Isophorone is a clear liquid with a peppermint-like odor. It evaporates faster than water but slower than charcoal starter or paint thinner, and it will not mix completely with water. Isophorone is a man-made chemical for use commercially, but it has been found to occur naturally in cranberries. It is used as a solvent in some printing inks, paints, lacquers, and adhesives.

Structural diagram: National Institutes of Health

Fate & Transport

Isophorone does not remain in the air very long, but can remain in water for possibly more than 20 days. The length of time that isophorone will remain in soil is not known, but it probably is about the same as the length of time it remains in water.

Exposure Pathways

Exposure to isophorone may take place where you work or in very low concentrations at home. Because it is used in some inks, paints, lacquers, and adhesives, people who work with these products may be exposed to isophorone. Isophorone has been found in the drinking water of Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New Orleans at amounts less than 10 parts of isophorone in 1 billion parts of water (10 ppb). In one instance (a screen print shop), isophorone was found in amounts as high as 26 parts in 1 million parts of air (26 ppm), but the usual amounts in the workplace are much lower. At this time, isophorone has been found in at least 9 out of 1,177 National Priorities List (NPL) hazardous waste sites in the United States. Exposure to isophorone at these sites may occur by touching contaminated soil, water, or sediment.


Isophorone can enter your body if you breathe its vapor, have skin contact with it, drink contaminated water, or eat contaminated food. If isophorone is present at a waste site near homes that use local wells as a source of water, the well water could be contaminated with isophorone. Experiments in animals show that after doses by mouth, isophorone enters easily and spreads to many organs of the body, but most of it leaves the body within 24 hours in the breath and in urine. Isophorone may enter the lungs of workers exposed to isophorone where it is used indoors as a solvent. Isophorone disappears quickly from outside air, so the chance of breathing outdoor air contaminated with isophorone is small. If isophorone is spilled at a waste site and evaporates, however, a person nearby may breathe isophorone before it disappears from the air. In addition, soil around waste sites may contain isophorone, and a person, such as a child playing in the dirt, may eat or have skin contact with the contaminated soil. How much isophorone enters the body through the skin is not known.

Health Effects

The only effects of isophorone reported in humans are irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, and possibly dizziness and fatigue. These effects have occurred in workers who breathe vapors of isophorone and other solvents during use in the printing industry. Short-term exposure of animals to high vapor amounts and short- or long-term exposure of animals to high doses by mouth cause death or a shortened life-span. Short-term exposure to high amounts of vapors or high doses by mouth has caused inactivity and coma in animals. Inconclusive studies suggested that isophorone may have caused birth defects and growth retardation in the offspring of rats and mice that breathed the vapors during pregnancy. Some harmful health effects were seen in adult female animals in these studies. It is not known whether isophorone could cause birth defects in humans. In a long-term study in which rats and mice were given high doses of isophorone by mouth, the male rats developed kidney disease and kidney tumors. Male rats also developed tumors in a reproductive gland. Some male mice developed tumors in the liver, in connective tissue, and in lymph glands (tissues of the body that help fight disease), but the evidence was not strong. It is not known whether isophorone causes cancer in humans.

Information excerpted from:

Toxicological Profile for Isophorone December 1989

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services