Viral TikTok claims titanium dioxide in tampons causes cancer: Is there any evidence to back this up?

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  • TikTok users are claiming tampons contain a chemical compound that may damage reproductive health and cause cancer.
  • The ingredient, titanium dioxide, is used in thousands of food and cosmetic products worldwide.
  • While past research suggests a link between the compound and cancer, these studies have only been done in mice.

A viral TikTok video claiming tampons containing titanium dioxide, which can cause cancer, has sparked concern among thousands of people.

The video, which was posted on 27 July this year, has been viewed more than 5.5 million times.

Just three days later, another TikTok user warned against using tampons.

Referring to the original video, the woman said: "A girl… has been using these small plastic containers of these tampons. Now, she's had two weeks' worth of excessive bleeding with extreme pain, ovarian cysts and irreversible uterine damage. She's getting checked for… cancer… because one of the ingredients on the back of her container is titanium dioxide which, if you don't know, causes cancer."

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Her video has been viewed 1.5 million times and has nearly 31 000 comments.

While titanium dioxide isn't listed under the ingredients of her tampons, she said "it's getting thrown out regardless". 

The videos have led to many people questioning why tampons would contain a chemical compound that's widely used as a whitening agent. 

Present in thousands of products

A few weeks ago, the ingredient also made the rounds after a California man filed a class-action lawsuit and accused Mars Inc, the parent company of Skittles, of including the ingredient in its sweets. Titanium dioxide (or TiO2) is also an additive that's present in thousands of food products.  

READ MORE | Skittles: US lawsuit claims sweets are 'unfit for human consumption' - experts weigh in

News24 previously reported the chemical was found in many of our everyday items, including food, cosmetics and household items, such as coffee creamers, dairy products, sunscreens, paints and toothpastes.

While some countries are less accepting of its use, the US Food and Drug Administration approved its use in regulated amounts: it must not exceed 1% of the food's weight and up to 25% of a sunscreen's concentration, for example.

What evidence suggests

As far as titanium dioxide in menstrual products go, experts across fields appear to have mixed views on its safety, but no robust evidence to date suggests placing the ingredient in tampons can lead to reproductive health problems, such as ovarian cysts. 

Past research has pointed to the "genotoxicity" of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which can damage DNA over time and lead to cell mutations, potentially causing cancer.  

Another study has also suggested a link between the inhalation of the ingredient, but these studies have been done in mice.  

While animal models can be predictive for humans, this is not always the case. For example, drugs tested in mice sometimes fail in human clinical trials, as explained by Harvard Health

"This misconception is a good example of pseudoscience, when something sounds plausible because of some grain of truth but misinterprets actual scientific evidence into something that is not true," Dr Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, told Healthline.

Experts' take

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which aims to educate people about the problem of toxic chemicals in cosmetics, also noted titanium dioxide did not penetrate skin, and therefore "poses no local or systemic risk to human health" from skin exposure.

A spokesperson for Proctor and Gamble, which manufactures the L. tampons brand mentioned in the original TikTok video, told Business Insider the chemical represented less than 0.1% of all ingredients in the product. 

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"It's important to know that our tampons are safe to use," he said. "Our high-quality ingredients are rigorously tested and meet strict safety and government regulations around the world." 

But a professor of microbiology and pathology at the NYU School of Medicine told Insider it was possible the chemical could be absorbed into the bloodstream through the vagina's lining.

Dr Philip Tierno said the safest bet would be to use pads.  

Another expert, however, took to her Instagram page to call people out on "scaring people for clicks".  

In the video, Dr Jen Gunter, an American gynaecologist, said the chemical did not cause reproductive harm when it was on a tampon strain and people were "fear mongering and need to learn some science".

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