Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe?
Background. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is considered as an inert and safe material and has been used in many applications for decades. However, with the development of nanotechnologies TiO2 nanoparticles, with numerous novel and useful properties, are increasingly manufactured and used. Therefore increased human and environmental exposure can be expected, which has put TiO2 nanoparticles under toxicological scrutiny. Mechanistic toxicological studies show that TiO2 nanoparticles predominantly cause adverse effects via induction of oxidative stress resulting in cell damage, genotoxicity, inflammation, immune response etc. The extent and type of damage strongly depends on physical and chemical characteristics of TiO2 nanoparticles, which govern their bioavailability and reactivity. Based on the experimental evidence from animal inhalation studies TiO2 nanoparticles are classified as "possible carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as occupational carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The studies on dermal exposure to TiO2 nanoparticles, which is in humans substantial through the use of sunscreens, generally indicate negligible transdermal penetration; however data are needed on long-term exposure and potential adverse effects of photo-oxidation products. Although TiO2 is permitted as an additive (E171) in food and pharmaceutical products we do not have reliable data on its absorption, distribution, excretion and toxicity on oral exposure. TiO2 may also enter environment, and while it exerts low acute toxicity to aquatic organisms, upon long-term exposure it induces a range of sub-lethal effects.
Conclusions. Until relevant toxicological and human exposure data that would enable reliable risk assessment are obtained, TiO2 nanoparticles should be used with great care.