You know that white cast you often get after applying sunscreen? Or that ghostly hue your face has in certain photos taken with the “wrong” foundation? That’s Titanium Dioxide at work. Titanium Dioxide is a naturally occurring mineral widely used for its pure white colour (it’s also used to make, among many other things, paper and paint so white).
Titanium Dioxide as a colourant
While most people may not appreciate the white cast Titanium Dioxide leaves on the skin, they still find white products appealing. Think about soaps or creams. Aren’t you more attracted to them when they’re pure white rather than some pale yellow or green hue, for example? In colour cosmetics like foundations, Titanium Dioxide is often added to create paler shades. By adjusting its amount, you can create quite a wide range that will suit most skintones. But that’s not all. Titanium Dioxide also gives products their opacity, reducing the transparency of the formula.
Titanium Dioxide as a sunscreen agent
But there’s another, more important, reason why Titanium Dioxide is so popular. Its ability to reflect light away from the skin makes it a wonderful sunscreen agent. Basically, Titanium Dioxide creates a shield on the skin. When UV rays hit it, they are reflected away. And it is gentle enough for sensitive skin too. Just don’t rely only on it for sun protection. While Titanium Dioxide can protect skin against all UVB rays, it can only block short, not long, UVA rays too.
The micronized controversy
Because of how much sunscreen you need for each application, Titanium Dioxide can leave a white cast on the skin, which makes it unpopular among consumers. To avoid this, Titanium Dioxide is often micronized. That way, its particles are so small that they will be able to protect skin without making your face look white. There is some concern that such small particles can penetrate skin and cause cancer, but a 2008 study has found that’s not the case. The results showed that “TiO2nanoparticles in vivo do not penetrate through the intact epidermal barrier.” So, just as long as you don’t apply on any open wounds, albeit minuscule, you should be fine.
The Bottom Line
Titanium Dioxide is a white mineral that gives cosmetics their white hue and opacity. It is also an effective sunscreen agent that protects you against all UVB and some UVA rays without causing irritations, which makes it suitable for those with sensitive skin too.