First discovered in 1795, this white pigment has had many names! TiO2 is the formula, CI77891 the colour index when used in cosmetics, and E171 or Pigment White 6 in the USA when used in food.
Where do we get it?
Lush purchases titanium dioxide powder from multiple sources with origins in India and the Czech Republic.
What are the benefits of titanium dioxide?
- It can help to make transparent things more opaque. That may sound strange, but it actually has plenty of interesting applications. For example, the formula of a shower gel can be slightly tinted with pigments but will still be transparent. By adding titanium dioxide, the colours in the mixture opacify, making them more visually vibrant across different shades.
- This opacifying effect can also be used for lather in the bath, levelling up its apparent creaminess. It makes each bubble look slightly denser and better defined - Hollywood style bubble bath!
- TiO2 reflects UV rays, a property that helps naked products be more stable and less prone to fading.
Controversy and regulations
Since the 1920s, titanium dioxide has been used in a wide variety of commercial products without being questioned, until a few years ago when concerned consumers and NGOs began to worry about its presence in many of our foods. Missing clear data, they called on the authorities to conduct new independent studies on the possible health effects.
In 2017 and 2019, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) published an opinion on the use of TiO2 as a food additive. Based on the results of several recent and worrisome studies, they urged the French and European governments to look further into the subject. First criticised, the opinion finally led to the ban of TiO2 as a food additive in France, as of January 2020 (extended to 2021).
In May 2021, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) came to the same conclusion as France and banned the additive in food from 2022. Indeed, although it is very difficult to prove that the pigment causes damage to the human body when ingested, there are enough doubts and points of concern in the available data to favour a precautionary ban.
Particle size was also an important topic. Titanium dioxide can be found in micro (the largest) and nano (the smallest) forms. Nanoparticles are, in general, highly criticised as they could be absorbed more easily by organisms, bioaccumulate and cause health issues. For a long time, the use of the micro TiO2 rather than the nano seemed more acceptable, but the latest European ban applies to all sizes, as concerns can’t be ruled out for any of them when it comes to TiO2.
If you are interested in understanding this in more detail, please have a look at this very good report from the EFSA.
Now, what does this mean for Lush? As we make cosmetics and not food, these regulations do not apply to us. Plus, as a business, Lush does not use materials containing purposely made nanoparticles. However, in light of the recent events, we can't ignore that we have a few products that are used around the mouth that contain TiO2, such as some lip scrubs, toothy tabs, mouthwash and lipsticks. We are therefore reviewing our usage of the material in these products.
From a manufacturing point of view, Lush also tries to switch from titanium dioxide powder to a paste and thus avoid excessive inhalation of the raw material as it could be potentially harmful.
That said, removing titanium dioxide or switching to another material requires a lot of time, trial and error. Lush product’s formulae are tight emulsions expertly crafted down to the milligram and a change in an ingredient, even if it's just a colour pigment, can completely alter the product. Its visual impact, of course, but also its texture, effects or longevity.
Lush’s inventors and creative buyers are working hard on this but in the meantime, if you want to avoid using titanium dioxide, feel free to browse our ingredient lists on the labels or the website. Alternatively, contact our wonderful Customer Care teams for help.