Donate For AAD Members Search

Go to AAD Home

Lupus and your skin: Signs and symptoms

What’s the difference between cutaneous lupus and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?

Each is a different type of lupus. Cutaneous lupus affects the skin. SLE can affect the skin and other parts of your body, including the joints, lungs, and kidneys.

A person can have cutaneous lupus without having SLE. If you have lupus on your skin, however, it can be a sign that lupus is affecting other parts of your body. That’s why it’s so important to see a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis.

Dermatologists have expertise in treating lupus on the skin.

Discoid lupus

This often looks like a raised, thick, scaly patch. Most patches develop on the face, scalp, or ears. Treatment is important.

Discoid lupus often looks like a raised, thick, scaly patch

Discoid lupus

Treatment can prevent scars and permanent hair loss.

Discoid lupus treatment can prevent scars

Discoid lupus in the mouth

Lifelong skin cancer screenings are essential if discoid lupus forms in your mouth or on your lips.

Discoid lupus in the mouth

Subacute cutaneous lupus

Some people develop a red, scaly rash that usually appears on the chest, upper back, or neck.

Subacute cutaneous lupus on the upper back

Subacute cutaneous lupus

This type of cutaneous lupus can also cause a rash that has a ring-like pattern.

Subacute cutaneous lupus can cause a rash with a ring-like pattern

Subacute cutaneous lupus

The skin can be so light sensitive that sunlight and even fluorescent light bulbs can trigger a flare.

Subacute cutaneous lupus causes the skin to be sensitive to sunlight

Acute cutaneous lupus (ACL)

A common sign of ACL is the butterfly rash, which can last for hours or days.

A common sign of accute cutaneous lupus is butterfly rash

Lupus panniculitis

The first sign is often a rash with firm, deep, and painful growths, which reach into the fat beneath the skin.

Lupus panniculitis rash on forearm

Lupus panniculitis

In time, the inflammation often destroys the fat cells. This causes deep, recessed scars as shown on this woman’s arm.

Lupus panniculitis scars on woman's arm

Lupus tumidus

Developing on skin that is extremely sensitive to sunlight, LT often feels like a smooth patch with raised borders.

Lupus tumidus smooth patch on cheek

Drug-induced lupus

Medicine can cause this type of lupus. The lupus usually clears when the drug is stopped.

Drug-induced lupus on leg

Images 1-8 used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

Images 9-11 used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Image 9: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001;45(3):325-61.

  • Image 10: J Am Acad Dermatol 2008;58:217-23.

  • Image 11: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;66(4):673-9.

Habif TP, Campbell JL, et al. Dermatology DDxDeck. (cards #103 and 104). Dermatology DDxDeck. Mosby Elsevier 2006.

Okon LG, Werth VP, “Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: Diagnosis and treatment.” Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Jun; 27(3): 391–404.

Panjwani S. “Early diagnosis and treatment of discoid lupus erythematosus.” J Am Board Fam Med 2009 Mar-Apr; 22(2) 206-13.

Patel RM, Marfatia YS. “Lupus panniculitis as an initial manifestation of systemic lupus erythematosus” Indian J Dermatol. 2010 Jan-Mar; 55(1): 99–101.