Discoloration of historical plastic objects: New insight into the degradation of β-naphthol pigment lakes

Anna Micheluz, Eva Mariasole Angelin, João Almeida Lopes, Maria João Melo, Marisa Pamplona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Light is a determining factor in the discoloration of plastics, and photodegradation processes can affect the molecular structures of both the polymer and colorants. Limited studies focused on the discoloration of heritage plastics in conservation science. This work investigated the discoloration of red historical polyethylene (PE) objects colored with PR 48:2 and PR 53:1. High-density and low-density PE reference polymers, neat pigment powders, and historical samples were assessed before and after accelerated photoaging. The applied methodology provided insight into the individual light-susceptibility of polyethylenes, organic pigment lakes, and their combined effect in the photoaging of historical plastic formulations. After light exposure, both PE references and historical samples yellowed, PR53:1 faded, and PR 48:2 darkened; however, both organic pigments faded severely in the historical samples. This highlights the role played by the plastic binder likely facilitating the pigment photofading. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and mass spectrometry techniques—EGA-MS, PY-GC/MS, and TD-GC/MS—were successfully employed for characterizing the plastic formulations and degradation. The identification of phthalic compounds in both aged β-naphthol powders opens new venues for studies on their degradation. This work’s approach and analytical methods in studying the discoloration of historical plastics are novel, proving their efficacy, reliability, and potentiality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2278
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2021


  • Colorant degradation
  • Discoloration
  • EGA-MS
  • Fading
  • Historical plastic objects
  • Photodegradation
  • Py-GC/MS
  • TD-GC/MS
  • β-naphthol pigment lakes


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