Considering that we’re about to enter the warmer seasons, we thought it would be best to give you a brief explanation of photosensitivity and its relation to Lupus. “Photosensitivity” is essentially a clinical term used to describe sensitivity to the UV (Ultraviolet) rays present in sunlight and other light sources. A common misconception is that photosensitivity can only be triggered by natural sunlight, but it extremely important to note that a variety of light sources have UV rays as a component, such as indoor fluorescent light. When triggered, this sensitivity can cause a diverse set of symptoms, including: rashes, fever, fatigue, joint pain, and increased disease activity (flares) in people with both cutaneous and systemic lupus.
Before we move any further in our discussion of lupus photosensitivity, let’s break down the two forms of lupus listed above: cutaneous and systemic. At its core, cutaneous lupus is a form of the disease that is largely limited to the skin. This results in several types of rashes and sores/lesions, with the most common being discoid rash. Malar/Butterfly rash, hair loss, and changes in skin pigmentation are also commonly recorded symptoms of this form of lupus. Building upon this, approximately 10 percent of people who have cutaneous lupus will develop the next form: systemic lupus.
Systemic Lupus is the most common form of lupus, and can range in severity from mild to extreme. Ultimately, this form can result in a variety of complications for major organ systems, including: kidney inflammation, brain or nervous system inflammation, and hardening of the arteries. These symptoms vary from person to person and can manifest differently depending on an individual’s body and immune system. Much like this variation in symptoms, each person with Lupus is uniquely affected by UV light exposure. Some may experience new or expanding skin rashes or sores, while others with systemic lupus commonly experience more internal conditions akin to fatigue, fever, and flu-like symptoms.
Now that we’ve given you the break-down on photosensitivity symptoms and their presentation depending on lupus type, it’s time to answer the key question: What should I do to manage my photosensitivity? Many stop short at this question and begin living like a hermit, secluding themselves inside away from light. While living like some sort of vampire from gothic nineteenth-century literature may reduce your symptoms moving forward, we’re here to tell you that there is no need to completely change your lifestyle.
For the most part, we recommend staying away from direct sunlight between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM, as UV ray intensity is at its’ highest within this time span, especially at high altitudes and in/around snow or water. That being said, any exposure to direct sunlight should be supplemented with sun protective clothing and a liberal layer of sunblock. Sunblock used should be of at least SPF 30 coverage, with “broad spectrum” being the best variety, as it protects from both forms of UV light: UVA and UVB.
Pro Tip : Pay special attention to problem skin areas when applying sunblock, such as the neck, forehead, and ears. Don’t forget to wait at least 20 minutes after applying sunblock to expose yourself to direct sunlight, as most sunscreens take around this amount of time to activate within your skin. Another tip from us because we love you: definitely add to this routine by protecting your lips with a wax based lip-balm of SPF 15 value or higher.
We hope that this brief guide has helped you understand photosensitivity and some basic steps that should be taken to keep you happy and healthy, regardless of the amount of sunshine streaming outside. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us!