• Mars Inc., the maker of Skittles, is facing a lawsuit in California over its use of titanium dioxide.
  • The ingredient is known to be toxic, and the company promised in 2016 to stop using it.
  • Titanium dioxide helps give colors a brighter appearance, and is commonly used in mineral sunscreen.

Skittles is facing legal action over its alleged use of a toxic chemical found in artificial coloring. 

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the Northern District of California, plaintiff Jen ile Thames claims that Mars Inc., parent company of Skittles, is deceiving customers and putting their health at risk over its continued use of titanium dioxide for its candy's trademark hues. The suit also takes issue with the package design, which it says hinders the efforts of "reasonable consumers" to inform themselves.

Mars pledged to phase out the use of titanium dioxide, or TiO2, in 2016, stating at the time that it would remove the chemical and all artificial colorings from its products over the next five years.

In the lawsuit, Thames claims she purchased a package of Skittles in April of this year that still contained TiO2.The chemical is also currently listed in the product's online ingredient lists, including at major retailers like CVS

A Mars spokesperson told Insider the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Titanium dioxide is commonly used in industrial applications such as paints, plastics, inks, adhesives, and roofing materials. It is also a popular component of mineral sunscreens.

The use of TiO2 in food is more controversial, and safety regulators have noted that the nanoparticles that make it so effective as a sunblock are indigestible by humans. Researchers have found its presence in the body has led to a host of health ailments, including alterations to DNA, chromosomal damage, inflammation, and cell neurosis.

A full ban on TiO2 in food products went into effect in France in 2020, and the European Union has a similar policy slated to go into effect next month. Mars has said it would comply with France's law, according to the lawsuit.

Thames' lawyers are seeking class-action status that covers all of Skittles' US retail customers, a number they say is too numerous to estimate. Skittles sold an estimated $185 million in the US in 2017, making it the nation's top non-chocolate chewy candy.

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