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History of titanium dioxide regulation as a food additive: a review

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Since its discovery in the late eighteenth century and mass production in the early twentieth century, titanium dioxide has been used in a wide range of applications such as paints, cosmetics, energy storage, photocatalysis and food. Health concerns regarding TiO2 use as a food additive, named E171 in Europe, are mainly due to the presence of nanoparticles, whereas it should contain only microparticles. Here we present the history of the increasing use of TiO2 since the end of the Second World War, followed by rising concerns at the beginning of the twenty-first century, until the European decision to ban the use of TiO2 in food in 2022. We discuss the evolution of TiO2 regulation, within the regulation of chemicals products, particularly in Europe. We highlight the specific role played by the stakeholders: regulatory agencies, companies, scientists and associations. Two periods were identified. In the first period (1945–2000), marked by the growing use of chemical products, and of food additives in industry, the regulation of chemical products progressed with the double aim to master and adapt to risks. In the second period, beginning in the 2000s, the regulation of TiO2 as a food additive in Europe has evolved in the context of the regulation of nanotechnology. The liberal approach associating nanotechnologies with progress and the competitiveness of companies and of the economies has gradually been challenged by the accumulation of scientific work pointing out the risks to human health during the last period. In the context of a food safety governance based on the separation of risk assessment and risk management, the TiO2 case reveals the signaling role played by academic work, while civil society groups promote mediatization and can impose the precautionary principle as a basis for this regulation.

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Fig. 1

adapted from Musial et al. 2020)

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Fig. 3

Source Web of Science in October 2021)

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  3. ECHA and WHO (IARC) have not defined the same criteria to classify chemical products according their effects on human health. WHO (IARC) defines a classification which distinguishes four groups of products: 1(carcinogen), 2A (probably carcinogen), 2B (possibly carcinogen) and 3 (unclassifiable as to carcinogen product). The UE classification (ECHA) distinguishes only three groups of products: 1(carcinogen), 2 (highly suspected carcinogen) and 3 (carcinogen of concern). In 2017, the Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) of ECHA proposed the classification of TiO2 as a category 2 carcinogen after inhalation. On February 18th 2020, the European Union took over ECHA’s opinion and published the classification of TiO2 as a suspected carcinogen (category 2) by inhalation in powder form with at least 1% particles.





Acceptable daily intake


American Industrial Health Council


Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire de l'alimentation, de l'environnement et du travail


Bovine spongiform encephalopathy


European Chemical Agency


European Food Safety Authority


European Commission


European Union


Food and Agriculture Organization


Food and Drug Administration


General Standard for Food Additives


International Agency for Research on Cancer


Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food INformation to COnsumers


Institut national de Recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement


Joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives


Non-governmental organizations




Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development


Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals


Sustainable development goals

TiO2 :

Titanium dioxide


Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association


Union for International Cancer Control


World Health Organization


World Trade Organization


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All authors participate equally to this review.

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Correspondence to Sophie Fourmentin.

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Boutillier, S., Fourmentin, S. & Laperche, B. History of titanium dioxide regulation as a food additive: a review. Environ Chem Lett 20, 1017–1033 (2022).

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