TITANIUM DIOXIDE and cosmetics. Why is it a controversial subject?

Let’s review the situation:

What exactly is it?

Titanium dioxide is a mineral which belongs to the iron oxide group. Titanium dioxide is used in the food industry (colouring), cosmetics (UV filters) and paint (for example for dye or pigments).In cosmetics, titanium dioxyde is generally used as a mineral filter as it is able to reflect, disperse and absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays. It is a component that is used in different cosmetic products (conventional OR organic), it is therefore also authorised by the different specifications in natural and organic cosmetics (BDIH, NaTrue, Ecocert, Cosmébio, Soil Association, ICEA, etc.).  Its use in natural and organic cosmetics is therefore quite widespread, since titanium dioxide is mainly used as a mineral filter in sunscreen products or as pigment in make-up products. It is one of the only alternatives (along with zinc oxide) to synthetic UV filters, most of which are highly controversial, classified as endocrine disruptors, etc.

The Benefits of Titanium Dioxide in sunscreens :
When it comes to sunscreens, titanium dioxide plays a key role in blocking harmful UV radiation, shielding our skin from potential harm. Unlike chemical UV filters, titanium dioxide creates a physical barrier on the skin’s surface, instantly reflecting sunlight away. This mineral is also considered safe for sensitive skin types, as it is less likely to cause irritation or allergies.

So what’s all the fuss about?

The distrust of the component comes from the fact that the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide as a potentially carcinogenic component (category 2B).  As always, scientific studies must be interpreted in context and it is important not to generalise or draw hasty conclusions from them. Indeed, the IARC study suggests that titanium dioxide can present a carcinogenic risk in the form of dust inhaled by the lungs (in the air, in suspension). Therefore intensive inhalation of titanium dioxide as « loose powder » can be problematic and requires protective measures, especially for workers who are exposed to fine particles of the component. This problem of massive inhalation of fine particles, which can pose significant health problems, concerns not only this component, but also other components that are inhaled on a large scale in a professional context (coal, mineral wool, graphite, etc.)

So should all creams containing this ingredient be systematically avoided?

The application on the skin of creams containing titanium dioxide is not being questioned by this study, it is important to distinguish between the different contexts of useThere are also certain recommendations for sunscreen products which contain the ingredient in the form of sprays. Here too, it is important to differentiate; this is not a « titanium dioxide sunscreen spray », but a cream formulation in the form of a spray which also contains this mineral filter. Most titanium dioxides currently used in cosmetics have also undergone a surface treatment which consists of coating each oxide grain with layers of organic (polyols, esters, etc.) or inorganic (alumina, silica, etc.) compounds. This phase stabilises it, making it non-volatile and preventing its assimilation by the body.

And what about titanium dioxide as a food additive?

This is a topic related to the ingestion of titanium dioxide (as a food additive: E 171) in the form of nanoparticles, which can be problematic in the long term.The problem is the absorption of this component in the form of nanoparticles, in sweets, for example. One study by the INRA completed in 2017, focuses on titanium dioxide as a food additive E171/ (=nanoparticles), which is widely used in sweets, etc.

So should all creams containing titanium dioxide be systematically avoided?

The application on the skin of creams containing titanium dioxide is not questioned by these studies, it is important to distinguish between the different contexts of use. There are also certain recommendations for sunscreen products which contain the component in the form of sprays. Here too, it is important to differentiate; this is not a « titanium dioxide sunscreen spray », but a cream formulation in the form of a spray which also contains this mineral filter. Most titanium dioxides currently used in cosmetics have also undergone a surface treatment which consists of coating each oxide grain with layers of organic (polyols, esters, etc.) or inorganic (alumina, silica, etc.) compounds. This phase stabilises it, making it non-volatile and preventing its assimilation by the body.


Are all sunscreen products (organic or conventional) which contain titanium dioxide concerned by this issue?

To summarise: the problem is the massive inhalation of titanium dioxide dust and its ingestion as a food additive, not simply its presence in a cream formulation.

What could also possibly be problematic is the presence of this component in the form of nanoparticles in creams, which is not an issue for healthy skin (EU NanoDerm* study), but other studies are looking at the effect that products containing nanoparticles could have on damaged skin, although according to the latest studies it would seem that the protective barrier remains intact and that the substances do not extend beyond the epidermis. To be continued…

But the presence of titanium dioxide in a cosmetic product does not mean « massive inhalation of fine dust », nor does it automatically mean that this component is present in the form of « nanoparticles ». Another more recent study in France ( COSMED APRIL 2021) confirms that titanium dioxide, as such, does not penetrate the skin barrier.


However, it is important to distinguish between the ingredient ingested in nanoparticles as a food additive, inhaled as « loose powder » (which is more relevant to the industrial sector), the ingredient used in the field of medicine, and the composant used as a mineral incorporated in creams or other cosmetics.

On the subject of nanoparticles in sunscreen products, you can also read the following article (in french) 


credit : Unsplash_Antonio_Gabola

5 / All organic sunscreen products contain « nanoparticles » of mineral filters.


Organic sunscreen products contain micronised mineral screens, (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) sometimes coated, but micronised does not mean « nanoparticles ».

Nanoparticles are defined as elements whose size are on a scale from 1 to 100 nm. Since 2013, the legislation states that components used in the form of « nanoparticles » must be declared with the symbol (Nano). The obligation to declare this on the packaging makes identification easier.

Just as a reminder: organic sunscreen products contain only mineral UV filters, conventional products contain mainly chemical synthetic UV filters or sometimes a combination of synthetic filters and mineral filters. As far as we know, after close examination of numerous sunscreen products, it is mainly mainstream brands which use mineral filters in nanoparticle form. We have only found a few certified organic brands where the presence of nanoparticles are indicated and they will almost certainly be required to review their formulas in accordance with the upcoming instructions regarding various specifications concerning natural and organic cosmetics. Just take a close look at the list of ingredients on the packaging, especially in the “conventional” product category with higher indexes of protection, which sometimes use a combination of synthetic UV filters and mineral filters in the form of nanoparticles. These micronised UV filters in nano form will be indicated in the INCI list, for example  METHYLENE BIS-BENZOTRIAZOLYL TETRAMETHYLBUTYLPHENOL [nano] or Titanium Dioxide [nano].

Without getting into an intensive discussion on the issue of nanoparticles in cosmetics, it should be noted that the various specifications in natural and organic cosmetics (Cosmos, Natrue, Ecocert, BDIH, Soil Association, etc.) are in the process of ruling on the subject. The regulations on components evolve regularly, the risk assessment process is a continuous process which must be up to date with the evolution of the level of knowledge and recent scientific studies.

credit: unsplash_Josuah_Hoehne

Let’s recap: the problem is the massive inhalation of titanium dioxide dust, its ingestion as a food additive and not its mere presence in a cream formulation.

➡️ Another potential problem is the presence of titanium dioxide in toothpaste, lipgloss or lipstick, for example, since products applied to the mouth (or used to brush teeth) are partially ingested.

Other studies are examining the impact of nanoparticle-containing products on damaged skin, but the latest studies suggest that the protective barrier remains intact and that the substances do not penetrate beyond the epidermis. To be continued…

Alternative Options:
If you still have reservations about using titanium dioxide, there are alternative sunscreen options available. Look for sunscreens that use zinc oxide as the primary UV filter. Zinc oxide provides similar broad-spectrum protection to titanium dioxide and is widely acknowledged as safe and effective.

In the realm of cosmetics and skincare, titanium dioxide plays an important role in protecting our skin from harmful UV radiation. While concerns regarding health risks exist, regulated use in creams and sunscreens shows minimal danger. The decision to embrace or avoid titanium dioxide-containing products ultimately rests on personal preference and any specific concerns one might have. As with any skincare ingredient, knowledge is the key to making the right choices for our skin’s health and well-being.

More articles on cosmetics ingredients


The article dates from 2021, but is regularly updated.

Dr Bronner’s : natural soaps and much more… a brand with values that make a difference…

Olivier Vinot, Dr. Bronner’s France Managing Director | August 2020

Your main focus seems to be around soaps, in line with a more minimalistic approach to cosmetics (« less is more ») …. but why is your soap different?


Dr Bronner’s :

The beauty of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile soap is its simplicity. It is this simplicity that makes the soap so versatile as it is an extremely simple, plant-based formula. And our soap is a true soap, meaning the result of oils reacting with an alkali to undergo saponification, unlike many “body wash” products on the market that are in fact detergents. The art of creating the perfect Castile soap lies in the choice and balance of oils as well as other processing methods. When you have the perfect Castile soap, it is the most versatile cleaning agent possible.

Dr. Bronner’s employees and the farming communities we work with help us make the best soap. Without them, we would not be able to take plant-based ingredients to create a safe, effective, highly-concentrated, multi-use formula that can take on nearly every cleaning task. All of our major raw ingredients are organic certified and fair trade certified. There is nothing like a well-crafted soap made from organic certified and fair trade certified coconut, olive and hemp oils, without any synthetic foaming agents, preservatives or surfactants. And the Bronner family has had over 160 years of soapmaking experience to perfect the formula.

When the company founder, Emanuel Bronner, who was a third generation soap maker, started making Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap in 1948, most people were not interested in a simple, ecological soap, but rather wanted detergents made with all kinds of “new and improved” chemicals. It wasn’t until about 20 years later with the rise of the environmental movement in the US that people were looking for natural body care products, so the company is considered a pioneer in the space since Emanuel had been making these products for such a long time. Dr. Bronner’s continued to innovate as a company and was the first body care manufacturer to obtain the USDA Organic Certified food standard in 2003, and then in 2007 became fair trade certified as well. As time goes on, more and more people are learning about the importance of organic body care. They are also becoming warier about using body care products with ingredients they cannot identify or pronounce. They are also investigating what the values are of the companies behind the products they purchase. Dr. Bronner’s is still a family business committed to honoring the vision of Emanuel, by continuing to make socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest quality, and by dedicating all profits not needed for business development to progressive causes and charities. Thus, our brand is more relevant than ever, and is growing more relevant year by year.


credit : Dr Bronner’s

Plastic packaging is one of the main challenges the cosmetic industry faces, internationally, as most companies are still using plastic bottles, even when selling certified organic products … You have come up with some innovative solutions concerning plastic recycling, tell us more about it…

Dr Bronner’s :

One of the biggest challenges Dr. Bronner’s faces in this regard is finding a packaging alternative to plastic.

Dr. Bronner’s exclusively uses 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) polyethylene (PET) plastic bottles for all of our liquid and pump soaps. We’ve been using 100% PCR PET bottles, which are also recyclable, for more than ten years, long before this was common in the personal care industry.

By prioritizing use of PCR PET which can be recycled from used plastic bottles into new plastic bottles and products, we help conserve virgin resources, reduce waste sent to landfills, and capitalize on the energy already invested in making existing plastic products. Recycling one ton of PET containers saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.

“Bottle-to-bottle” recycling, the recycling of plastic bottles into new bottles, is also uncommon. Most often, the plastic picked up for recycling on curbsides is “downcycled,” shipped to countries like China, where it’s used to create synthetic fabrics for carpets and clothes, then shipped back to the US and elsewhere for sale. Bottle-to-bottle recycling helps to close the loop and results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately half of all our post-consumer recycled plastic bottles are made of a resin called CarbonLite, which is made from plastic sourced from curbside recycling pick-ups in California.


credit : Dr Bronner’s

We have some great partners who are investigating advances in packing innovations so that when a “better than plastic” option is available, we can utilize it. As we continue to minimize our impact, we are researching and trialing other materials, like recycled ocean plastic and bioplastics. Bio-plastics use renewable resources like plants and bacteria to create plastic that would otherwise be produced from petroleum. This technology is still in its early stages and doesn’t yet produce plastics that are resilient enough for our purposes. Also, before adopting bio-plastics, we would need assurance that the plants used in production were sustainably grown and not made from pesticide-intensive GMO-corn. As of now, turning plants into plastic remains more energy intensive than recycling used plastic. Still, we have great hope for the future of this potentially industry-changing innovation.

Your brand seems to be involved in a number of different causes, too, reaching way beyond the cosmetic sector… One of them is encouraging techniques of regenerative agriculture, why is this approach so important, in your opinion?

Dr Bronner’s :

Dr. Bronner’s has always been involved in some kind of advocacy to unite humanity, and for us, it is built into our company ethos to ensure the integrity of our supply chain is paramount considering our footprint. We recognize the importance of our small-scale farming partners using regenerative organic agricultural practices to grow the ingredients for our products. We ensure all the farmers and workers in our supply chains make a living wage and are able take care of their land and communities in a way that regenerates rural economies and promotes biodiverse farming ecosystems. This is done while increasing carbon and fertility in the soil, and avoiding unnecessary pollutants such as pesticides and herbicides from further poisoning fresh water and ocean ecosystems.

This year, we’ve focused on raising awareness of Regenerative Organic Agriculture through our global “Heal Earth!” campaign, which includes setting up a regenerative organic agriculture accreditation standard.

credit : Dr Bronner’s

Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) is a holistic agriculture certification encompassing robust, high-bar standards for ensuring soil health and ecological land management, pasture-based animal welfare, and fairness for farmers and workers. It was created to model an ecological and ethical system for agricultural production that addresses the problems of factory farming, climate change, and economic injustice, locally and globally.

Along with Patagonia, the Rodale Institute, and others, Dr. Bronner’s has dedicated considerable time and resources since 2018 to create and utilize the Regenerative Organic Certification as an integrated, comprehensive program for the following reasons:

  • Regenerative Organic Certification brings the best soil health, animal welfare, and fair labor standards together under a single consumer facing certification, to ensure food, fiber, and raw materials are produced in a regenerative, fair, and humane way.  
  • Regenerative organic practices build soil carbon, make soil drought-proof, and mitigate the impacts of climate change because they help agriculture be more resilient to climate-related volatility in weather. At a global scale, regenerative agriculture could also be a major sink for atmospheric carbon and help to fight climate change, as part of an overall strategy of decarbonizing our economy as a primary goal.
  • Regenerative organic farming at home and abroad boosts farmer incomes and revitalizes rural economies, helping farmers escape the poverty trap and enables them to stay on their land rather than work in urban slums or on corporate plantations. 

Dr. Bronner’s already partners with certified organic and certified fair trade projects to source all of our major raw ingredients, including olive oil from Palestine and Israel, coconut oil from Sri Lanka, peppermint oil from India, and palm oil from Ghana. We are committed to certifying all of our soap products and their main raw ingredients including coconut, olive, palm kernel and mint oils (95% of the brand’s agricultural volume by weight) to the new Regenerative Organic Certified standard.

credit : Dr Bronner’s

We are all facing challenging times at the moment (COVID-19, Social injustice, racism, climate change…) what would be the company’s message for everyone… some ideas, tips and tricks? Anything that could help everyone make a change… on their own level.

Dr Bronner’s :

Most importantly we all need to stay informed and stay active, including educating one another on what is possible. When we understand more of what experts and scientists have identified as necessary to address these crises, we can better understand the impact of decision makers, both good and bad, both in the private sector and the public sector. This is crucial in empowering ourselves and organizations to further the necessary dialogue for taking the most effective action as a society.

There is so much good to be done, so much positive change we can make in the world by using our voices and getting involved in progressive causes. This is key to staying optimistic in overcoming these challenges collectively, which are all linked in one way or another, as we are all connected. At times it can seem overwhelming for those who are looking to take action in their own lives. We have small choices we can make every day that can amount to a large impact, like making positive, conscious choices when it comes to food, such as eating less meat, using less plastic and fossil fuel energy, and by supporting companies who have integrity with the products we consume every day.

We deeply respect and appreciate the trust our customers put in us and our products. We encourage all to remember that there is more that unites us than divides us and to use kindness whenever possible. All-One!

credit : Dr Bronner’s

Dr Bronner’s website


To read the equivalent article in french :

Dr. Bronner’s : des savons naturels différents…et une marque avec des valeurs qui font la différence


See more brand presentations, here :

Madara Organic Skincare : blending northern tradition with innovation…

Madara Organic Skincare : blending northern tradition with innovation…

Interview with Madara Organic Skincare Founder Lotte Tisenkopfa-Iltnere 

Madara Cosmetics seems to be based on a balanced mixture of tradition and innovation, both using traditional northern herbs, essences and seed oils and taking advantage of latest cosmetic trends and innovative trends.

Tell us more about one of the main ingredients, birch water, and its use both in the traditional sense and in madara cosmetics 

Over thousands of years, the harsh climate has evolved plants with extraordinary properties, able to survive temperatures as cold as -40oC, for example, rejuvenating birch water, vitamin-rich arctic berries, antioxidant-packed herbs.

Birch water is a truly phenomenal nature ingredient – it flows just for 1 or two weeks on the outbreak of spring, only in Sub-Arctic and Arctic regions. In Northern countries we use it here as a traditional detox drink to boost health and energy, now it gains popularity as a beauty drink. Birch water contains minerals, rejuvenating amino acids, antioxidants. As a child I remember tapping birch water each spring with my grandfather. MÁDARA pioneered anti-aging concept where regular formula water is 100% replaced with highly active birch water. Simply put, it birch water makes skin cells younger, reverses ageing damage done to skin cells.


In a couple of words what are the main innovations or new key ingredients that Madara cosmetics will be working with, over the next couple of years ?

Our mission at  MÁDARA is to scrutinise the potential of Northern natural raw materials. Researching and understanding why exactly they work and which molecules the skin needs most, we find innovative ingredients to correct wrinkles, maximize hydration and give skin a boost.

We follow 3 key criteria – 100% natural, efficient and safe. For instance, one of the latest innovation projects indicates that plant stem cells can provide 10-fold doses of antioxidants helping to protect the skin from pollution and ageing.


In your vision, what are the main challenges and also opportunities that organic certified cosmetics are facing right now ?

One of the biggest challenges across all industries is to find new ways of more sustainable production and consumption.  There will soon be more plastic bags in the ocean than fishes. Redefining the production model has been our value from day 1. We make our products from organic ingredients, pack them in 100% recyclable, post-consumer recycled and plant-based packaging, use green energy to produce it all.

MADARA is one of the first public listed companies to publish a new type of sustainability report, called ESG (stands for Environmental sustainability, Social responsibility, and corporate Governance).  Link to the ESG 

If we think more about organic beauty industry, a very significant challenge is to fight back greenwashing that comes a lot from semi-green producers and brands.


Your company has considerably grown over the last decade, your brand now also shines in a international light, which are the aspects you are personally most proud of ?

I am extremely proud of my team – from research and laboratory to production, form marketing to customer service – they are brilliant, passionate and professional. I am also very proud of MADARA becoming a public listed company, as well as launching our latest organic-certified factory, which is open for public every day – people can come and experience how natural ingredients translate into innovative organic beauty products.   

There is also a french version of this article