Rashes and lesions are common symptoms of lupus. Itchy skin can be more than an inconvenience — it can be in indicator of changes in disease activity.
The American College of Rheumatology uses an 11-item classification index to monitor lupus disease involvement. 4 of the 11 items relate to the skin.
Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is the umbrella term for lupus that primarily affects the skin. This type of condition can cause rashes or sores (lesions).
The sun typically triggers the rash or lesions and affects areas such as the face, ears, neck, arms, and legs. However, sun-triggered lupus can affect skin under clothing as well as internal systems.
There are three major types of skin disease specific to lupus and various other nonspecific skin manifestations associated with the disease:
About 10% of Lupus Warriors experience urticaria, better known as hives. These rashes and lesions are typically itchy. Hives can be caused by allergies. Check with your medical provider to rule an allergic reaction out as the cause. Hives lasting more than 24 hours are likely caused by lupus.
Cutaneous vasculitis is when the blood vessels near the skin become inflamed and ultimately restrict blood flow. This condition can also cause hives and lesions that may itch.
Photosensitivity and Lupus
It’s suspected that nearly half of all Lupus Warriors experience sensitivity to sunlight (including artificial lighting) as well as any type of UV radiation. Photosensitivity typically results in the itchy hives and lesions. It can also bring on lupus flares in other parts of the body.
How to Protect the Skin from UV Exposure
Sun protection needs to become part of daily routine for Lupus Warriors. Both types of UVA and UVB rays can activate lupus. Using a broad spectrum sunscreen, especially one with Helioplex, is ideal to limit the impact of the ultraviolet light.
Looking at sunscreens? It’s best to use a sunscreen at SPF 70 or higher. Clothes only have an SPF of 5. Applying a 70 SPF sunscreen or higher all over the body when spending large amounts of time outdoors is a good way to prevent hives. Also, re-apply as directed on the bottle since sweat and prolonged exposure can cause coverage to dissipate.
Other Ways to Prevent Hives and Soothe Itchy Skin
Essential Oils and Natural Skincare Products.
Stress is a leading cause of hives. People often describe seeing the onset of hives as a real anxiety-provoking experience, which exacerbates the urticaria.
Essential oils are great when trying to soothe skin and relieve stress. Some lotions have drying alcohols in the formulation, which in the end will not deeply moisturize everyone’s skin. Do not apply the chosen essential oil directly to the skin. Instead, mix it with a carrier oil (a vegetable oil usually non-consumption purposes) according to the directions on the essential oil bottle.
Calamine Lotion and Zinc Oxide Lotions
Calamine lotion provides nearly immediate relief from itchy skin. Lotions containing zinc oxide are also known to help. Although it’s for the most part unknown why these two types of lotion deliver fast anti-itch relief, the lotions contain properties that act like an astringent.
There are also sunscreens available with a zinc oxide formula.
Itchy Skin and Lupus: In The News
Itch May Require Different Treatment Approaches
Understanding the pattern of pruritus in various autoimmune connective tissue diseases may help physicians identify different etiologies that will inform different treatment targets to alleviate the symptom, according to researchers who examined pruritus relative to disease. Learn more here.
High Bacterial Levels in Half of Lupus Skin Rashes
A new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology reports that half the skin lesions present in patients with lupus show the presence of viable staph bacteria. This makes them more susceptible to skin infections and also increases the risk that the infection will spread to others. Read more here.
Updated on December 13, 2021.