It’s no secret that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damages your skin. UVA rays are more strongly associated with sunburns and skin cancer, while UVB rays also damage skin and raise your risk for skin cancer.
If you have the autoimmune disease lupus, though, you have extra reason to block both types of UV rays from your skin: They trigger lupus flares.
Our expert rheumatologists at Rheumatology Center of New Jersey want you to stay flare-free this summer. But they also know that if you’re deficient in Vitamin D — a hormone that your body creates when exposed to sunlight — you’re more likely to have lupus.
Following are some tips on how to protect yourself from UV damage and flares while still getting the vitamin D you need to keep your immune system strong this summer.
Always wear sunscreen
Of course, now that summer’s in full force, you need to be extra diligent with sunscreen to avoid sunburns and flares. But if you have lupus, you have to protect your skin against UVA and UVB rays year-round, even when you’re indoors.
Why? You have to protect yourself from the UVA rays emitted by fluorescent and halogen lights, typically found in offices and stores.
At Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, we recommend wearing sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and that offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
You need about 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to adequately protect your entire body if you’re an adult. If you’re outdoors, don’t neglect sun-exposed areas such as:
- Your lips (use an SPF lip balm)
- Bald patches on your head
- Your hands and feet
- Between your fingers and toes
- The front and back of your ears
- The back of your neck
Reapply sunscreen every two hours when you’re outdoors and after you’ve sweated, been swimming, or wiped yourself with a towel.
You’re made for the shade
Sunscreen alone isn’t enough to protect your skin and your system from lupus flares. Heat can trigger a flare, too.
If you must be outdoors (with sunscreen, of course), head for the shade of a tree or a picnic umbrella. Whenever possible, you should also wear:
- Wide-brimmed hat
- UVA/UVB 100%-rated sunglasses
- Clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF-rated)
- Long sleeves
- Long pants
- Full-length skirt
- Bathing suit cover-up
You should also avoid peak outdoor sunlight hours, between 10am and 4pm.
Take a vitamin D supplement
Lupus affects your skin, your organs, and even your brain. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly associated with lupus.
Both lupus and vitamin D deficiency tend to be more prevalent in African Americans and other people with dark skin tones, which blocks the sunlight your body needs to manufacture vitamin D.
Because sunlight is a flare trigger, you shouldn’t try to get your vitamin D by exposing your skin to UVA and UVB rays without the benefit of sunscreen. Instead, we recommend taking a vitamin D supplement.
We give you a blood test to determine your current vitamin D levels, then prescribe a supplement based on those values.
If you’re deficient in vitamin D, you may need to start at a high dose, such as a weekly 50,000 IU capsule of vitamin D2 for eight weeks, followed by 1,000-2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.
We check your levels again after three months and make adjustments based on your new values.
If you’re worried about your vitamin D levels or have a lupus flare, contact us right away. Call our nearest location or request an appointment using our online tool. We have offices in Somerville, Flemington, and Monroe, New Jersey. We offer telemedicine appointments, too.