Lupus and the Sun: Protect Your Skin

Applying sunscreen

If you have lupus, protecting your skin from ultraviolet rays is an important way to help you cope with the symptoms of this autoimmune disease.

Lupus can affect many of your organs, including your joints, heart, kidneys and brain, and the symptoms you may experience depend on where the disease strikes.

But one symptom that affects nearly everyone who has the disease is sensitivity to light, leading to skin rashes. This sensitivity also may cause some people with lupus to feel ill after they’ve been exposed to sunlight. For example, you might develop a migraine, joint pain or a flare up of other symptoms.

If you don’t experience any symptoms soon after being in the sun, don’t think you’re in the clear. It takes a while for the immune response to develop, so you might not see a rash or another side-effect the same day.

The Culprit in Sunlight

The ultraviolet waves in sunlight damage skin cells. In healthy people, the dead cells are cleared and sunburn develops. In people with lupus, skin cells are more sensitive to sun damage and the dead cells aren’t cleared as well as in healthy people.

As a result, the dying cells cause an inflammation, which the body fights with an immune response that can manifest itself as a rash or possibly problems in other parts of the body.

About 60 percent of people with lupus get sun-induced rashes and another 10 to 20 percent complain of other problems related to their sun exposure.

Important Precautions

Even if you're one of the few people with lupus who don’t appear to be affected by sunlight, it’s best to take a cautious approach: Wear protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen (SPF of at least 30) when you’re in the sun.

In addition, you might want to avoid travel to hot, sunny countries or mountainous areas that have more UV light. Also be aware that increased UV exposure can occur with snow, sea or other water reflecting light on the body.

Since we don’t know what causes lupus, or why some people get certain symptoms and others don’t, the goal is to control the symptoms. Protecting your skin is one of the easiest ways of avoiding a known trigger of other problems related to lupus.

author name

Rebecca M. Shepherd, MD, FACP

Rebecca M. Shepherd, MD, FACP is a physician with Arthritis & Rheumatology. Dr. Shepherd’s areas of expertise include osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune disease.

Education: Medical School–Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Residency and fellowship–Washington University.

Call: 717-299-1301

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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