Approximately two-thirds of people with lupus will observe some type of effect on their skin. In fact, 40-70 percent of people with lupus will find that their disease is made worse by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight or artificial light.
Some individuals have or will develop a type of skin disease, called cutaneous lupus erythematosus. Skin disease in lupus can cause rashes or sores (lesions), most of which will appear on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, arms, and legs.
A dermatologist, a physician who specializes in caring for the skin, should treat lupus skin rashes and lesions. He or she will usually examine tissue under a microscope to determine whether a lesion or rash is due to cutaneous lupus: taking the tissue sample is called a biopsy.
Discoid lupus appears as disk-shaped, round lesions. The sores usually appear on the scalp and face but sometimes they will occur on other parts of the body as well.
Approximately 10 percent of people with discoid lupus later develop lupus in other organ systems, but these people probably already had systemic lupus with the skin rash as the first symptom.
Discoid lupus lesions are often red, scaly, and thick. Usually they do not hurt or itch. Over time, these lesions can produce scarring and skin discoloration (darkly colored and/or lightly colored areas). Discoid lesions that occur on the scalp may cause the hair to fall out. If the lesions form scars when they heal, the hair loss may be permanent.
Cancer can develop in discoid lesions that have existed for a long time. It’s important to speak with your doctor about any changes in the appearance of these lesions.
Discoid lupus lesions can be very photosensitive so preventive measures are important:
Avoid being out in the sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Use plenty of sunscreen when you are outdoors
Wear sun-protective clothing and broad-brimmed hats
Limit the amount of time spent under indoor fluorescent lights