sun safetyAs we welcome the sun again and haul out the sprinklers and pool noodles, it is vital for our health and safety that we approach our relationship with the rays with caution. Doctors, health publications, and sunscreen manufacturers have all ingrained in us the threat of skin cancer in the face of excessive sun exposure. However, an equally alarming risk of spending too much time in the sun—immunosuppression—is gaining serious attention.

Immunosuppression refers to the negative effects sun exposure can have on our body’s immunity. Research has shown that UV radiation weakens the body’s whole immune system. The human skin is home to a number of important immune system cells that are created by tissues elsewhere in the body. When we expose any part of our skin to UV rays, a number of cellular changes take place in our epidermal cells – most worryingly the destruction of Langerhans cells (cells that regulate other immune cells through chemical messengers) and the decrease of our bloodstream’s T-cells (white blood cells essential for human immunity). This negative effect increases as we age.

A suppressed immune system encourages the development and spread of tumors (not limited to skin cancer), makes us more vulnerable to infectious diseases, activates viruses already present on the skin and makes vaccines less effective.

As our planet’s ozone layer continues to thin, the threats presented by UV ray exposure will only intensify. Our precautionary measures must follow suit. Protect yourself by limiting sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV radiation is strongest. Wear protective clothing and use sunscreen labeled SPF 30 or greater. “Broad-spectrum” sunscreens will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays and are highly recommended.

There is no need to eliminate all sun exposure, as a moderate amount of sunlight can help our bodies create Vitamin D, treat certain skin conditions, and promote cardiovascular health. The key is to commit to safe sun practices all season long, for life. Your immune system will thank you.

Read more about the health effects of UV rays.