Why do bad things happen to good people? Seems like one of life’s great questions. And, as those of us with autoimmune disorders know, bad things happen to good tissue. When one deals with autoimmunity, their body can’t tell the difference between “bad” cells and healthy cells. Their body then creates antibodies that attack healthy cells. One of these disorders is lupus. Lupus often affects the skin, causing rashes or lesions to appear on the body. Estimates show that at least five million people deal with lupus around the world. So, if you have it, you aren’t alone, and you don’t need to worry. Let’s discuss the relationship between lupus and skin! We’ll give you everything you need to know to care for yourself during flare-ups.
What is Lupus?
As we mentioned before, lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disorder. Unlike many autoimmune conditions that just affect certain parts of the body, lupus impacts your entire body. Your immune system is a little off-kilter when you have lupus. Essentially, your body is unable to distinguish between malignant cells and healthy tissue. Your immune system might see healthy cells as a threat to your well-being, producing antibodies that attack them. This eventually leads to inflammation, pain, and damage to various parts of the body.
Most autoimmune disorders can strike at varying degrees. Lupus is no different. Severity can range from mild to life-threatening, and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus are able to lead fulfilling lives. People of all ages and races can develop lupus, although women of color are two to three times more likely to have it than Caucasian women. It’s not contagious or related to cancer.
What are Some Symptoms of Lupus?
Fun fact: lupus has been nicknamed The Great Imitator. Many of its symptoms occur in other illnesses, making it hard to diagnose without a medical professional. (Well, we’re never ones to self-diagnose, but you get the idea.) Lupus affects a wide range of organs, hence the lengthy list of symptoms we’re about to give you. Symptoms don’t vary between men and women, and often come and go as a person ages. Here are the most common symptoms of lupus:
- Ulcers in the nose or mouth
- Extreme fatigue
- A butterfly-shaped rash that forms across your face (hey, lupus and skin! More on that later.)
- Hair loss
- Swollen, painful joints
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Swelling, especially in the legs and feet
- Chest pain
- Fingers turning white or blue when cold
Any of these sound familiar to you? Same here. As we mentioned before, lupus’ symptoms mimic those of other conditions, including diabetes, fibromyalgia, thyroid problems and lung disease. The best way to manage your condition is to work closely with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment. We’re always talking about how everyone’s skin is different, and the same thing applies to lupus. Everyone’s lupus is different, so you deserve a unique treatment plan!
What are the Different Types of Lupus?
Once you’re diagnosed with lupus, your doctor will first determine the type of lupus you’re dealing with. There are four different types of lupus to know.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
When people use the word “lupus,” they’re probably referring to Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. It can range from mild to severe, and often impacts the internal organs in more severe cases. Usually, the kidneys are the organ that takes the hardest hit. They become inflamed, which then hinders their ability to properly remove waste from the body. Often times, people with Systemic Lupus need heavy dialysis or even a kidney transplant.
Systemic Lupus can also cause inflammation of the nervous system, which results in memory loss, confusion, and stroke. This can even go a step further with inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels. Inflammation in the brain often leads to high fevers, seizures, and changes in behavior. Finally, the arteries can harden when you have Systemic Lupus. This hardening causes the blockages that result in heart attacks.
Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus
Here’s where we’re going to get into lupus and skin. Cutaneous Lupus is limited to the skin, and it can cause many different kinds of rashes, sores, and lesions. The most common skin rash caused by Cutaneous Lupus is discoid rash. Typically, discoid rash is red, scaly, and not itchy. Rashes will appear in circular shapes on the skin. Others with Cutaneous Lupus will experience a butterfly rash, which spans across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. Additionally, sores can appear on other parts of the body. This results in discoloration and hair loss.
Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus
Much like its name implies, Drug-Induced Lupus is brought on by certain prescription drugs, such as Hydralazine for high blood pressure and Isoniazid for tuberculosis. Usually the symptoms are pretty similar to those of Systemic Lupus, but it doesn’t affect major organs. Drug-Induced Lupus is more common in men than women. Men are more often prescribed the drugs that cause it. Luckily, if you do take any of these drugs, the symptoms will go away within six months of not using them.
Technically, Neonatal Lupus isn’t a true form of the illness. Instead, it’s a rare condition found in pregnant women with lupus. Remember how lupus causes the body to produce antibodies that attack healthy tissues rather than malignant ones? In cases of Neonatal Lupus, the mother’s body creates antibodies that attack the fetus in the womb. This causes the infant to have rashes, liver problems, or low blood cell counts at birth. The symptoms usually disappear after several months and don’t have any lasting effects. If you’re an expectant mother with lupus, your doctor will be able to identify your level of risk.
What’s the Relationship Between Lupus and Skin?
For this section, we’ll be focusing specifically on Cutaneous Lupus, which is the type of lupus that primarily affects the skin. Let’s review. Cutaneous Lupus can cause rashes or sores on the skin, typically in areas that are exposed to the sun. These lesions are most commonly found on the face, ears, neck, arms, and legs. Cutaneous Lupus comes in three forms, and each affects the skin in a different way.
Chronic Cutaneous Lupus (Discoid Lupus)
We talked a bit about Discoid Lupus before, but essentially, it’s characterized by round rashes or lesions that appear on the scalp and face. These rashes are often thick and scaly, but don’t itch or hurt. However, they can cause scarring and permanent discoloration. Lesions on the scalp can often cause the hair to fall out. If these particular lesions scar, the hair loss is more than likely permanent. It’s important to note if you notice changes in your lesions. Cancer may develop in lesions that have been around for awhile. Because these discoid rashes are very photosensitive, it’s important to cover them and use SPF whenever possible.
Subacute Cutaneous Lupus
The lesions that occur in those with Subacute Cutaneous Lupus are a little different than discoid rashes. They typically appear as red, scaly patches with distinct edges. They may also be red and ring-shaped. While they do not itch or scar, they can lead to discoloration. Like other lupus-related lesions, they appear on areas of the skin that are often exposed to the sun. Subacute Cutaneous Lupus also causes photosensitivity, so SPF and breathable layers are your best friends.
Acute Cutaneous Lupus
Acute Cutaneous Lupus goes hand in hand with Systemic Lupus. These lesions tend to appear when your Systemic Lupus is active, and they can easily be confused with a sunburn. Acute cutaneous lesions are malar rashes, flattened areas of red skin on the face. Sometimes, it will appear on both cheeks and over the bridge of the nose. This results in the infamous “butterfly rash.” In addition to the face, Acute Cutaneous Lupus can be found on the arms, legs, and body. Like other lupus-related lesions, they’re very photosensitive, but do not cause scarring over time.
What Products Should I Use?
As with most skin conditions, finding products to use is hard work. You might find a product you love, but your skin may not be the biggest fan. Other times, the product that does right by your skin maybe doesn’t smell the best, or it costs an arm and a leg. Here are our tips for snagging the products both lupus and skin can agree on.
Gentle, Gentle, Gentle!
With any kind of chronic skin condition, we’re always going to recommend gentle products. Much of today’s skin care market is comprised of products that contain harsh chemicals. These chemicals wear down your skin’s protective barrier, leaving you vulnerable to skin conditions. If you already have sensitive skin, harsh products are only going to aggravate your skin dilemma. Choose products with natural, soothing ingredients that put your skin first.
Consider Fragrance Free Options
Strong fragrances are one of the worst things to put on sensitive skin. They are known allergens and can cause skin irritation, as well as worsen any skin condition you may already have. And, your body’s reaction to fragrance isn’t just limited to your skin. Heavily-scented skin products have also been linked to asthma and headaches. So, if you have lupus, fragrance may aggravate both your rashes and your headaches. Invest in a good line of fragrance-free skin care and your skin will thank you.
This one is especially important if you’re dealing with any kind of lesions. Most Cutaneous Lupus lesions are sensitive to the sun’s rays. This means that sun exposure can make them worse. Plus, these lesions usually appear on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, which means UV light can trigger them. Apply a good SPF of at least 30, wear layered clothing, and stick to shady areas of the park or beach!
When you’re dealing with lupus, your skin needs gentle products that won’t cause further irritation. That’s why Sebamed is the perfect choice! Each of our products is pH-balanced, mild, and formulated to soothe sensitive skin. By stabilizing and strengthening the skin barrier, our cleansers, moisturizers, and hair care products can give you the healthy skin you’ve always wanted. Check out our complete lineup here.