Altered UV absorbance and cytotoxicity of chlorinated sunscreen agents

Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2012 Dec;31(4):273-9. doi: 10.3109/15569527.2011.647181. Epub 2012 Jan 18.


Sunscreens are widely utilized due to the adverse effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on human health. The safety of their active ingredients as well as that of any modified versions generated during use is thus of concern. Chlorine is used as a chemical disinfectant in swimming pools. Its reactivity suggests sunscreen components might be chlorinated, altering their absorptive and/or cytotoxic properties. To test this hypothesis, the UV-filters oxybenzone, dioxybenzone, and sulisobenzone were reacted with chlorinating agents and their UV spectra analyzed. In all cases, a decrease in UV absorbance was observed. Given that chlorinated compounds can be cytotoxic, the effect of modified UV-filters on cell viability was examined. Chlorinated oxybenzone and dioxybenzone caused significantly more cell death than unchlorinated controls. In contrast, chlorination of sulisobenzone actually reduced cytotoxicity of the parent compound. Exposing a commercially available sunscreen product to chlorine also resulted in decreased UV absorbance, loss of UV protection, and enhanced cytotoxicity. These observations show chlorination of sunscreen active ingredients can dramatically decrease UV absorption and generate derivatives with altered biological properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Benzophenones / chemistry*
  • Benzophenones / toxicity
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chlorine / chemistry*
  • Epithelial Cells / radiation effects
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Halogenation
  • Humans
  • Spectrophotometry, Ultraviolet
  • Sunscreening Agents / chemistry*
  • Sunscreening Agents / toxicity
  • Swimming
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Benzophenones
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • sulisobenzone
  • Chlorine
  • oxybenzone
  • dioxybenzone