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How Lupus Affects the Skin

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that leads to widespread inflammation and pain. Lupus can affect multiple systems and organs in the body, but the skin tends to be one of the most common organs affected by this chronic disease. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, around two-thirds of people with lupus will experience some kind of lupus-related skin issue. Some people are dealing with cutaneous lupus only, while others are dealing with cutaneous lupus along with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (the most common form of lupus).


Skin lupus can produce these skin problems,


A butterfly rash: This “malar” rash is a classic symptom of lupus. This purplish-red rash spreads over the bridge of the nose to the cheeks and looks similar in shape to a butterfly. A butterfly rash may look similar to a very bad flush or it may even be scaly, in more severe cases. Some people may mistake this for rosacea.


Rashes and sores: It’s also common for lesions and red, inflamed patches of scaly skin to develop with lupus. These rashes and sores are usually found on the face, scalp, ears, or other sun-exposed areas. While these sores typically aren’t painful, they can cause scarring (especially if they develop on the scalp). This is why it’s important to see a dermatologist if you are dealing with a recurring or persistent rash or sore.


Subacute cutaneous lesions: These small, scaly papules are caused by UV light. Unlike discoid lesions, which can cause scarring, subacute cutaneous lesions will not scar. These lesions are typically red and circular and develop on areas of the skin most often exposed to the sun.


Other symptoms associated with lupus include,

  • Sores in the mouth and nose (mucous membrane sores)
  • Hair loss, sometimes caused by discoid lesions
  • Purple spots (due to broken blood vessels) on the legs

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with cutaneous lupus or SLE, or you are experiencing a butterfly rash or other symptoms of lupus, you must visit your dermatologist as soon as possible for an evaluation. A dermatologist can easily identify lupus and provide you with solutions to help you get symptoms under control.

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