Is titanium dioxide safe in sunscreens?

Love your site! I was surprised you use products with titanium dioxide for added sunscreen. Titanium dioxide has been linked to frontal fibrosing alopecia which is the scarring type. It is increasing in women due to titanium dioxide in sunscreen. Is it ok to use?

Okay I love it when you all ask controversial questions.  And I really do wish we could all just have an in person dialogue.  Wouldn’t it be great?

We (science/medicine) really don’t know what causes frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA).  FFA has been around for at least 100 years, long before titanium was used in sunscreens.  But….you raise a good question.  Why is it increasing?  Since we don’t know, and as humans we want explanations, one theory is that it’s the titanium.

We also know that very tight hairstyles put continued “traction” on the hair root, and can be a cause FFA.  What happens is first the hair starts to fall out a little from the traction stress.  This is called “traction alopecia.”  Alopecia is just the medical term for hair loss.   Eventually, the hair root/bulb itself is permanently damaged and scars.  The hair won’t grow back when scarring occurs, as in FFA.  There are other causes of scarring hair loss, and a biopsy is needed to tell which type you might have.

What hairstyles can do this?   If too tight, hair extensions over a long period of time, cornrowing, very tight buns and ponytails worn daily for long periods.  You get the idea. The hair root doesn’t like continued pulling on it!  My opinion is that this probably has more to do with the increase.

We do carry sunscreens with it, because so far I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s harmful, but we watch this closely at our clinic and on SkinTour.   Partly, many of our patients need a good UVA blocker in their sunscreen, and they really can’t use pure zinc because it’s too chalky on their skin tone.

Zinc is clearly the best sunscreen ingredient because:

  • It’s the most natural.
  • It blocks, more than any other ingredient, the most UVB and UVA radiation
  • It’s better for our environment.

Here’s what I’m concerned about with titanium. 

My concern is that sunscreen manufacturers are currently NOT required to tell us whether the titanium is a nanoparticle. Many sunscreens with titanium ARE nano now.  Nanoparticles can pass into the bloodstream, and possibly into other organs, including the brain.  Microparticles generally do not.  My opinion is that we need to be very careful about nanoparticles that are not naturally found in our bodies.  And that avoiding nano titanium is not a bad idea, until we know more about where the nano version is going.  The micro versions are fine, in my opinion, because they don’t travel in the body the same way.  As much as we can, at our clinic, and on SkinTour, we are using sunscreens that are as safe as possible.

Hope this helps,
Dr. Brandith Irwin
Founder, SkinTour
Director, Madison Skin & Laser Center
Follow my skin tips and travels on Instagram!


Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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