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How to enjoy the sun if you have lupus or other skin conditions

I was diagnosed with Lupus 20 years ago, yet I live in Spain and enjoy the sunshine as much as anyone else. For those who don’t know, lupus is an auto-immune disease, similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis, but it affects the organs as well as the joints, and of course, the skin is the largest organ in the body. So how can you enjoy the sunshine and protect your skin if you have lupus or other chronic skin conditions?

One of the most distressing symptoms of the condition is sun sensitivity, also known as photosensitivity. In at least half of lupus patients, exposure to the sun is likely to trigger the characteristic butterfly rash across the nose and cheeks, or maybe a discoid rash of raised, scaly patches on the rest of the body. Also, sunlight can trigger joint pain and the fatigue that is characteristic of lupus.

Use a high factor SPF

It’s not known how or why UV rays impact on lupus, but sunlight can and does exacerbate the condition. When you have lupus, you just can’t afford to go out in the sun without adequate sunscreen protection. Don’t even consider anything less than sun protection factor (SPF) 30, and you’ll probably need SPF 50 for your face. If in doubt, check with your doctor. Lupus patients are sensitive to both UVA and UVB rays, so be sure your chosen sunscreen offers protection from both. Look for avobenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide on the list of ingredients.

Also, make sure to apply enough sunscreen to fully protect your skin. For complete protection, you need to apply at least one ounce (28g) of sunscreen each time you use it. Put simply, a 250ml bottle of sunscreen should be enough for around 8 – 10 all-over applications, depending on your size and how much skin is on show. If one bottle lasts the whole summer, then you’re not using enough, or the weather is atrocious, and that’s not very likely here in Spain. Don’t make the mistake of thinking high factor SPF will stop you getting a golden glow. I use Factor 30 on my body and Factor 50 on my face, and I’m not exactly a pale English rose!

Don’t stay in the sun for hours on end

A full day on the beach is not the best plan if you have lupus, even with sunscreen. Avoid the hottest part of the day – from around noon until 3.00 pm – and wear a full brimmed hat to shield your face. Organise any outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon, when UVB rays are not at full strength. UVA rays remain constant all day and all year round, but timing outdoor activities to coincide with lower strength UVB rays should allow you to stay al fresco for longer without triggering a flare up or rash.

If you happen to spend too long in the sun one day, cut down the next day. Enjoy the outdoors by all means, but stay in the shade. It’s worth it to avoid a flare up of joint pain, or a rash which could keep you indoors and in discomfort for several days until it heals.

Invest in sun protective clothing

These days, you can buy clothing and swimwear with an SPF factor of 50 or higher. It’s more expensive than regular gear, but it may mean the difference between enjoying the outdoor life and languishing indoors.

Wear darker colours

Light coloured fabrics allow more UV rays to pass through than dark colours, so dress darker on sensitive areas of the body. If you really must have light colours, choose thicker weaves such as linen to minimise UV ray penetration.

Be prepared

Always carry a hat, sarong or light wrap and extra sunscreen in case you’re unexpectedly caught out in the heat of the sun. Keep your sunscreen in an insulated cool bag if you can, or freeze a small ice pack and place it in a plastic bag with your sunscreen. Overheating alters the chemical composition of the product, and may render your sunscreen ineffective. By the time you realise, it may be too late to avoid a flare up.

Just because you happen to have lupus, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy everything that summer in Spain has to offer. With a bit of planning and forward thinking, you can enjoy summer in Spain just as much as anyone else. I certainly do!

Published April 29th, 2017 by Sandra Piddock
Posted to Expat Blog

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