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Sun, skin and immune system

Posted Jul 01 2010 2:17pm

swimI’m gonna be hanging out in lake country in northwest Iowa this weekend, enjoying  the Fourth of July. I’ll be outside a lot, too. Swimming. Golfing. Outdoor feasting.  Concerts. So I’ll be wearing a lot of topical sunscreen. But I got to wondering: I know that prolonged, unprotected sun exposure can damage your immune system (the skin, with immune agents contained within, is a first-line defender). But what if you have a healthy, balanced immune system? Will that provide extra protection against skin damage or damage to the immune system?

The answer is….I don’t really know. Certainly, a weak immune function can contribute to skin problems . This same source also says that sunlight on the skin can trigger “immune system cells to come to the skin surface to repair any UV damage that occurs in response to sunlight…If we don’t damage it too much, the skin pretty much takes care of itself.” I like that.

On the other hand, in keeping with the immune balance tenets, one paper suggests that suppression of immune response in the skin after sun exposure may be a good thing. Over-reactive immune response in the skin can lead to various skin problems. Yet on the other hand, too much immunosuppression–perhaps caused by large amounts of UV light that damage the suppressor cells that normally would be suppressing– may lead to malignant and pre-malignant  lesions.

So who the heck knows. I think the better balanced you are, the better your chances to stay healthy in the sun as long as you don’t overdo it.

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