Silicon dioxide, also known as silica, is an oxide of silicon with the chemical formula SiO2, most commonly found in nature as quartz and in various living organisms. In many parts of the world, silica is the major constituent of sand. Silica is one of the most complex and most abundant families of materials, existing as a compound of several minerals and as synthetic product. Notable examples include fused quartz, fumed silica, silica gel, and aerogels. It is used in structural materials, microelectronics (as an electrical insulator), and as components in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
Inhaling finely divided crystalline silica is toxic and can lead to severe inflammation of the lung tissue, silicosis, bronchitis, lung cancer, and systemic autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Inhalation of amorphous silicon dioxide, in high doses, leads to non-permanent short-term inflammation, where all effects heal.
Food and pharmaceutical applications
Silica is a common additive in food production, where it is used primarily as a flow agent in powdered foods, or to adsorb water in hygroscopic applications. It is used as an anti-caking agent in powdered foods such as spices and non-dairy coffee creamer. It is the primary component of diatomaceous earth. Colloidal silica is also used as a wine, beer, and juice fining agent. It has the E number reference E551.
In pharmaceutical products, silica aids powder flow when tablets are formed.
In cosmetics, it is useful for its light-diffusing properties and natural absorbency.
Hydrated silica is used in toothpaste as a hard abrasive to remove tooth plaque.