Safe Sun Protection Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune Disorders and the Importance of Safe Sun Protection

By now, most people know it’s a bad idea to head out in the sun for hours of sunbathing to earn a golden tan. But there’s more to sun protection than just dabbing on any old sunblock. And, particularly for people with specific autoimmune disorders, protection from the sun should be a serious perennial consideration.

“Everyone should get into habit of wearing sunblock year round, but people with autoimmune issues need to be much more vigilant about covering up their skin,” says dermatologist Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

People with lupus, for example, need to be covered from head to toe when they’re out in the sun because exposure can trigger a painful flare. Some people on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) develop increased sensitivity to sunlight. Conditions such as dermatomyositis, scleroderma and vitaligo are also autoimmune diseases that are sun-sensitive, says Oanh Lauring, MD, chief of dermatology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.


Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen and they don’t reapply it often enough, says Dr. Graf. The key is to slather it on thick. Don’t just spread a thin film and think you’re protected. Use the equivalent of one to two shot glasses of lotion depending on your size, and don’t forget areas such as the backs of your ears and the tops of your feet. Apply it 30 minutes before sun exposure and if you’re still outdoors 90 minutes later, reapply it all over again.

An SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or 45 should be sufficient for most people. There’s not a huge benefit of a higher SPF than that, says Dr. Lauring. But the SPF isn’t the only thing you should look for on your sunscreen label.

The SPF only refers to protection against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Until recently, researchers thought these were the most damaging rays, but studies have found that daily ultraviolet A (UVA) light can also be very harmful. Look for ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or avobenzone. These are UVA and UVB blockers and will make your sunscreen more effective.


Besides covering up with sunblock, covering up with special sun-protected clothing offers great additional shelter.

All the items in the dermatologist-recommended Solumbra line of clothing – including a colorful selection of men’s and women’s shirts, pants, jackets and hats – have an SPF of at least 30, blocking 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

Similarly, Tuga Sunwear offers a line of shirts and hats with 50 ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), blocking UVA and UVB rays. The beachwear UV Skinz offers a zippered version of its popular sun-blocking swimshirt, making it easier to get on and off, especially when it’s wet.


Don’t forget your eyes when you’re in the sun. The Mayo Clinic recommends lenses that block a minimum of 99 percent of UVB rays and at least 95 percent of UVA rays, but now many manufacturers offer 100 percent ultraviolet protection. For example, Julbo, Oakley and Ray Ban offer sunglasses with 100 percent protection against UVA and UVB rays.

Sunglasses that are polarized reduce glare for sharper, clearer vision. Just because lenses are polarized, however, doesn’t mean they offer UV protection, so make sure the lenses are also labeled for UV performance. Use caution if choosing blue-blocking lenses, which are most often yellow or orange. Although these lenses are thought to make vision easier in low light, they may not offer sufficient UV protection.

If you read outdoors, consider sunglasses that double as reading glasses so your eyes are always protected. Try sunglasses like those from Cinzia designs, so you’re not squinting at your books unprotected from harmful rays. 


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One thought on “Autoimmune Disorders and the Importance of Safe Sun Protection

  1. I have been dx with fibro/arthritis and find this article quite helpful even if for healthy people. Thank you.

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