How does titanium dioxide work in cleansers?

Titanium dioxide is a common coloring agent in many skin care products, including cleansers and sunscreen. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
Š Ender Birer and Rafal Zdeb

It's amazing how many different cleansers a person can use to get clean. You have body wash, shampoo, facial cleansers, hand soap and a whole bunch of others. So what makes them different? The simple answer is the ingredients. Different formulas are used to achieve certain results -- such as lifting soil off your skin or getting oil out of your hair -- but some ingredients are used across the board, too. This is especially true in the case of fragrance and color. For instance, many cleansers contain titanium dioxide, and if you were to pay close attention to them, you'd probably find that most are white in color. That's because titanium dioxide is used as a coloring agent to make things white [source: Personal Care Products Council].

Titanium dioxide is actually one of the most widely used colorants in the world. You can find it in products ranging from paint and plastics to food and cosmetics. It's also an incredibly stable compound, which means it resists damage from light, oxidation and pH -- just to name a few. Titanium also happens to be one of the most abundant elements on the planet, making it widely available for use in cosmetic products such as cleansers [source: Delgado-Vargas et al.].


In addition, titanium dioxide is commonly used in sunscreens to block out ultraviolet rays. That doesn't mean that using a cleanser with titanium dioxide will help protect you from the sun, though. You wash cleansers off your skin, and in order to work effectively as a sunscreen, titanium dioxide must be left on your skin.

If you're wondering whether it's safe to use titanium dioxide, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it many years ago for cosmetic use [source: FDA]. Some research has shown that titanium dioxide can lead to mild cases of dry skin in some people, and it has been known to occasionally cause more severe irritations [source: WebMD].


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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Delgado-Vargas, Francisco; and Octavio Paredes-Lopez. "Natural colorants for food and nutraceutical uses." CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fla.; 2003. Google Books. (Accessed 09/07/2009)
  • Personal Care Products Council. "Titanium Dioxide." Cosmetics Info. (Accessed 09/07/2009)
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Summary of Color Additives for Use in United States in Food, Drugs, Cosmetics, Medical Devices." Aug. 3, 2009. (Accessed 9/22/2009)
  • WebMD. "Titanium Dioxide Topical." (Accessed 9/22/2009)