Whether you’re taking an early morning jog in the springtime or glamming it up for a night on the town, you're likely to swipe on a soothing balm or swanky lip color before leaving the house. But have you looked at the ingredient lists of your favorite lip products lately?
You may find your favorite balms, glosses and lip colors are formulated with titanium dioxide. While you’re not actually taking a bite of your balm, you’ll inevitably consume a small amount when you habitually lick your lips or eat food shortly after application. The ingredients are then absorbed through tissues in your mouth. Amplify that by the number of times you apply lip care throughout the day, and you’ll start to wonder: Is titanium dioxide safe for consumption?
What is Titanium Dioxide?
First, you need to know the background on titanium dioxide. It’s a naturally occurring mineral oxide of titanium with a chemical formula TiO2, but you may see it listed as ‘titanium oxide’ or ‘titanium dioxide.’ It’s most commonly sourced from ilmenite, rutile or anatase to be added to paint, sunscreen or food coloring.[i] In cosmetics, titanium dioxide uses include acting as a whitening (to make red lipstick more pink), as a sunscreen or ultraviolet light absorber.[ii] Yes, titanium dioxide is a physical sunscreen, just as zinc oxide, which can protect skin from the sun by blocking the sun’s rays.[iii]
Is Titanium Dioxide Safe?
This is a question for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database, a free online resource that ranks product ingredients on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 indicating the highest health danger. On the EWG scale, titanium dioxide scores 1-3, which equates to a “low hazard” depending on usage. There are, however, more specific concerns. For instance, the EWG rates this mineral compound as a “moderate” cancer risk and a “high” occupational hazard. Other “moderate” concerns include organ system toxicity, though not related to the reproductive system.
Titanium dioxide is not the only ingredient you may find in your sun-protecting lip care. Oxybenzone is also a sunscreen ingredient, and it absorbs through skin in significant amounts. According to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “97% of Americans are contaminated with a widely used sunscreen ingredient called oxybenzone that has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption and cell damage.” The CDC goes on to say, “Oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”[iv]
So what’s the net takeaway? Titanium dioxide is safer than oxybenzone, but don’t stop there when you’re reading those cosmetic ingredient lists. Take these precautions before heading to the checkout:
- Search the EWG database for all ingredients to be sure the entire formula is safe.
- Shop sites and brands you know to be a source of truly natural beauty, including Kiss My Face, which has a sunscreen lip balm free of titanium dioxide and oxybenzone.
- Balance your time in the sun with cover in the shade. You can – and should – always enjoy the great outdoors while still being safe!