The Effects of Sunburn – Not Just Skin Deep
by Dr Graham Aldous
Australians lead an outdoor lifestyle, which means significant sun exposure. It is well accepted that UV wavelengths in sunlight are the prime cause of skin cancer which claims around 1,500 lives each year and costs the health system around $300 million. More than 8,300 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year and that number has grown more than 100% since 1985.
UV radiation in small doses has some positive benefits, for instance promoting vitamin D production which is essential for health, but exposure to UV radiation for extended periods of time has serious health consequences. In the short term, painful sunburn can develop, the immune system can be suppressed and the skin damaged through drying, peeling and blistering. In the long-term, UV radiation can cause skin cell damage through the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and direct DNA damage. Studies have also shown UV exposure can cause a generalised, systemic weakening of the skin’s immune response.
The skin is more than just a physical barrier. It is important in producing vitamins and substances that promote health and well being. It has its own immune responses. The skin’s ability to protect itself from foreign invaders and skin cancer relies on a vital and active immune system
The mechanism whereby Ultraviolet radiation induces a suppression of the immune system is complex, being both multilayered and multi cellular. One important aspect of the mechanism involves cells of the immune system, called antigen-presenting cells, resident in the skin. Their function is to capture foreign invaders and carry them to the lymph nodes, where immune response starts.
If exposed to UV radiation, these antigen-presenting cells can be directly damaged or be suppressed by proteins called cytokines leading to a reduced immune response. A fully functional immune system provides the body with a defence mechanism for the elimination of developing cancer cells. If the immune system is compromised then the body’s ability to eliminate these cancers is reduced. The amount of UV radiation required to induce an immune suppression is less than needed to cause sunburn.
The role of the immune system in preventing skin cancer is clearly illustrated in individuals whose immune system has been compromised, such as patients who have had kidney transplants. These patients have a significant increased risk of developing skin cancers.
The importance of UV-induced immunosuppression is understood by the World Health Organisation which has recognised that UV exposure is of considerable concern to human health. It has suggested public health policies should raise awareness of the effects of UV exposure, particularly considerable hazards like immunosuppression.
Realising the importance of protecting the skin against a decreased immune system, Australia’s leading sunscreen developer, Hamilton Laboratories, has developed a world first sunscreen to help protect not only against sunburn but also against UV-induced immune suppression. Hamilton is the international forerunner in sunscreen development, having formulated what is believed to be one of the first commercial sunscreens in the world in 1932.
After more than ten years of extensive research, Hamilton Optimal Enhanced Protection Sunscreen was launched last year and has raised the bar on sunscreen knowledge and innovation. Hamilton Optimal was developed in a collaborative project between Hamilton Laboratories and researchers at The Flinders University of South Australia and Flinders Technologies Pty Ltd. Tests designed to specifically measure the response of the immune system on exposure to UV, clearly showed that Hamilton Optimal could reduce the suppression of the immune system induced by ultraviolet radiation.
Hamilton Optimal is a registered product that makes the claim “UV induced immune suppression may contribute to the development of some skin cancers. Hamilton Optimal sunscreen helps to reduce some of the effects of UV induced immunosuppression” and is the only product in Australia that currently can make that claim.
Hamilton Optimal retails for $15.95 for a 125ML and $18.95 for a 250ML and is available in pharmacies nationally. For stockists phone 1800 882 592.