Titanium oxide, better known as titanium dioxide, is a physical sunscreen that reflects UV light before it can damage your skin, according to MayoClinic.com. It is a common ingredient in sun protection creams. It has a white appearance when applied to skin. Some products have formulations that blend more with skin tones. Overall, titanium dioxide in skin creams has a positive effect on the upper dermis of the skin with few negative health effects.
The biggest health effect of using titanium dioxide creams is reduced risk of skin cancer. More than 2 million cases of skin cancer occur each year, notes the American Academy of Dermatology. Sunburns are associated with increased risk for melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Titanium dioxide is one of the sunscreen ingredients recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. It is not a chemical sunscreen and therefore nonreactive for people allergic to chemical sunscreens.
Possible Cellular Effects
Titanium dioxide does not penetrate normal skin. On the other hand, if skin is lacerated or otherwise exposed, micronized titanium dioxide can cause detrimental cellular effects. A study published in the August 17, 2008, issue of "Experimental Dermatology" investigated micronized titanium dioxide effects on human skin transplanted to mice. Researchers found that on intact skin, the micronized titanium dioxide did not penetrate into the cells. However, when exposed directly to cell cultures, the researchers found significant cell-type dependent effects on cellular functions such as viability; proliferation; apoptosis, or cell death; and differentiation. The research team concluded that there is a risk factor with micronized titanium dioxide products on impaired skin.
Possible Skin Irritant
Titanium dioxide may be a mild skin irritant in some people. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety researchers tested five volunteers with an application of 0.1mg of titanium dioxide powder once daily for three days. The powder was used on both intact and damaged skin. The results produced almost no irritation in any of the volunteers. The researchers concluded that titanium dioxide is well-tolerated and at most a mild irritant to some.