Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 24, Issue 30, pp 23903–23914 | Cite as

Evaluating the potential genotoxicity of phthalates esters (PAEs) in perfumes using in vitro assays

  • Iman Al-Saleh
  • Tahreer Al-Rajudi
  • Ghofran Al-Qudaihi
  • Pulicat Manogaran
Research Article


We previously reported high levels of phthalate esters (PAEs) added as solvents or fixatives in 47 brands of perfumes. Diethyl phthalate was the most abundant compound (0.232–23,649 ppm), and 83.3% of the perfumes had levels >1 ppm, the threshold limit cited by a Greenpeace investigation. All samples had dimethyl phthalate levels higher than its threshold limit of 0.1 ppm, and 88, 38, and 7% of the perfumes had benzyl butyl phthalate, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, and dibutyl phthalate levels, respectively, above their threshold limits. The role of PAEs as endocrine disruptors has been well documented, but their effect on genotoxic behavior has received little attention. We used in vitro single-cell gel electrophoresis (comet) and micronucleus (MN) assays with human lymphoblastoid TK6 cells to evaluate the genotoxic potency of 42 of the same perfumes and to determine its association with PAEs. All perfumes induced more DNA damage than a negative control (NEG), ≥ 90% of the samples caused more damage than cells treated with the vehicles possibly used in perfume’s preparations such as methanol (ME) and ethanol (ET), and 11.6% of the perfumes caused more DNA damage than a positive control (hydrogen peroxide). Chromosome breakage expressed as MN frequency was higher in cells treated with 71.4, 64.3, 57.1, and 4.8% of the perfumes than in NEG, cells treated with ME or ET, and another positive control (x-rays), respectively. The genotoxic responses in the comet and MN assays were not correlated. The comet assay indicated that the damage in TK6 cells treated with five PAEs at concentrations of 0.05 and 0.2 ppm either individually or as a mixture did not differ significantly from the damage in cells treated with the perfumes. Unlike the comet assay, the sensitivity of the MN assay to PAEs was weak at both low and high concentrations, and MN frequencies were generally low. This study demonstrates for the first time the possible contribution of PAEs in perfumes to DNA damage and suggests that their use as solvents or fixatives should be regulated. Other ingredients with mutagenic/genotoxic properties, however, may also have contributed to the DNA damage. Future studies should focus on applying a series of assays that use different cellular models with various endpoints to identify the spectrum of genotoxic mechanisms involved.


Perfumes Phthalate esters Genotoxicity Comet assay Micronucleus test 



The authors acknowledge the roles of (1) Saudi Food and Drug Authorities in sample collection and (2) Sara Bin Judia and Fareed Mahyoub from the Biomedical Physics Department, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre for irradiating the cells.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Health ProgramKing Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research CentreRiyadhSaudi Arabia
  2. 2.Stem Cell and Tissue Re-Engineering ProgramKing Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research CentreRiyadhSaudi Arabia

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