Lupus and Sun Exposure

Living With Lupus: Tips for Sun Protection

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  • Lupus and Sun Exposure

    Lupus and Sun Exposure

    Protecting yourself from sun exposure is an essential part of lupus management. Photosensitivity can trigger symptoms that range from skin rashes to serious internal organ damage. While excess sun exposure can cause flares in systemic lupus — the most common form of the condition — living with lupus shouldn’t mean depriving yourself of the outdoors.

    Click through the slideshow to learn how to protect yourself from the sun and lead an active life.

  • How UV Radiation Affects Lupus

    How UV Radiation Affects Lupus

    Ultraviolet (UV) light is invisible radiation and contains three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Studies published in Autoimmunity Reviews have shown that UVB rays cause the most problems in lupus patients, but UVA radiation is also partly responsible. Exposure to sunlight may trigger the following symptoms:

    • lupus rash or lesions
    • joint pain
    • fatigue
    • internal organ swelling
  • Wear Protective Clothing

    Wear Protective Clothing

    Sunlight should be reflected or absorbed by clothing before it reaches your skin. UV rays can pass right through thin, light-colored fabrics or those with a loose weave. Instead, wear tightly woven, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats.

    Dark colors reflect UV rays better than light colors. Unbleached cotton absorbs UV, while polyester or silk with a high sheen reflects UV. High-tech clothing specifically designed to block UV rays can be found online and at sporting goods stores.

  • Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)

    Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)

    Sun-protective clothing has a rating known as ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The UPF denotes the amount of UV light absorbed by the fabric. Like when you’re choosing sunscreen, check clothing labels for a high UPF. Levels ranging from 25-50+ are recommended by dermatologists.

    Sun-protective clothing could lose its effectiveness if stretched, weathered, or over-washed, so be sure to take proper care of it.

  • Choose the Right Sunscreen

    Choose the Right Sunscreen

    When selecting a sunscreen, look for these indications on the bottle: 

    • sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more
    • hypoallergenic
    • broad spectrum protection (blocks UVB and UVA)
    • physical blockers (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide)

    Test the sunscreen on a patch of skin to check for sensitivity or allergy. Store it in a cool place and throw it away after one year. The chemical composition of sunscreen changes over time and when exposed to heat. 

  • Sunscreen Mistakes

    Sunscreen Mistakes

    You may not be as covered as you think. The middle of the back, sides of the neck, temples, and ears are commonly missed areas. If applied too thinly, sunscreen won't meet its SPF rating. How much is enough? The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests:

    • 1 teaspoon for face and neck (half a teaspoon for children)
    • 1 ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) for full-body coverage

    Also, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outside.

  • More Sunscreen Mistakes

    More Sunscreen Mistakes

    Remember to reapply sunscreen liberally and frequently after spending time outside or in the water. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying sunscreen every two or three hours. One study by the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy suggests that reapplying sunscreen 20 minutes after going outside may significantly reduce your UV exposure.

    And don’t be fooled by fog or clouds: UV rays are still strong in cool, cloudy weather.

  • Medications and Sun Exposure

    Medications and Sun Exposure

    The harmful combination of chemicals and light is called phototoxicity. Phototoxic reactions occur when your skin is exposed to the sun after taking certain medications orally, topically, or via injection. Some of these drugs include: 

    • certain antibiotics (including azithromycin)
    • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
    • diuretics
    • oral diabetes drugs
    • certain cardiac medications

    Talk to your doctor to find out if any medications you’re taking might cause problems.

  • Don't Forget About Artificial Light

    Don't Forget About Artificial Light

     It’s not just sunlight you need to guard yourself against. For people with lupus, artificial light can also cause problems. Sources of this light include:

    • fluorescent lighting
    • photocopiers
    • tanning beds

    Limit or avoid exposure to these artificial light sources. Avoid tanning beds altogether, as they could worsen your condition.

  • Staying Sun Smart

    Staying Sun Smart

    There are several practical precautionary measures you can take to block dangerous UV radiation. For example:

    • Try your best to stay indoors when the sun is at its strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
    • If you have to be outdoors and can’t find shade, use an umbrella and wear protective clothing.
    • Install sun shields on your house and car windows for extra UVA protection.
  • More Lupus Resources

    More Lupus Resources

    For more helpful information about treating and managing lupus, visit the links below.


  • Felton, LA, et al. (2002, Oct.) Influence of hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin on the transdermal permeation and skin accumulation of oxybenzone. Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, 28(9):1117-24. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from
  • Foering, K. et al. (2013, Aug.) Characterization of clinical photosensitivity in cutaneous lupus erythematosus. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 69(2): 205-13. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from
  • Klein, R., Sayre, R., Dowdy, J., & Werth, V. (2009, February). Autoimmune Review, 8(4), 320-324. Retrieved from
  • Sunscreens Explained. Skin Cancer Foundation. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from