Lupus and Photosensitivity

Category: Systemic Lupus Erythematous Published on Thursday, 05 May 2016 Written by Yong Tsai, MD

Lupus, an autoimmune disease, occurs when our immune system attacks our body and causes inflammation of the joints, skin, and other organs. Derived from the Latin word “wolf,” lupus can be detected by its telltale “wolf-like-looking” facial rash (malar rash) over the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Even though joint pain is the most common symptom associated with lupus, skin involvement with photosensitivity is the next in line.

Furthermore, 15 % of those diagnosed with lupus have cutaneous or discoid lupus, which is characterized by a red, raised rash that appears on the face, scalp, or other areas of the skin, and usually does not involve the organs, while 7% have systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) affects the joints, skin, kidneys, nervous system, heart, or blood-forming organs.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays: UV-A and UV-B. Both can affect our immune system and worsen lupus skin lesions, especially on light-colored skin patients. Characterized as keeping the same intensity throughout the day at a similar level throughout the year, UV-A rays are most effective for tanning, while UV-B rays are more intense from 10:00am to 3:00pm, lower during the winter months, and have a higher chance of affecting lupus patients.

Because both UV-A and UV-B light can aggravate skins lesions associated with lupus, patients with lupus are advised to avoid direct exposure to sun, particularly during the midday hours and during the summer months, when UV light is least absorbed by the atmosphere and is at its strongest. Sunscreens that contain agents which block both UV-A and UV-B light and also include a sun-protective factor (SPF) of 15 or greater, such as Hawaiian Tropic Baby Face SPF50 or Hawaiian Tropic 45 plus, are recommended for ultimate protection.

We’ve all heard of SPF, the measure of how much protection from burning sunlight a sunscreen product offers. Let’s explore this measure. For example, an SPF 20 can provide you with twenty times your body’s natural protection. So, if you can tolerate thirty minutes of direct sunlight before you start to develop sunburn, SPF 20 will give you 600 minutes or 10 hours of protection against the sun. Keep in mind, that in order to benefit from sunscreens’ full strength of protection, an average person needs to apply approximately 1 ounce ( 2 tablespoons) of the lotion to their body, applying it liberally 30 minutes before sun exposure followed by re-applying it every two to four hours.

Even though lupus can affect your skin, you can outsmart the wolf by being sly like a fox and taking certain precautions such as avoiding the sun or using sunscreen correctly to prevent skin irritation.

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