Screening of phthalate esters in 47 branded perfumes

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2016 Jan;23(1):455-68. doi: 10.1007/s11356-015-5267-z. Epub 2015 Aug 28.


In the last few years, the use of phthalates in perfumes has gained attention because these chemicals are sometimes added intentionally as a solvent and a fixative. Five phthalate esters, dimethyl phthalate (DMP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), and diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), were measured in 47 branded perfumes using headspace solid phase microextraction (SPME) followed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The results revealed considerable amounts of phthalate in all 47 brands with detection frequencies > limit of quantitation in the following order: DEP (47/47) > DMP (47/47) > BBP (47/47) > DEHP (46/47) > DBP (23/45). Of the 47 brands, 68.1, 72.3, 85.1, 36.2, and 6.7 % had DEP, DMP, BBP, DEHP, and DBP levels, respectively, above their reported threshold limits. Of these phthalates, DEP was found to have the highest mean value (1621.625 ppm) and a maximum of 23,649.247 ppm. The use of DEP in the perfume industry is not restricted because it does not pose any known health risks for humans. DMP had the second highest level detected in the perfumes, with a mean value of 30.202 ppm and a maximum of 405.235 ppm. Although DMP may have some uses in cosmetics, it is not as commonly used as DEP, and again, there are no restrictions on its use. The levels of BBP were also high, with a mean value of 8.446 ppm and a maximum of 186.770 ppm. Although the EU banned the use of BBP in cosmetics, 27 of the tested perfumes had BBP levels above the threshold limit of 0.1 ppm. The mean value of DEHP found in this study was 5.962 ppm, and a maximum was 147.536 ppm. In spite of its prohibition by the EU, 7/28 perfumes manufactured in European countries had DEHP levels above the threshold limit of 1 ppm. The DBP levels were generally low, with a mean value of 0.0305 ppm and a maximum value of 0.594 ppm. The EU banned the use of DBP in cosmetics; however, we found three brands that were above the threshold limit of 0.1 ppm, and all were manufactured in European countries. The results of this study are alarming and definitely need to be brought to the attention of the public and health regulators. Although some phthalate compounds are still used in cosmetics, many scientists and environmental activists have argued that phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have not been yet proven to be safe for any use, including cosmetics. Phthalates may also have different degrees of estrogenic modes of action. Furthermore, we should not dismiss the widespread use of phthalates in everyday products and exposure to these chemicals from sources such as food, medications, and other personal care products.

Keywords: Endocrine disruptors; GC-MS; Perfumes; Phthalates; SPME.

MeSH terms

  • Endocrine Disruptors / chemistry
  • Endocrine Disruptors / isolation & purification
  • Esters / chemistry*
  • Esters / isolation & purification
  • Europe
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Perfume / chemistry*
  • Perfume / isolation & purification
  • Phthalic Acids / chemistry*
  • Phthalic Acids / isolation & purification
  • Solid Phase Microextraction


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Esters
  • Perfume
  • Phthalic Acids
  • phthalic acid