Titanium Dioxide in Candy Canes

Do candy canes contain titanium dioxide, a cancer-causing chemical?

  • Published

Claim:   Candy canes contain titanium dioxide, a cancer-causing chemical.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, December 2007]


I am not one to send mass emails, however, after a recent experience I had I must share this with all of you.

Last night I bought a box of mini candy canes from Target. Of course Emmie begged for one the whole way home and when we got home I gave her one. Later I had one also and they were really good. I turned the box over to see the ingredients and saw they were made in China. After all of the news about products from China recently I gave the box to Charles to bring to work. Before Charles distributed them to anyone he noticed an unusual ingredient in the product, Titanium Dioxide. He googled this and checked it out on OSHA. This is an ingredient that is used in paints, plastics and paper products and is a potential

Charles immediately called Target headquarters to question them on the product and left a message. They did return our call and the customer service rep that called me said they would gladly take my return and that she could not give me any scientific explaination as to why the product contained this ingredient!

Please pass this along to others who are probably doing just what I was doing, buying stocking stuffers for their kids! Tell them to look at not only the origin of the product but the INGREDIENTS also!

It frightens me that Target is selling this product! Please check the labels before you buy candy canes at Target or anywhere else.

Origins:   In the latter part of 2007, the news of the day was filled with one tale after another about dangerous vendibles imported from China. Lead found in consumer products and contaminated pet foods grabbed the headlines, but that was just the tip of the iceberg as potentially dangerous levels of chemicals and toxins turned up in a variety of Chinese products, from toothpaste to


The “candy cane” e-mail quoted above, which began circulating in November 2007, plays upon the fear of dealing with consumer goods imported from China, but that fear is apparently misplaced in this case.

Titanium dioxide, the subject of the alert, is a naturally-occurring compound which (for the sake of purity) is refined for use in the manufacture of a variety of consumer goods, both domestic and international. Its chief use is as a pigment: it serves to color items a brilliant white and is therefore commonly found in toothpaste and just about any item where a bright white coloring is called for, such as paints, paper, various foods, and even pills and tablets. It also gets put to work in cosmetics and skin care products, where it is used both as a pigment and as a thickener, and is present in almost every sunblock, where it helps protect the skin from ultraviolet light. Beside imparting a brilliant white to products, the compound is also a noteworthy opacifier, which means it helps make items treated with it opaque (i.e., not allowing light to pass through them).

While we can’t confirm that there was titanium dioxide in the candy canes purchased by the e-mail’s writer, it wouldn’t be at all remarkable if there had been. As consumers, our concept of a desirable candy cane calls for the red of its stripes to stand out in stark contrast to its brilliantly white base, and for the sweet to not only start out opaque, but to remain so even as the confection’s red stripes get licked away. That sounds like a job for titanium dioxide, or as it is sometimes known, titania.

Titanium dioxide is a potential carcinogen, but it hasn’t been demonstrated as posing a cancer risk to consumers through ordinary consumption of food products. In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it an IARC Group 2B carcinogen “possibly carcinogen to humans”: however, that classification applied only to a finding linking respiratory tract cancer in rats to exposure to high concentrations of ultrafine titanium dioxide dust. While that finding would strongly suggest that people who have to deal with the compound at the manufacturing level should be protected from any chance of their breathing in this very fine dust, once titanium dioxide is no longer in a particle state (i.e., has been incorporated into a manufactured product), it’s regarded as safe to eat, touch, or smear on one’s skin.

Barbara “candy is still dandy” Mikkelson

Last updated:   11 December 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Bridges, Andrew.   “FDA OKs Pearly Pigments to Color Pills.”

    Associated Press.   21 July 2006.

    Jacobsen, Pamela.   “There’s WHAT in My Toothpaste?”

    Christian Science Monitor.   26 October 1999   (Home Forum, p. 22).