Why titanium dioxide is used in toothpaste
A purified form of Titanium dioxide (TiO2) called E171 is used in very small amounts in toothpaste as a colouring agent to give it a bright white appearance. This colour is appealing to consumers as it mirrors the brilliant, fresh colour they want their teeth to be. This brilliant white colouring agent is created thanks to TiO2’s high refractive index, which means it scatters light to create an extremely white product.
TiO2 is non-toxic and non-reactive, meaning it can be safely used to enhance the whiteness of many different materials. As an inorganic compound, TiO2 has been used safely for many decades in a wide range of personal care products, including cosmetics, sunscreens and pharmaceutical products.
Is TiO2 in toothpaste safe?
The E171 type of TiO2 is a purified pigment form of TiO2 specifically designed for use in cosmetics and personal care products. Regulatory bodies around the world, including the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regularly review the safety of TiO2 and have consistently concluded it is safe for these uses.
Regulation of toothpaste ingredients
In Europe, the UK and the US toothpaste is classed as a cosmetic product subject to specific safety regulations. The use of TiO2 in the cosmetic industry is carefully scrutinised by expert regulators who review the latest scientific data. The use of TiO2 in cosmetics, including toothpaste, is considered safe when used as approved. For example, the EU SCCS issued an opinion on TiO2 in October 2020 confirming the safety of TiO2 in a range of cosmetic applications, including toothpaste. The SCCS is currently in the process of updating its review. Find out more about the use of TiO2 in cosmetics.
Concerns about toothpaste containing TiO2
Concerns about toothpaste containing TiO2 have been noted in recent media reports stemming from a scientific opinion published in 2021 by the European Food Safety Authority, which noted uncertainties and the need for more data about the safety of TiO2 (also the E171 type) used in food. The EFSA opinion served as the basis for the European Commission removal of TiO2 from the list of approved food additives in the European Union in 2022.
The EFSA Opinion was a reversal of the previous four opinions since 2016, where the EFSA considered the use of TiO2 in foods was safe. Since its publication, several critical flaws and deficiencies in the EFSA assessment of 2021 have been identified, as well as the development of new science, raising questions about whether EFSA’s conclusions are relevant to the use of E171 as a food additive and based on real world consumer exposure.
Despite the uncertainties created by the EFSA opinion and EU regulatory action on TiO2 in foods, there is no conclusive evidence showing harmful effects from the intake of TiO2.
Notably, the potential exposure to TiO2 in toothpaste and other cosmetics is different than foods, which is why regulatory agencies review cosmetics separately. Those regulators have consistently concluded that use of TiO2 in cosmetics is safe.
In addition, new science and data since the date of the EFSA opinion further substantiates the safety of E171 TiO2. For example, a new independent study by the Japanese National Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS) published in 2023 evaluates and dismisses the EFSA’s uncertainties. A number of highly respected expert regulators in other jurisdictions have also reviewed the current science and concluded they do not share the concern raised by EFSA. 2022 reports from both Health Canada and The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) specifically address the uncertainties raised by the EFSA 2021 opinion, and based on their own rigorous assessments conclude and confirm that TiO2 is safe for consumers when used in food. Likewise the US FDA and the UK’s Food Standard Agency (FSA) have also recently issued statements confirming the safety of TiO2 as a food additive. See more information on TiO2 in food.
How to check if your toothpaste contains TiO2
You can check to see if your toothpaste contains TiO2 by looking at the ingredients list. It is listed with its colour index number: CI 77891. It’s worth noting that not all toothpaste brands use TiO2 in their formulations, but many leading brands do.