Tests reveal potentially toxic titanium dioxide in sunscreen and cosmetics

Tests reveal potentially toxic titanium dioxide in sunscreen and cosmetics

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Friends of the Earth U.S. and Australia revealed new testing results from the Australian Government’s National Measurement Institute, which found that many popular sunscreen and cosmetic products are using a potentially hazardous form of a common ingredient — anatase titanium dioxide. Six of the eight products tested, including well-known brands such as Nivea (Beiersdorf AG (BEIG.DE)), L’Oreal SA (OREP.PA), and CoverGirl (Procter & Gamble Co (NYSE:PG)), were found to contain this ingredient.   

“The product we are most concerned about is Nivea Sun ‘Kids Swim and Play’ sunscreen, since independent analysis of the test results by Uniquest found that more than 90 percent of the particles extracted from the product were nanoparticles. (note 1) Due to their large relative surface area, nanoparticles of anatase titanium dioxide are much more reactive than larger particles of the chemical. Protecting our skin from the sun is no joke, and sunscreens are an important part of staying safe from harmful UV rays. On the other hand, some sunscreens may not be as effective and safe as we think,” said Ian Illuminato, health and environment campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S.

Some skin cancers are linked to UV-induced free radical damage to the skin, which is why wearing sunscreens with strong broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection is recommended by medical authorities. However, recent studies have shown that the anatase form of titanium dioxide (and in particular nano-scale anatase titanium dioxide) can increase the formation of free radicals when exposed to sunlight and water and a number of scientists have questioned the safety of their use in sunscreens and other skin products. Anatase is an aggressive free radical producer compared to rutile, another less reactive form of titanium dioxide used in sunscreens, cosmetics and other products.

In 2008, a peer reviewed study found that nano anatase titanium dioxide in sunscreen was reacting with sunlight and breaking down the coating on steel roofing in a matter of weeks. This study was prompted by reports that coatings on roofs were breaking down in places where workers had inadvertently transferred sunscreen to roofs via skin contact. Researchers from the 2008 study found that this sunscreen ingredient increased the normal rate of sun damage to the roofs by 100 times. (note 2) The study raised serious concerns about the impact these ingredients may be having on our skin. In 2010, Italian scientists warned that anatase titanium dioxide is “capable of destroying virtually any organic matter.” (note 3)

While the products tested by NMI are sold in Australia, several of these brands are also sold in the United States and other global markets and therefore may use similar ingredients in their formulations. The sunscreen and cosmetic products that were found to include anatase titanium dioxide include Nivea Kid’s Swim and Play Sunscreen, Coco Island White Zinc Sunscreen, Key Sun White Zinke Sunscreen, L’Oreal Infallible Advanced Never Fail Make-up, CoverGirl Natureluxe Liquid Silk Foundation and Australis Powder Cream Make-up. KeySun Zinke and Coco Island Sunscreens were also found to contain nanoparticles, although the NMI was unable to confirm whether these nanoparticles were anatase titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. 

Friends of the Earth is calling for an immediate ban on the use of anatase titanium dioxide in sunscreen and cosmetics and for safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreen and other body care products. Europe will require the safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens starting in July 2013. (note 4) However, the U.S. government continues to reject calls for adequate safety testing and labeling.

“We know that companies in the United States are incorporating nano-scale titanium dioxide in sunscreens and cosmetics, the question is, are they using it in anatase form?” said Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “We encourage the FDA to give this serious public health issue the attention it deserves. Moreover, all nano-scale ingredients need to be adequately tested for safety before being used. Congress urgently needs to enact legislation that would more strictly regulate the cosmetics industry to ensure that nano-scale ingredients are labeled and to guarantee the personal care products we use every day are free from harmful chemicals in the first place. In the meantime, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been specifically calling on Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, and other major brands to remove carcinogens and other harmful chemicals from their personal care products; the laboratory findings on sunscreens reaffirm that immediate action by these companies to ensure product safety is critical.”

In North America: Adam Russell, 202-222-0751, [email protected]; Ian Illuminato, 604-737-2282, [email protected]  
In Australia: Louise Sales, +61 0435 589 579, [email protected]

To arrange an interview with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to discuss the issue of cosmetics safety in the United States, please contact Margie Kelly, 541-222-9699, [email protected].

Additional resources:

Summary of findings and frequently asked questions.

Full test results from NMI: Sunscreens that contain anatase.

Full test results from NMI: Sunscreens that contain nano-ingredients.

Read more about the risks of nanosunscreens in the report Nano-ingredients in Sunscreen: The need for regulation.

Additional resources and information on nanotechnology and nanomaterials in sunscreens and other products.


1. UniQuest report commissioned by Friends of the Earth Australia. /wp-content/uploads/2017/legacy/UniQuest-Report-C01161.pdf

2. Other research articles demonstrating that anatase titanium dioxide is an aggressive free radical producer compared to rutile titanium dioxide:

a. Barker P. & Branch A. (2008). The interaction of modern sunscreen formulations with surface coatings. Prog Org Coatings 62: 313–320. (study done on Colorbond roofs   mentioned in press release)

b.    Rampaul A., Parkin I. P. & Cramer L. P. (2007). Damaging and protective properties of inorganic components of sunscreens applied to cultured human skin cells. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry 191: 138-148.  

3. 2010 study by Italian scientists: Tiano L., Armeni T., Venditti E., Barucca G., Laura Mincarelli L. & Damiani E. (2010). Modified TiO2 particles differentially affect human skin fibroblasts exposed to UVA light. Free Radical Biology & Medicine 49:408–415.

4. Europe will require the safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens starting in July 2013, see European Commission – Public health guidance (05-07-2012). Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/dyna/enews/enews.cfm?al_id=1276 


Friends of the Earth U.S. fights to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition of public health, educational, religious, labor, women’s, environmental and consumer groups. Our goal is to protect the health of consumers and workers by requiring the health and beauty industry to phase out the use of chemicals that are known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins.

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