Ubiquitous and Widely-Used: Titanium Dioxide

We love digging deep into the science that surrounds us each and everyday.  When something catches our eye, whether it’s hair dye or glow sticks, we dive in and let our curiosity take us away. While we’re learning about these topics, we often find interesting ties back to our work in polymer chemistry and testing.

One everyday material you may not be as familiar with is titanium dioxide. This naturally occurring oxide is something you undoubtedly come in contact with daily– it is in everything from white work trucks to cosmetics. Most people don’t know much about it, so we thought we’d share and invite you to geek-out with us over this ubiquitous and versatile material!

Where does Titanium Dioxide come from?

Titanium dioxide is sourced from Ilmenite, an ore of titanium. This ore is mined and then the titanium dioxide is extracted from it. From there, it goes into a range of products used in many industries. Unlike pure titanium, which is fairly rare and prized for its strength to weight ratio, this oxide can be mined fairly easily.

The wide range of uses is made possible, in part, by this refining process. When titanium dioxide is refined to a nanoparticle size (0.2-100 nanometers), it loses its white pigmentation but retains the ability to block UV radiation. As you can probably imagine, this is very useful in cosmetics where the aim is to blend in with skin and still act as sunblock. We see this quite often in lip balm.

How is Titanium Dioxide Used?

One primary use of titanium dioxide is in sunscreen and other UV blocking applications. Traditionally, zinc oxide has been used in sunscreen. When you think of a sunscreen, zinc oxide is what’s responsible for the stereotypical image of a lifeguard with a running down his nose. Titanium dioxide is equally suited to the task of blocking UV rays, without leaving the white streak, so many companies have adopted this as a standard ingredient.

Most people probably cross paths with titanium dioxide at least once a day. It’s what makes toothpaste and many cosmetic products white. It can also be added to otherwise transparent substances, like the oils in lotions, and act an opacifier. In medicine, Titanium dioxide is a component of many capsules, tablets, and liquid medicines. It’s even used in many modern tattoo inks.

Titanium dioxide is naturally a white, powdery substance that can be refined for a variety of uses. Because of its bright white appearance and insolubility in water, it’s what makes many paints and pigments bright. Since titanium dioxide has a very high refractive index and is relatively abundant, many companies use it for commercial paints. A wide range of bright whites are essential in home design and construction, which makes titanium dioxide a perfect candidate for this task. It’s also added to a range of colored paints, pigments, and plastics when brightness and clarity are needed.

When Polymers Meet Metals

Titanium dioxide is a metal — and we are experts in polymer testing — which may leave you a bit curious about why we see it so often and are also excited about this substance. Polymer materials are able to be used in a variety of applications thanks to their additives package. Additives are what enhance strength, add color, and prevent against UV-degradation in many products that we test everyday. Titanium dioxide is a very common additive in many of the polymers we see regularly in our labs.

We’re Ready for Your Challenge

While we are Polymer Solutions Incorporated, we do have a full-time metals expert on our team, ready and excited for projects that involve metallic materials. We provide expert analysis and testing that fully accommodates our client’s needs, no matter what the material. We also perform additives analysis on a daily basis, which helps our clients better understand their products and the problems they face–to include those related to titanium dioxide.

Contact us with your materials science challenges–big and small–and allow our team to provide the critical data set and expertise you require.

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