Does lupus affect the skin?

Joseph F. Merola, MD

Lupus is an autoimmune disease (abnormal immune system functioning where the body is thought to attack itself). Lupus can affect many different organs in the body, including the skin.  Lupus commonly affects the skin and can either occur ONLY in the skin or can occur in the skin as well as other parts of the body (systemic lupus). 

Lupus of the skin, or 'cutaneous lupus erythematosus,' may take on many different appearances.  Typically, the skin rash is made worse by sun / ultraviolet light exposure.  Depending on the type of skin lupus a person is affected with, it may cause hair loss and potentially leave behind scars on the skin. 

There are many different treatments and it is important to see your doctor, but invariably we recommend a broad-spectrum, high SPF sunscreen be worn at all times, along with good sun protection measures, in all cases of skin lupus.  Sunlight and other UV light exposure can create or make skin lesions worse in many individuals, so strict sun protection is crucial.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose skin lupus simply by looking at your skin, although a skin sample (skin biopsy) may be required to help her/him to decide if you have skin lupus.  

If you think you might have this condition, it is important to see your dermatologist and/or a rheumatologist and follow their treatment and prevention instructions very carefully.

Remember - sun protection is a key element in the prevention and treatment of skin lupus. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.