Lupus Sun Protection

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020

Exposure to the sun and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) rays can be a problem for people with lupus due to a condition called photosensitivity. Between 50 and 80 percent of people with lupus experience, some form of photosensitivity and it can cause rashes, fever, fatigue, joint pain, and trigger flares. The rash most often appears on skin exposed to the sun but may appear anywhere on the body.1-2

Taking steps to protect yourself from the sun can be a simple, yet important strategy for living with lupus. Here are some tips to protect your skin, and your health.

Choose the right clothes

Long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially if made with built-in sun protection and tightly woven fabric, are a great first step to protecting yourself from the sun and office lights. Sunglasses with UV protection and a wide-brimmed hat help shield the eyes, face, and neck.

Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF30

People with lupus should wear sunscreen every day with a minimum of SPF30, but SPF70 or higher is better. SPF stands for sun protection factor. The higher the SPF number, the more UV rays will be filtered before reaching your skin. Sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum” will block both UVA and UVB rays.3-4

Sunscreen should be applied to the entire body, even under clothes, and even if you do not plan to be outdoors for long periods.

Apply ahead of time and reapply often

Put on sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside. That’s because it takes sunscreen that long to activate. Sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium do not need time to activate.3

If you are outside for long periods, reapply sunscreen every two hours, and more often if you are sweating, swimming, or rubbing your skin with a towel. Sunscreens labeled “water-resistant” offer protection when you are in the water for 40 to 80 minutes, depending on the brand.3

Be generous with the sunscreen

Most people do not use enough sunscreen. To get the sun protection you need, use two tablespoons, which is enough to fill a shot glass or a ping-pong ball, over your entire body.3

Remember sensitive areas

Protect your lips with a wax-based lip balm with an SPF15 or higher. When applying sunscreen to your body, don’t forget to apply it to easy-to-miss exposed areas, such as the front and back of your ears, the back of your hands, and tops of your feet (if wearing sandals). Don’t forget your hairline and scalp if you have bald or thinning patches.

Find shade

When outdoors, shade yourself from the sun whenever possible. You can do this by planning activities such as an outdoor birthday party at a park with a pavilion or planning your exercise route on tree-lined streets. Keep large golf umbrellas in your car to create your own shade when none is available.

Avoid the strongest sun

Sunlight is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. so avoid going outdoors as much as possible during these times.

Adjust your home and office

Your home and work are additional places that you can add barriers between you and UV rays. Some common tactics include:

  • Add solar screens or UV film to the windows of your house.
  • Use low-watt bulbs indoors, keep the blinds closed, and plant trees to reduce the sunlight that reaches into your house.
  • Add UV-protective film to your car windows. You may need a doctor’s note to tint your windows in some states.
  • If you work under fluorescent or halogen lights, talk to your supervisor about removing lights directly above your desk, replacing the bulbs with incandescent or LED bulbs, or adding light filters or shields.
  • If you cannot change or shield yourself from indoor lights, you may need to wear a hat indoors.

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