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Lupus & Sun Sensitivity: What You Need to Know

The bright sun shines on a blue sky background.

Summer is here! The sun will be out! And so it is time for those perennial questions from lupus patients: Am I sun-sensitive? What will happen to me if I go into the sun? How much sun is dangerous? Should I wear sunscreens? Here are some factoids for you.

  • Patients who are sun-sensitive show that sensitivity in several ways. Most commonly rash appears, or gets worse. Sometimes, however, they develop joint pains, fever and other signs of general flare-up.
  • Sun-sensitivity symptoms can show up several days or even a few weeks after heavy sun exposure.
  • Only about one out of three lupus patients is sun-sensitive. If you don’t know if you are, or are not, sun-sensitive, it’s OK to try a little (early morning, late afternoon) exposure for a few minutes. If you don’t have any symptoms in a few days, increase a little bit, and continue until you know that you can tolerate full sun exposure. It’s always safest to avoid very strong sun (beaches, sailing, golf courses), and to use the strongest available sunscreens.
  • Patients who have antibodies to the Ro and La (also called SSA and SSB) antigens are more likely than others to be sun-sensitive.
  • If you do think you are showing signs of a flare-up, check with your doctor right away. Many sun-induced flare-ups are very mild, but some are not, and they may need treatment.
  • If you know that you are not sun-sensitive, it is very unlikely that it will later develop. If you know that you are sun-sensitive, assume you will always be.

Reviewed on July 15, 2020

Dr. Michael Lockshin, rheumatologistMichael D. Lockshin, M.D., is Director of the Barbara Volcker Center for Women and Rheumatic Disease at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is the author of nearly 300 research papers, book chapters, and books, most on the topic of lupus, pregnancy, antiphospholipid syndrome and sex differences in disease.

Topics: Rheumatology
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.