Cutaneous Lupus (Skin Lupus): Appearance, Symptoms & Treatment (2024)

What is cutaneous lupus erythematosus (skin lupus)?

Systemic lupus is a type of autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your body, including your internal organs. In cutaneous (skin) lupus, your immune system attacks your skin. About 10% of all lupus cases are cutaneous and 65% of people with systemic lupus will develop skin lupus.

Women are much more likely to have lupus. Around 90% of people with lupus are women between ages 15 to 44. However, people of all genders and ages can get it. Lupus in children usually develops around age 12. Your risk of developing lupus is higher if you have a relative with lupus or another autoimmune disorder.

Women of color are about two to three times more likely to have lupus. It’s much more common among women who are Black, Hispanic or of Asian descent.


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Are there different types of cutaneous lupus?

There are three types of cutaneous (skin) lupus. Each type has similar symptoms, including a red, scaly rash that often results from exposure to the sun.

The three kinds of cutaneous lupus are:

Discoid cutaneous lupus

In this type of cutaneous lupus, the skin lesions are round (disk-shaped), thick, scaly and red. You may experience symptoms including pain, itching and burning. In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms. Most often, symptoms will develop on your face, ears or scalp. However, you can develop symptoms on other parts of your body too. This condition can sometimes cause scarring and discolorations on your skin (skin can turn darker or lighter). If you develop this condition on your scalp, it might lead to hair loss which may be permanent.

Discoid lesions that have been on your skin for years can potentially develop into skin cancer. These lesions should be monitored carefully and any changes should be reported to your healthcare provider. If you have discoid lupus, your provider will schedule regular checkups to monitor your health.

Subacute cutaneous lupus

When you have subacute cutaneous lupus, red borders develop around the edges of these lesions. They can look like a ring with a darker red circle on the ring's outer edge. The skin is red and scaly. These lesions can result from a reaction to certain medications.

They appear most often on the neck, chest, upper back, shoulders and arms. They typically develop on areas that have been in the sun. They don’t usually hurt, itch or scar. Your skin can develop discolored areas.

Acute cutaneous lupus

This red rash often develops along the cheeks and the bridge of the nose, usually after sun exposure. Providers call this a malar rash or “butterfly rash” because of its shape. A malar rash looks like a sunburn and can also develop on other parts of your body, including the arms and legs. These rashes don’t usually scar, but skin discoloration can occur.

This characteristic “butterfly rash” is a sign of systemic lupus. People who develop this type of rash could have lupus symptoms in other areas of their body as well.

Cutaneous Lupus (Skin Lupus): Appearance, Symptoms & Treatment (2024)
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