium-based inorganic sunscreens contain titanium dioxide (TiO2) (a mineral oxide with the potential of absorbing and reflecting UV radiation). (7) Organic sunscreens contain organic compounds for the absorption of UV radiation and heat conversion. (5)
Titanium-based inorganic sunscreen acts as a physical sunscreen. Organic sunscreen is a chemical sunscreen. But inorganic and organic are the most accurate term, as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are chemicals. (4)
The advantages of titanium dioxide-based inorganic sunscreen over organic sunscreen are as follows.
- Titanium-based inorganic sunscreen leaves a white cast on the skin, whereas organic ones are transparent. However, a few newer inorganic sunscreen formulations use tinted pigments or nano-sized particles to reduce the white cast effect. (1)
- Titanium-based inorganic sunscreens are stable and unlikely to degrade when exposed to the sun. (13) Organic sunscreen uses antioxidants and stabilizers to eliminate photodegradation.
- Titanium-based inorganic sunscreens exhibit some photocatalytic activity (reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation upon exposure to UV light), which can lead to oxidative damage to the DNA or skin cells. However, a few inorganic sunscreens use dopants or coatings to inhibit the photocatalytic activity of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
What to Look for in a Sunscreen With Titanium Dioxide?
Many sunscreens available today contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. However, different sunscreens have different formulas. For this reason, checking their functions for your skin is crucial.
Here are some recommendations on what to look for in a sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide:
- Easy application
- Safe and natural ingredients
- Broad-spectrum protection for UVA and UVB protection (1)
- Sun protection factor of more than 30 (1)
- Water resistance (if you sweat a lot and plan to be around water)
What percent of titanium dioxide should be used in sunscreen?
According to scientific evidence, a 25% titanium dioxide concentration is safe on human skin. Also, titanium dioxide does not penetrate the skin. (14)
What are the differences between pigment-grade titanium dioxide and titanium dioxide nanomaterials?
Pigment-grade titanium dioxide is produced at a particular particle size distribution to improve visible light scattering and surface opacity. Titanium dioxide is initially produced in the pigmentary form (over 98% of total production). This makes it an excellent light-scattering element.
A beneficial mineral, titanium dioxide can protect your skin from the harmful sun rays. It creates a physical barrier on the skin to scatter and reflect UV radiation.
Titanium dioxide is generally effective and safe but has disadvantages, such as generating free radicals, harming aquatic life, and leaving a white cast. To prevent such problems, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are used that are coated with protective chemicals.
Several sunscreens contain titanium dioxide as an active ingredient, alone or in combination with zinc oxide or other chemical filters. If you want a titanium dioxide-based sunscreen, look for one with broad-spectrum protection, sufficient SPF, and water-resistant properties. It should also suit your skin preferences and type.
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