Lupus and your skin: Tips to reduce flares
How to care for your skin if you have lupus
Medications for lupus — a long-term autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks different parts of their body, including their skin — are currently being explored as a treatment for COVID-19 patients. This may significantly limit access to the drugs by those who depend on it to manage their health conditions.
While nothing can substitute for an effective treatment agreed upon between a patient and their physician, practicing certain health habits may prevent the condition from worsening and lessen the risk of long-term side effects. To help care for your skin during the pandemic and beyond, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends these tips from board-certified dermatologists.
Dermatologists share the following tips with their patients who have lupus on their skin. Some tips may seem inconvenient, but the payoff can make these lifestyle changes worthwhile.
These tips can help you:
Prevent lupus from getting worse
Lessen your risk of long-term skin problems and other conditions
Lower your risk of kidney disease
10 lifestyle changes that can help
Protect your skin from the sun. When lupus affects your skin, you may be very sensitive to the sun. Just a short amount of time in the sun can cause lupus to flare or worsen.
To protect your skin, dermatologists recommend the following:
Apply sunscreen every day before going outdoors.
The sunscreen should offer:
If you lie in the sun or use tanning beds, stop. Tanning exposes you to harmful UV rays. The UV rays that tanning beds emit can be stronger than the sun’s rays. This intense exposure can cause lupus to flare. It can eventually lead to organ failure.
If you smoke, quit. Findings from research studies suggest that smoking worsens cutaneous lupus and makes some medicines used to treat it less effective, or ineffective. Studies have also shown that when patients quit smoking, the medicine that failed to clear their rashes and other skin problems starts to work.
Quitting can seem overwhelming. You’ll find resources to help you quit at smokefree.gov.
Stop touching the patches and rashes on your skin. When you touch, rub, or pick at the rashes, sores, and patches, new ones can develop.
Replace fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and halogen light bulbs. These light bulbs emit some UV light. If you are very light sensitive, this UV light can cause a flare or itchy skin. Replacing these bulbs with an incandescent bulb can help.
If you cannot replace the bulbs, a UV light filter may help. Some people say this filter reduces the skin flares and itching that occur when they spend hours under fluorescent lights, such as at work.
If you cannot replace bulbs or get a UV filter, you may want to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sun-protective clothing while indoors.
Before taking a medicine, ask if it can increase light sensitivity. Some medicines make a person more light sensitive. If the medicine makes people more light sensitive, ask your doctor if you could take another medicine.
Ask your dermatologist if you need a vitamin D supplement. Our bodies need vitamin D for healthy bones. If you are not getting enough, you may need to take a supplement. A blood test can tell your dermatologist whether you’re getting enough vitamin D.
If you see anything on your skin that is changing in size, shape, or color, make an appointment to see your dermatologist. These can be signs of skin cancer. Some types of cutaneous lupus increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer. With early detection and treatment, skin cancer has a high cure rate.
Before trying an herb, vitamin, or other alternative treatment, tell your dermatologist. Some of these may interact with medicine you use to treat lupus on your skin, causing unwanted side effects.
Connect with others who have lupus. You can find others who have lupus on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
You may find a lupus support group in your area or online at:
Lupus Foundation of America - Local chapters across the U.S.
SPF of 30 or higher
To get the protection you need:
Apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before you step outside
Slather sunscreen on all skin that will be exposed to the sun, such as your face and hands
The sunlight that hits your skin when you walk to the bus stop or ride in a car can cause lupus to flare.
Wear sun-protective clothing every day.
Your dermatologist can recommend clothing that can do this. You can also find sun-protective clothing online.
Seek shade when outdoors.
This is especially important if you must be outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sun’s rays are strongest during this time.
Even in the shade, you should wear sun-protective clothing and reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.
Even on overcast days and in the winter, the sun’s rays can trigger lupus.
If you spend a lot of time in the car or sit next to a window, you should also protect your skin from the sun. Regular glass lets in some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Sun protection is essential
If you have lupus, protecting your skin from the sun every day with sun-protective clothing and sunscreen can prevent lupus from worsening.
Klein R, Moghadam-Kia S, et al. “Quality of life in cutaneous lupus erythematosus.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011 May;64(5):849-58.
Kuhn A, Gensch K, et. al. “Photoprotective effects of a broad-spectrum sunscreen in ultraviolet-induced cutaneous lupus erythematosus: A randomized, vehicle-controlled, double-blind study.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011 Jan;64(1):37-48.
Kuhn A, Rutland V, et al. “Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: Update of therapeutic options: Part 1.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2011 Dec;65(6):179-93.
Okon LG, Werth VP, “Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: Diagnosis and treatment.” Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Jun; 27(3): 391–404.