Photosensitivity: Avoid Getting a Sunburn This Summer
Photosensitivity: Avoid Getting a Sunburn This Summer

May 26, 2021

Memorial Day weekend is unofficially the beginning of summer, and this year, a particularly welcome opportunity to get outside with family or friends. Since several vaccines for COVID-19 were released, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has started allowing travel and socializing again with specific guidelines.

But as the beautiful weather calls us outdoors, everyone needs to remember to take care in the sun. Exposure to UV light is harmful to everyone, damaging cellular DNA and increasing the risk of cancer.

In people with lupus, UV light causes even more damage. Lupus patients are more sensitive; their immune system is much weaker and slower to recover. Once the cells are damaged, they stay in the body longer, triggering an immune response. In lupus patients, this response may show up as flares, blisters, or sunburn-like rashes. In some cases, they may experience fever, extreme fatigue, joint pain, or light-headedness. Even when people with lupus stay indoors, they should practice precautions to protect themselves from UV light.

Below are some ways people with lupus can stay protected from harmful UV rays.

Protecting Your Skin

1.  Put Sunscreen On
Apply a liberal amount of sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day. Do this at least 15 minutes before going out to get broad-spectrum protection from UV rays. Make sure to cover the legs, arms, neck, face, and other exposed areas of the skin.Reapply sunscreen every two hours. This practice is especially helpful if you go swimming or perspire.

2.  Wear Protective Clothing
Wear lightweight and tightly woven clothes. It’s best to use long-sleeved tops and loose leg pants or a long, lightweight skirt to keep the sun’s rays off your skin. You can also wear wide-brimmed hats and sun-protection sunglasses when outside.

3.  Stay in the Shade
Although applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing may help, staying indoors is still the best option to avoid sun damage.  UV-blocking shades can block sun rays from windows. Use light bulbs with low irradiance to reduce UV exposure. Even fluorescent bulbs should come with a light shield to filter their UV rays.

If going out is necessary, schedule outdoor activities early in the morning or late afternoon. The UV rays are more intense from 10 AM to 4 PM, so avoid going out during those times.

4.  Be Mindful of Sun-Sensitizing Medications
Check if any of your medications may make you more sensitive to sunlight. Medications that heighten sun sensitivity include retinoids, ibuprofen, and antibiotics.

LRA-Funded Research on Lupus and Skin Rashes

Avoiding sun damage is a current reality for many people with lupus. But several scientists supported by the Lupus Research Alliance are determined to find out why people with lupus are particularly sensitive to the sun and how they might be protected from resulting damage.

For instance, with her Lupus Research Alliance grant, Dr. Theresa Lu and colleagues at Hospital for Special Surgery found that one type of skin cell that protects the skin during sun exposure is less abundant and does not work properly in people with lupus. Other scientists are now performing a clinical trial that is testing whether a cream that soothes rashes in patients with cancer, and based on her work, Dr. Lu suggests this may help protect people with lupus from the sun.  Read More

Patients with cutaneous lupus develop rashes because immune cells move into the skin and cause inflammation. With a Target Identification in Lupus grant from the Lupus Research Alliance, Dr. Jillian Richmond and colleagues at University of Massachusetts found what lures the immune cells into the skin of people with cutaneous lupus. She and her colleagues have been testing potential treatments in mouse models that block the molecules that attract immune cells might also be helpful. Read More

In a presentation hosted by the Lupus Research Alliance, Dr. Victoria Werth at University of Pennsylvania shared results showing that when treated with the cancer drug lenalidomide, patients with cutaneous lupus who had not been helped by other drugs saw their symptoms significantly improve in a short time frame. This work has led to further studies finding benefit for people with skin lupus with lenalidomide and a related drug being tested in lupus, CC-220. Read More

COVID-19 Protocols to Consider This Holiday Weekend

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully vaccinated people can go back to usual activities without wearing masks or practicing social distancing(1). However, certain restrictions and protocols are dependent on territorial and state laws and regulations.

If you have lupus, you are at greater risk for the virus due to a weakened immune system. Consider continuing to observe social distancing and wearing a mask to stay protected.  Please be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before changing your COVID-19 protection plan.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (May 2021), Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People, retrieved from
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