Let’s figure out whether the food additive E171 is dangerous or not. Its harmfulness has not yet been proven, and if it is, it is very small, but more on that later.
What is titanium dioxide?
Humanity has found a lot of ways to use titanium dioxide. Therefore, you can find this component in pharmacology, cosmetology and many other areas.
Until recently, it was believed that E171 was a completely safe product. But the latest research by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has shown that it is not guaranteed to be harmless.
A dye called titanium dioxide is also known as titanium white. This is a completely inert pigment in the form of white crystals (however, it is used in ground form). When heated, it turns pale yellow.
The main characteristics of titanium dioxide are as follows:
- has the ability to bleach and color various substances – this is why it is so widely used in various industries;
- found in nature, namely in the minerals brookite, rutile and anatase;
- does not dissolve in ordinary water, alcohols and most oils (for example, sunflower and olive);
- resistant to acidic environments, ultraviolet rays and temperature changes;
- completely non-toxic.
Titanium dioxide is extracted using 2 methods – sulfate and chloride. The substance extracted by the second method is considered safer. Fortunately, the chloride method is faster and cheaper than its analogue, and therefore it is usually used in industry.
It is known that all potentially harmful substances are divided into 4 hazard classes. This categorization applies worldwide. The hazard class of titanium dioxide is 4, that is, the lowest. It includes low-hazard substances.
Effect on the human body
The main thing is that researchers have not yet proven that titanium dioxide is truly harmful and dangerous. There is only a conclusion about the potential harm of the E171 supplement to humans.
The only problem is the genotoxicity of the pigment. The fact is that titanium dioxide is chemically inert and does not interact with gastric juice in any way (that is, it is not digested).
Therefore, scientists suggest that the substance may be a carcinogen and increase the chances of developing cancer of internal organs. But carcinogenicity is officially considered unproven due to insufficient research data.
There are no other signals that the supplement is harmful to humans. Titanium dioxide has several pleasant properties:
- does not cause allergies;
- does not provoke sexual dysfunction;
- does not affect the embryo and fetus during pregnancy.
There is no particular reason to panic – for carcinogenicity to really manifest itself, you need to ingest a lot of this substance.
Thus, experiments were conducted in which rats were fed 1 g of titanium dioxide per 1 kg of body weight per day (1 g/kg/d). And it was still not possible to establish that it is truly harmful. A person consumes no more than 1 mg / kg / day – that is, 1000 times less than the dose that was given to rats.
So, the carcinogenicity of E171 has not been proven, but it cannot be ruled out. Wanting to be on the safe side, a person can exclude this component from the diet or reduce its consumption.
But cosmetics, toothpaste and other products with titanium dioxide can be used without fear – if the substance does not enter the esophagus, it is 100% safe.
Is it deposited in the body?
It was mentioned above that titanium dioxide does not interact with gastric juice. Thanks to this, the substance does not accumulate in human tissues or internal organs.
Regardless of the amount, E171 is excreted from the body in full and unchanged.
Following the natural path through the esophagus (from the mouth to the rectum), the substance largely agglomerates. This occurs under the influence of proteins and electrolytes. There is no reason to fear that it is deposited in the body.
Having understood that E171 is low-hazard, it is worth considering the scope of its application. There is no short answer to the question of what titanium dioxide is needed for – after all, it is used in so many areas.
In the food industry
Dye E171 is very widely used in food products. Its main goal is to change the color or shade of food, making it more aesthetically pleasing and appetizing. To do this, titanium dioxide is added to:
- dairy products;
- processed and whey (cottage cheese, mozzarella and others) cheeses;
- condensed milk;
- rafinated sugar;
- confectionery products (especially sweets and confectionery icing);
- chewing gum;
- fish products (including crab sticks);
- semi-finished poultry meat products.
In some products, E171 is used for a full white color, but in most it is used only to lighten the shade slightly.
Another function that food grade titanium dioxide performs in food products is the protection of plastic packaging. This component prevents the container from fading and protects it from UV radiation.
Titanium dioxide occupies an important position in the cosmetics industry. It successfully protects human skin from UV rays. Products with this component block on average 25% more rays of the UVA2 and UVB spectrum than analogues without it in the composition. Therefore, titanium dioxide is added to:
- decorative cosmetics.
At the same time, titanium dioxide has absolutely no effect on the condition of the skin (it does not stimulate or moisturize it). For non-medicinal cosmetics, this is often a very important condition.
In addition to the protective properties, there are others. The substance performs a number of important functions:
- thickens various creams to the desired consistency;
- increases light resistance and hiding power;
- helps to distribute cosmetics evenly over the skin;
- in combination with other coloring pigments – gives the necessary shade to a number of cosmetics (lipsticks, nail polish, powders, foundations).
The use of titanium dioxide in cosmetics is absolutely safe. It is even added to children’s products – toothpaste and powders. When used externally, the substance does not exhibit any negative properties (even if they exist).
The whitening properties of titanium dioxide make it an indispensable component of most toothpastes. Moreover, the use of titanium dioxide performs 2 functions at once:
- helps whiten teeth (although hydrogen peroxide, urea and other ingredients play a key role in this);
- gives an attractive white color to the paste itself.
In pharmacology, the E171 additive is used for the same purpose as in the food industry. Titanium dioxide in medicines is needed to give a presentable white color to various tablets, creams and suppositories.
Another property that has found application in medicine is extending the shelf life of drugs. It is thanks to titanium dioxide that tablets and capsules are stored in a home medicine cabinet for several years.
Where else is it used?
In addition to the areas described above, titanium dioxide appears in the production of household appliances. The substance is a photocatalyst, which determines its use in filters for:
- air conditioners;
- air purifiers;
- water filtration systems.
An important clarification: E171 is not used in all models of this equipment. It is used only for the most modern photocatalytic filters – special designs coated with a very thin layer of the substance. Such filters purify water and indoor air from:
- fungal spores;
- microorganisms (including bacteria);
- harmful organic compounds.
These filters break down pollutants rather than storing them. Moreover, after interaction with pollutants, the titanium coating itself restores its original structure. Therefore, filters do not need to be cleaned or replaced.
There are several other areas where titanium dioxide is commonly used. It is used in production:
- paper (both stationery and laminated);
- paint and varnish products;
- self-cleaning glass (the technology here is similar to the photocatalytic filters described above);
- various nanotechnologies.
Does it affect the environment
It is impossible to ignore the environmental side. Titanium dioxide is completely safe for nature. The inertness of this substance does not allow it to release any toxins or harmful fumes.
Even with direct contact with the environment (soil, plants, etc.) E171 does not cause any harm. It should be noted that this feature is characteristic not only of titanium dioxide, but also of the vast majority of inert chemical compounds.