chemical information

21145-77-7, 406-02-1, 1506-02-1

Chemical Class:


Chemical SubClass

Polycyclic Musks

Found in these people:

Suzie Canales, Jean Salone, Jennifer Hill-Kelley, Dr. Beverly Wright, Vivian Chang, Adult #108, Cord Blood Sample 12, Cord Blood Sample 13, Cord Blood Sample 18, Cord Blood Sample 20, Anonymous Adult 2, Anonymous Adult 6, Anonymous Adult 7, Anonymous Adult 9, Anonymous Adult 12, Anonymous Adult 13, Anonymous Adult 18, Anonymous Adult 20, Anonymous Adult 21

Found in these locations:

Corpus Christi, TX; Green Bay, WI; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; Chicago, IL; New York, NY; Lamont, FL; Atlanta, GA; Mountain View, CA; Stanford, CA; Alamo, CA; Fallbrook, CA

Exposure routes:

Synthetic musk fragrance found in cosmetics and personal care products, detergents, cigarettes.


Tonalide is a synthetic polycyclic musk that is used in a wide variety of consumer products, including cosmetics, detergents, toiletries, and cigarettes (Daughton 1999). Exposure can take place through dermal absorption, inhalation, and ingestion. Dermal absorption can occur through use of consumer products that are applied directly to the skin; inhalation can occur through use of aerosolized consumer products that contain the chemical, or through occupational exposure (Daughton 1999). Tonalide is one of the most commonly produced of the polycyclic musks, and exposure in the general population is widespread.

Tonalide is lipophilic, or "fat-loving," and has been found in the serum, fatty tissue, and breast milk of humans (Muller 1996; Rimkus 1996; TNO 2004, 2005; Duedahl-Olesen 2005; Hutter 2005; Kannan 2005). Tonalide has also been found in water and sediment samples from lakes in the United States (Fromme 2001; Peck 2004, 2006), where it can enter into the food chain and bioaccumulate in fish (Balk 1999; Fromme 2001; Duedahl-Olesen 2005).

Very little is known about the long term toxic effects of human exposure to Tonalide. Recent studies using human cells indicate that Tonalide may have hormone disrupting effects in humans (Seinen 1999; Bitsch 2002). Animal and bioassay studies provide further evidence that Tonalide may disrupt hormone systems (Seinen 1999; Schreurs 2004, 2005a, b).

Another study, using aquatic organisms, showed that exposure to Traseolide can cause long term inhibition of specific transporters in cell walls that are responsible for keeping toxic molecules from entering the cell (Luckenbach 2005). This effect, observed to last over 1 to 2 days after exposure, could result in an accumulation of other toxic substances within cells, and greater levels of cell damage caused by these other substances. These same cell wall transporters are found in human tissue as well; further studies should be conducted to investigate any implications of these findings for human health (Luckenbach 2005).

Other animal studies indicate that Tonalide is highly toxic to some aquatic organisms (Balk 1999; Carlsson 2004), even at low levels (Wollenberger 2003). Another investigation found that rats that were given a single high dose of tonalide orally developed acute liver damage (Steinberg 1999). The existing body of evidence concerning the toxic effects caused by Tonalide and related compounds in a variety of animal species indicates a critical need for comprehensive safety tests of this chemical.


Synthetic fragrance in cosmetics, detergents, cigarettes. Suspected hormone disruptor. Prevents cells from blocking entry of toxins in animal study. Bioaccumulative.

Tonalide has been found in 19 of the 52 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies.

Top health concerns for Tonalide (References)

health concern or target organ weight of evidence
Endocrine systemlimited

Other health concerns for Tonalide (References)

health concern or target organ weight of evidence
Gastrointestinal (including liver)unknown
Chronic effects, generalunknown

Other relevant risk considerations for Tonalide (References)

Wildlife and environmental toxicity

Results for Tonalide

Tonalide was measured in different units for some of the studies. Overall it was found in 19 of 52 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies. The bars below are grouped by units:

in blood serum (wet weight)

Showing results from EWG Study #10, cosmetic chemicals in teens, EWG/Commonweal Study #7, consumer product chemicals in adults and teens, Other Body Burden Studies, Adult Minority Leader Report

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 0.109 ng/g (wet weight) in blood serum
  • found in 15 of 42 people in the group
ng/g (wet weight) in blood serum 1.6

Tonalide results

in whole blood (wet weight)

Showing results from Pollution in Minority Newborns

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 0.147 ng/g (wet weight) in whole blood
  • found in 4 of 10 people in the group
ng/g (wet weight) in whole blood 0.84

Tonalide results

Detailed toxicity classifications (References)

classification governing entity/references
Endocrine disruptor - suspected or limited evidenceSeinen, W., J. G. Lemmen, et al. (1999). "AHTN and HHCB show weak estrogenic--but no uterotrophic activity." Toxicol Lett 111(1-2): 161-8.
Gastrointestinal system toxicity - weight of evidence unknown/unassessedSteinberg, P., T. Fischer, et al. (1999). "Acute hepatotoxicity of the polycyclic musk 7-acetyl-1,1,3,4,4,6-hexamethyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydronaphtaline (AHTN)." Toxicol Lett 111(1-2): 151-60.
Endocrine disruptor - suspected or limited evidenceSchreurs, R. H., E. Sonneveld, et al. (2005b). "Interaction of polycyclic musks and UV filters with the estrogen receptor (ER), androgen receptor (AR), and progesterone receptor (PR) in reporter gene bioassays." Toxicol Sci 83(2): 264-72.
Endocrine disruptor - suspected or limited evidenceSchreurs, R. H., E. Sonneveld, et al. (2005a). "Examination of the in vitro (anti)estrogenic, (anti)androgenic and (anti)dioxin-like activities of tetralin, indane and isochroman derivatives using receptor-specific bioassays." Toxicol Lett 156(2): 261-75.
Endocrine disruptor - suspected or limited evidenceBitsch, N., C. Dudas, et al. (2002). "Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen assay using human mcf-7 cells." Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 43(3): 257-64.
Chronic effects, general - weight of evidence unknown/unassessedLuckenbach, T. and D. Epel (2005). "Nitromusk and polycyclic musk compounds as long-term inhibitors of cellular xenobiotic defense systems mediated by multidrug transporters." Environ Health Perspect 113(1): 17-24.
Wildlife and environmental toxicityBalk F, Ford RA. 1999. Environmental risk assessment for the polycyclic musks AHTN and HHCB in the EU. I. Fate and exposure assessment. Toxicology letters 111(1-2): 57-79. Wollenberger L, Breitholtz M, Ole Kusk K, Bengtsson BE. 2003. Inhibition of larval development of the marine copepod Acartia tonsa by four synthetic musk substances. Sci Total Environ 305(1-3): 53-64. Carlsson G, Norrgren L. 2004. Synthetic musk toxicity to early life stages of zebrafish (Danio rerio). Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 46(1): 102-105.