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Lupus and the sun

If you have lupus, protecting yourself from sun exposure is an essential part of managing your condition.

Many people with lupus can experience photosensitivity or unusual sensitivity to sunlight. This can then trigger symptoms such as skin rashes, itching, and burning. Excessive sun exposure can also cause flares in systemic lupus, triggering symptoms such as joint pain, weakness, and fatigue. In worst cases, it can even cause internal organ damage.

If you have lupus, exposure to sunlight may trigger symptoms such as:

  • lupus rash or lesions

  • fatigue or weakness

  • joint pain

  • internal organ swelling

So while spending a few minutes outside in the intense summer sun may leave the average person with a slight tan or mild sunburn, it can cause someone with lupus to develop a severe, sunburn-like rash, painful blisters, and skin swelling that’s reminiscent of an allergic reaction.


To protect yourself from UV radiation, wear sun protective clothing that reflects or absorbs sunlight before it reaches your skin.

Sun protective clothing can loose its effectiveness when it’s stretched, weathered, or over-washed. It is important to take proper care of it and replace it when it wears out.


In addition to wearing protective clothing, cover exposed skin with sunscreen. Look for sunscreen that:

  • has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more

  • provides broad spectrum protection, blocking UVB and UVA rays

  • contains physical blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide

  • is hypoallergenic

It is recommended to test the sunscreen on a patch of your skin to check for signs of any sensitivity or allergic reactions. Always store your sunscreen in a cool place and throw it away after a year because sunscreen can become less effective over time and when it is exposed to heat.

Staying safe in the shade

To protect yourself from UV radiation, we recommend avoiding sunlight when it is at the strongest. For example, stay indoors between 10am - 4pm. If you have to go outside, stay in the shade provided by trees or use an umbrella.

Artificial Lighting

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

  • fluorescent lighting

  • photocopiers

  • tanning beds

It is recommended to limit or avoid exposure to these artificial light sources. Try and avoid tanning beds altogether, since they could worsen your condition.

While protecting your skin from UV radiation can help you avoid severe lupus rashes and other symptoms, sunlight isn’t the only warm-weather trigger you should watch out for this summer.

For many people, rising temperatures and high humidity levels can also prompt symptom flare-ups, causing acute fatigue, increased joint pain, weakness, and difficulty to think.

To avoid heat-related flare-ups, try and stay in an air-conditioned or well-cooled environment.

Lupus medications can make your skin cells less photosensitive that they would be otherwise, it’s important to continue taking any prescription medications as directed through the summer months.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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