What Lupus Patients Need to Know About Sunscreens and Sunblock

August 4, 2017

For the last 20-30 years, Americans have become wiser about sun protection.  Unfortunately, the sunscreens that received FDA approval at that time did not provide full-spectrum coverage.  The emphasis was on protecting against ultraviolet B (the burning rays).

For patients with lupus, protection against ultraviolet A is just as important.  Sun from the A spectrum beats down on us all day, throughout the day, and it can depress the immune system. The UVA rays also harms connective tissue and elevates the risk of melanoma.

Ultraviolet A risk also does not ebb and flow as the ultraviolet B does.  By mid-October in most locations, the chance of a sunburn from ultraviolet B is dropping rapidly, but the UVA dangers remain so that’s why this protection is additionally vital.

UVA radiation also penetrates glass. A study by US Food and Drug Administration scientists suggests that UVA exposure through windows may be the reason for an observed increase in melanoma skin cancer among office workers.

What You Can Do:

The first and most important “to do” item now is to check the sunscreen you own.  Does it have helioplex (used in Neutrogena products) or Mexoryl 5 (found in La Roche’s Anthelios product) in it?  If your sunblock says it is “broad spectrum” but lacks these ingredients, it isn’t broad-spectrum enough.  Toss what you have and go to your local pharmacy and read carefully. Not even all Anthelios products have Mexoryl 5.

This advice will change as more products are coming out claiming UVA protection.  Movement is underway for a separate rating system for UVA. Given the amount of damage the A rays can cause to anyone, this is something consumers should advocate for.

  • Remember the meaning behind the current ratings: SPF 15 means you are 15 times more protected than with no protection… SPFs below 15 are al little value for people with lupus.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Sunscreen needs to be applied every 2-3 hours especially on the face. Protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats are also useful.

Most lupus patients don’t need to avoid the sun; they just need to take precautions just as everyone else should be doing.

Brought to you by Lupus LA.

Research based on The Lupus Book: A Guide for Patients and Their Families by Daniel J. Wallace, M.D.