What Is Titanium Dioxide – TiO2?

If you’ve ever seen titanium dioxide listed as an ingredient on a food label, you may have thought it sounded very “chemical”. You also probably wondered — What exactly is titanium dioxide and why do food companies use it? We’ll give you the full scoop.


What is titanium dioxide (TiO2)?

Titanium dioxide, also known as TiO2,  is a common additive in many food, personal care, and other consumer products. Titanium dioxide occurs naturally in minerals [think: rocks]. It is an inactive, insoluble material typically used as a “whitener” and sometimes as an anti-caking agent to prevent products from “clumping up”. Titanium dioxide can also be used to give some food products texture. 


Why do food companies use Titanium dioxide?

Food companies use titanium dioxide because it makes products look “whiter”.


What products contain titanium dioxide?

  • Food: Candies, chewing gums, powdered doughnuts, frosting, coffee creamer, vanilla pudding, chocolate bars
  • Personal Care: Toothpaste, sunscreen, lotions
  • Misc: Paper, paint, markers, and plastics

Is titanium dioxide safe?

Yes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has marked titanium dioxide as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) and when used as a food colorant, TiO2 is only allowed to be used in food products at a max of 1.0%.

Is there an alternative to Titanium dioxide?

No. Industrial food and beverage companies have been conducting rigorous research to find a different, more “natural” sounding ingredient to replace titanium dioxide for decades. They have had zero success due to the inherently unique properties of TiO2.


Why is Titanium Dioxide considered “clean label”?

Although consumers do not like seeing “Contains: TITANIUM DIOXIDE” on their food labels, it’s considered “clean label” because there is no replacement.

So, for example, if Whole Foods were to say to their food suppliers, “No more using TiO2 in the food products you sell us.” The food manufacturers would say, “But, there’s no alternative ingredient!”

If consumers don’t like titanium dioxide on the label, Why don’t food companies just stop it?

This is a tough question.

Think about the last time you picked out fruit at the grocery store — the color of the strawberry or banana is a huge determining factor. This type of behavior carries over to other parts of the store as well.

Essentially, since food companies started using TiO2 in products decades ago, consumer have gotten used to seeing food a certain color. Color is a top attribute consumers review when determining whether to purchase a product. Think about the last time you picked out fruits or vegetables at the grocery store. The color of the strawberry or banana is a huge factor. This type of behavior carries over to other parts of the store as well.

See below example, if you were looking to purchase a cupcake with vanilla frosting, you’d probably buy “Cupcake A”. Because the color cues: “Clean, Pure Vanilla Flavor” and “Fresh”. The color of “Cupcake B” might cue: “This doesn’t look like vanilla frosting” and “if it it vanilla frosting, it looks spoiled”.


So, if some food companies started removing titanium dioxide from their product — making their product an unappealing, unsatisfactory color — a majority of consumers may stop purchasing their products.


What’s next for Titanium Dioxide?

As with many misconceptions, the only answer is through mass education. Consumers must have a change of mind and accept “off colors”, etc. in exchange for the removal of TiO2.


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