WVE’s Director of Science and Research, Alex Scranton, addresses your questions about titanium dioxide in tampons and pads in this session of #AskAlex.
There are a number of folks online recently worried about finding titanium dioxide as an ingredient in their tampons and pads – and wondering if it is related to some health conditions they are experiencing like ovarian cysts, miscarriages, UTIs and more. Understandably, some folks are pretty mad, some are very concerned. Once again we are reminded how important it is that we have ingredient information, and how woefully under-researched the potential impacts that ingredients used in menstrual products and intimate care products might be having on vaginal and vulvar health.
Most brands only started listing their ingredients on their packages for the first time late last year (2021) thanks to a new law in New York state. I have been researching health impacts of pads and tampons for nearly a decade, so I love having all this new ingredient info. Titanium dioxide was news to me; no companies have ever disclosed using it before.
Titanium dioxide is common chemical. It gets used in a LOT of products and it’s probably been in tampons and pads for a long time (just never listed on the label before). It’s used in sunscreen, all kinds of cosmetics, medications, and you’ll find it in food. So there are lots of ways to be exposed to this chemical.
But it is becoming a controversial chemical.
Here’s what we know about exposure to titanium dioxide right now: If you inhale titanium dioxide particles — it can possibly lead to lung cancer – at least we know it causes lung cancer in rats . Also, it may be genotoxic, meaning it can harm your DNA. Just last year the European Food Safety Authority concluded that titanium dioxide can no longer be considered safe in food, because of genotoxicity concerns .
So, what about if you are exposed because your tampons or pads contain titanium dioxide?
Well, unfortunately, we just don’t know if that causes health effects.There is no published research available that has ever examined the impacts of vaginal or vulvar exposure to titanium dioxide. None. So while on the one hand no study has positively linked titanium dioxide exposure to ovarian cancer, or miscarriages, or UTIs – we also simply don’t have the science to assure us that this kind of exposure is perfectly safe either. And certainly there are a few red flags with titanium dioxide, so it’s not unreasonable to be concerned. And it’s certainly worth asking: Is it worth a potential risk worth to have a tampon or pad that’s just a little more white before you use it?
What is great is that we are reading the ingredients on these products and asking important questions about their safety. And that is what I encourage you all to do – to contact the manufacturers of the products you use. Ask them how they are ensuring the safety of their tampons and pads. What do they know about titanium dioxide that assures them it’s safe? And see what they say. Then you can make your own decision.
The nice thing is that finally companies are at least required to tell you what is in their products. This is why we fight tirelessly for ingredient transparency and your right to know! So you can choose whether or not you want to accept a possible risk – to have a whiter tampon OR choose a brand that doesn’t include it.
Keep in mind that sometimes titanium dioxide might also be listed as “white pigment” or “pigment white 6” so look for those terms as well.
For all I know at this time, titanium dioxide in pads and tampons might be just fine, but I’m not sure we have the science to prove it. So companies need to come forward and explain what gives them confidence in using it. We all deserve safe products – and all you need to do is ask.
To learn more about ingredients in period care products, check out WVE’s new report: What’s in Your Period Product? An investigation of ingredients disclosed on product labels.
 EFSA (2021) Titanium dioxide: E171 no longer considered safe when used as a food additive. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/titanium-dioxide-e171-no-longer-considered-safe-when-used-food-additive