Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is a liquid plasticiser used in manufacturing plastics and maintaining the structural integrity of plastics. It is used as a solvent, and a vehicle for fragrance and cosmetic ingredients. It was reported in 1995 as an ingredient in 67 formulations in the USA at concentrations ranging from less than 0.1% to 50%.
It was found in bath oils, and bath salts, eye-shadows, perfumes and fragrance, hair sprays, nail polish, and removers, soaps, detergents, after-shave lotions, and skin care lotions.
Toxicity of DEP observed in Mice
In a study where DEP was administered cutaneously to pregnant mice, in daily doses of 500, 1600 and 5600 mg/kg/day for 17 days of gestation and on day 18 the foetuses were removed by caesarean section. DEP produced abnormal behaviour possibly caused by pain in mice in a dose dependent manner. Maternal toxicity was observed at all doses by reduced thymus and spleen weights and at the high dose by increased adrenal weight. Foetal body weight was reduced significantly at the high dose and skeletal examinations showed a higher incidence of cervical and lumbar rib variations at the high dose.
Beware of DEP used in traditional Attar
In India, Attar is a traditional perfume made using sandalwood oil as the base for floral essential oils. Sources suggest that some counterfeit Attar manufacturers are using DEP to replace sandalwood oil. This use of DEP as a replacement for sandalwood oil did not stop in Attar formulation; it has entered the incense industry and even herbal products. In recent times DEP was seen in insect repellent coils, sticks and sprays sold in Australia.
DEP is a regulated compound in Australia, the limits are prescribed for plastics, infant products, and personal cosmetics.
The US department of Health’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has limited the exposure to maximum of 5 mg/m3 for 10 hours; more over it is stated that DEP containing products could produce toxic volatile material.
Reproductive toxicity of DEP has been established in animal experimental models. Currently DEP is not considering as a potent toxic or a carcinogenic compound. However, it is a regulated compound which is considered as a potential hazard to human health and environment.