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Messing With Your Immune System: Another Reason to Protect Yourself From the Sun

I get that it is hard to wrap your head around the long term effects of UVR exposure, such as wrinkles and skin cancer, especially for younger generations. But is it really that difficult to consider the immediate effects and impact from this immune suppression and resulting illness?
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I think it is safe to say that the message is out there drawing a direct connection between unprotected exposure of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) to skin aging and skin cancers. From the World Health Organization to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) we know this to be a fact. Yet a recent AAD survey suggests that there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to getting this word out there, particularly with men. In fact, it was found that only 56 percent of men know that there's no such thing as a healthy tan, compared to 76 percent of women. That 54 percent of men know that getting a base tan is not a healthy way to protect your skin from the sun, compared to 70 percent of women, and only 56 percent of men know that skin cancer can occur on areas of the skin not typically exposed to the sun, compared to 65 percent of women. These are not good numbers. At best a C+. So lets try another spin on UVR damage.

We may know that when our immune system is compromised we can more easily get sick, and that babies and older people are already at higher risk. But what you may not know is that UVR messes with everyone's immune system. It doesn't discriminate. Almost immediately after exposure, there is a well documented immune suppression in the skin, preventing your body's ability to recognize bacteria, fungi, and virus in order to counter an offensive, or equally as important stop cancer cells from growing. One of the best documented examples of UVR immunosuppression and infection is with herpes outbreaks. Here's what happens: UV radiation suppresses herpes antigen (the part of herpes that our immune system recognizes as herpes) presentation in skin cells, which in turn prevent the immune system from releasing the much needed signals to control this virus (and others like it). This localized immunosuppression allows sufficient opportunity for the virus to grow and multiply, causing a stigmatizing, cosmetically unappealing (to say the least) recurrence.

I get that it is hard to wrap your head around the long term effects of UVR exposure, such as wrinkles and skin cancer, especially for younger generations. But is it really that difficult to consider the immediate effects and impact from this immune suppression and resulting illness? Missed school, work, social events... cochella, as a result from any number of infections resulting from the sun's ability to make you more susceptible? The answer I am looking for is NO. Protect yourself. Help your immune system help you by:

Seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

Follow these simple tips to stay #lookinggood2016

Adam Friedman, MD
Associate Professor of Dermatology
George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences
New York Academy of Medicine Fellows Ambassador