With Lupus, You Always Need to Think About Sun Protection

With Lupus, You Always Need to Think About Sun Protection

My lower legs currently are covered with red spots.

It has been so hot that I’ve been wearing capri pants every day. The result is that my legs have gotten more sun exposure than usual. But instead of a nice golden tan, I have red spots. With lupus, I must be extra careful about how much sun I get. 

Protect your skin

I apply sunscreen on my face as part of my daily routine, but I often forget about my arms and legs. I keep a tube of SPF 50 sunscreen on the table near where I get dressed, but I don’t use it unless I plan to be outside for more than a few minutes. I should get in the habit of using it every day, because exposure for a few minutes at a time adds up. 

How are sunscreens rated?

SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and on sunscreen products, the acronym is accompanied by a number indicating the level of protection provided. Sunscreens are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the SPF number offers the same amount of protection no matter which brand you use. 

Are they all the same?

No. Different types of sunscreens offer a variety of applications, including lotions, gels, creams, butters, and sprays. Some sunscreens are advertised as water-resistant. Read the label to check how long they remain effective while swimming or sweating. 

Look for broad-spectrum sunscreen

Broad-spectrum sunscreen means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA is an ultraviolet light that can penetrate the thickest layer of skin, the dermis, causing premature wrinkling and skin aging. 

UVB light is composed of shorter-wave ultraviolet rays that reach the outer layer of skin. Exposure to both UVA and UVB contributes to skin cancer. An easy way to remember is “A” is for “aging” and “B” for “burn.” Protect your skin against both types of rays by choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen. 

Which one should you choose?

The FDA recommends a minimum of SPF 15 for everyone. But for people like me, who have fair skin, they suggest an SPF 30 to 50. Read the label to ensure that you are reapplying it as frequently as the manufacturer advises. 

I am trying to be more conscientious of protecting my skin from the sun’s rays. Though I may be making a quick trip to the car, I’m still getting more sun exposure than I should. The evidence is clearly visible on my legs. 


Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.

Darla, who lives in Arkansas, was diagnosed with lupus in 2015. As she grows into her new normal, she created this column to help others with lupus know they are not alone. She writes about hunting down the root causes to her symptoms and side effects.
Darla, who lives in Arkansas, was diagnosed with lupus in 2015. As she grows into her new normal, she created this column to help others with lupus know they are not alone. She writes about hunting down the root causes to her symptoms and side effects.
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  1. Darcy says:

    I’m curious if the sun can trigger fatigue or other non-skin symptoms. I have UCTD and I do get the plaqunil spots in the sun but it goes away after I cool down in the shade. However, I’m wondering if pain and fatigue relapse days could be due to my time in the sun triggering them? I know there’s no easy answer but I am curious if others have had experiences that relate. I live in CO and love being outside and active. I don’t want to connect flares to these things if it’s coincidence not correlation.

    • Sabra says:

      I recommend Dr. Donald Thomas, Jr.’s book The Lupus Encyclopedia. Dr. Thomas is insistent that lupus patients avoid UV light as much as possible as it indeed can trigger flares and concomitant symptoms. Dr. Thomas is at Walter Reed Hospital and is a rheumatologist in the greater Baltimore area. See what you think after you read his book.

    • Definitely it does for me..and the beach was my life so much so that we bought our home in 1985 four blocks from the beach and can’t enjoy it. If by any chance I spent a little like 10 minutes I pay dearly. Even walking to car after grocery shopping will set me off my face get so red and it last for hours

  2. Sue says:

    I am so sorry that you have this issue- I used to LOVE the sun. Now, I’m sorta vampiric- my daughter’s term for it (lol). I literally feel the burn through materials and rash out, just from driving in the car without being smart. Using a 50spf UVA/UVB all of the time-even when driving my car- seems to help.
    I made the same sort of connection that you did, regarding sun exposure and relapse, and asked my (gloriously wonderful) rheumy. She told me that yes, in addition to skin symptoms,if that is the sort of Lupus expression that you have, sun exposure can trigger pain, fatigue, etc. I keep body and face sun protection on my dresser and apply it like moisturizer daily. There are also ingredients in some sunscreens that can aggravate skin symptoms- I’m sorry, I am fogging on the names of them, but can tell you the brand that I use? I know it is free of the ingredients that can exacerbate skin symptoms. The brand that I use is La Roche-Posay. I hope that this helps.
    health and happiness to you!

  3. Lana says:

    I have SLE and have learned to always use sunscreen when outdoors. My problem now is that as I age I seem to have an increased sensitivity to UV light so much so that I get rashes, a “sunburn” and increased symptoms while INSIDE when exposed to fluorescent and halogen lighting.

    During my 2 most recent hospitalizations I’ve had to have the lights in my room kept off. Once previously a nurse turned one on, forgot to turn it off and I became sick, my skin that was exposed was red, had welts, a rash and felt like I was on fire.

    One of the nurses told me she had never heard of such a thing, that it wasn’t realistic to ask for the lights to be left off and that she didn’t believe I lived in the dark at home. I explained we had swapped out our lightbulbs for low strength LED bulbs, keep window blinds shut with curtains and yes, my home especially my bedroom is darker than most homes.

    I’m not sure if my lupus has gotten worse, if it’s that the bulbs being used are different than before or why but all I know is that there are some rooms or places I walk into and immediately feel as if I’m outside in the middle of the summer with the sun beating down on me, I have to leave as it’s unbearable in some lighting.

    Not sure if this is common.

  4. Carolyn Price says:

    Some manifestations of SLE, especially those with high levels of Anti-Ro/SSA and anti-La/SSB antibodies, cause more trouble with sun and fluorescent light than others. This is me. I have what the medical world calls “exquisite photosensitivity”. Any exposure to sunlight can set off the disease. Sunscreen is not particularly helpful – though I use the mineral varieties, w/ titanium dioxide, recommended by my rheumatologist. Exposure to fluorescent light, usually in drs offices and medical facilities, definitely can set off the disease. For example, I had major surgery that lasted 6+ hours (operating room lights), and had to deal with a lupus flare (widespread rash, arthritis, fatigue, etc.) for *months* afterwards. I have a disabled placard for this reason – so I do not have to make long walks in parking lots.

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