Lupus and your skin
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* This section is provided free of charge to you from the American Academy of Dermatology's library. We do not treat all conditions listed here, nor do we perform all treatments discussed in this section. This is purely meant to be a reliable resource for patients with an interest in, or questions about, a wide array of dermatologic topics.
As always, you can contact our office to answer any questions or concerns.
Lupus and your skin: Overview
Lupus is a disease that can affect the skin in many ways. It may cause a:
- Widespread rash on the back
- Thick scaly patch on the face
- Sore(s) in the mouth or nose
- Flare-up that looks like sunburn
Lupus can show up on the skin in other ways, too.
When lupus affects the skin, it is called cutaneous (medical term for skin) lupus. There are different types of cutaneous (cue-tane-e-ous) lupus. For many people who have cutaneous lupus, the lupus affects only their skin.
Some types of cutaneous lupus are more common in people who have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). SLE is a type of lupus that can affect different parts of the body, including the skin, joints, and lungs.
How a dermatologist can help
A dermatologist can tell you whether you have lupus or another skin condition. What looks like a lupus rash on your face could be another skin condition like rosacea or an allergic skin reaction.
If you have cutaneous lupus, a dermatologist can:
- Develop a sun-protection plan that’s right for you
- Create a treatment plan for your skin
- Recommend skin care products that are less likely to irritate skin with lupus
- Teach you how to camouflage lupus on your skin with makeup
- Help determine whether lupus affects other parts of your body
- Check your skin for signs of skin cancer
Lupus and skin cancer
Lupus can increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer. If you take a medicine that works on your immune system, you may have a higher risk of getting skin cancer.
People who have a type of lupus called discoid lupus may also have a greater risk. When discoid lupus develops on the lip or inside the mouth, it increases a person’s risk for a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
Image used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.
Costner MI, Sontheimer RD. “Lupus erythematosus” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008:1515-35.
Grönhagen CM, Nyberg F. “Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: An update.” Indian Dermatol Online J. 2014 Jan-Mar;5(1): 7–13.
Kuhn A, Rutland V, et al. “Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: Update of therapeutic options: Part 1.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2011 Dec;65:3179-93.
Okon LG, Werth VP, “Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: Diagnosis and treatment.” Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Jun; 27(3): 391–404.