Titanium, the ninth most common element in the Earth's crust, is a metal commonly found in plants and animals. Titanium naturally interacts with oxygen to form titanium oxides, commonly found in ores, indigenous dusts, sands and soils.
Many people are familiar with titanium dioxide as an active ingredient in sunscreen. Titanium dioxide works as a UV filtering ingredient in sunscreen – it helps protect a person's skin by blocking absorption of the sun's ultraviolet light that can cause sunburn and is also linked to skin cancer.
Pure titanium dioxide is a fine, white powder that provides a bright, white pigment. Titanium dioxide has been used for a century in a range of industrial and consumer products, including paints, coatings, adhesives, paper, plastics and rubber, printing inks, coated fabrics and textiles, as well as ceramics, floor coverings, roofing materials, cosmetics, toothpaste, soap, water treatment agents, pharmaceuticals, food colorants, automotive products, sunscreen and catalysts.
Titanium dioxide is produced in two main forms. The primary form, comprising over 98 percent of total production, is pigment grade titanium dioxide. The pigmentary form makes use of titanium dioxide's excellent light-scattering properties in applications that require white opacity and brightness. The other form in which titanium dioxide is produced is as an ultrafine (nanomaterial) product. This form is selected when different properties, such as transparency and maximum ultraviolet light absorption, are required, such as in cosmetic sunscreens.
Pigment-grade titanium dioxide is used in a range of applications that require high opacity and brightness. In fact, most surfaces and items that are white and pastel, and even dark shades of colour, contain titanium dioxide.
Titanium dioxide provides opacity and durability, while helping to ensure the longevity of the paint and protection of the painted surface.
Titanium dioxide can help minimize the brittleness, fading and cracking that can occur in plastics and other materials as a result of light exposure.
Pigment-grade titanium dioxide is use in some cosmetics to aid in hiding blemishes and brightening the skin. Titanium dioxide allows for the use of thinner coatings of make-up material for the same desired effect.
Titanium dioxide is used to coat paper, making it whiter, brighter and more opaque.
The opacity to visible and ultraviolet light offered by titanium dioxide protects food, beverages, supplements and pharmaceuticals from premature degradation, enhancing the longevity of the product. Specific classes of high purity pigment-grade titanium dioxide are also used in drug tablets, capsule coatings and as a decorative aid in some foods.
Nanoscale titanium dioxide becomes transparent to visible light while serving as an efficient UV light absorber. Because the particle size is so small, nano-titanium dioxide does not reflect visible light, but does absorb UV light, enabling a transparent barrier that protects the skin from the sun's harmful rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, using sunscreens containing titanium dioxide can help prevent the occurrence of skin cancer.
Nanoscale titanium dioxide is used as a support material for catalyst applications. Major uses include in the automotive industry to remove harmful exhaust gas emissions and in power stations to remove nitrous oxides.