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Lupus and your skin: Who gets and causes

Who gets lupus?

People of all ages and races get lupus. Women are more likely to get some types of lupus. The following explains who is most likely to get the different types of lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This type of lupus can affect many organs, including the skin, kidneys, and joints.

Women are much more likely to get SLE. It often begins between 15 and 45 years of age.

Smoking may increase the risk of developing SLE.

Cutaneous (affects the skin) lupus: Several types of lupus affect the skin. Most types are more common in women and often appear between 20 and 50 years of age.

Drug-induced lupus: Caused by taking medicine, this type seems more common in men.

Neonatal lupus: With medical help from specialists, mothers who have lupus can give birth to healthy babies. Occasionally, a baby is born with neonatal lupus. This type of lupus usually disappears by the time the baby is 6 to 8 months old and never returns.

A thorough checkup is important if a baby is born with neonatal lupus. Some babies with neonatal lupus have permanent heart disease and need a pacemaker.

Neonatal lupus

This rash may look like the above or cause a ring-like pattern on the skin.

Neonatal rash on baby's cheeks

What causes lupus?

All types of lupus are autoimmune diseases. This means that the immune system attacks the body. When a person has systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the immune system may attack different parts of the body, including the skin, kidneys, and lungs.

What causes people to develop this type of autoimmune disease isn’t certain. It may be a combination of genes, environmental triggers, and hormones.

Anything that triggers your immune system to attack itself can cause lupus to flare. When lupus affects the skin, common triggers for lupus are:

  • Sunlight

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light from tanning beds and fluorescent light bulbs

  • An infection

  • Some medicines

  • Stress

  • Surgery or a serious injury

If you believe that you could have lupus, early diagnosis and treatment are important.

More resources

National Resource Center on Lupus

Planning a pregnancy when you have lupus

Image used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

Costner MI, Sontheimer RD. “Lupus erythematosus” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008:1515-35.

Piette EW, Foering KP, et. al. “The impact of smoking in cutaneous lupus erythematosus. Arch Dermatol. 2012 Mar;148(3): 317–22.