As an autoimmune disorder, lupus inhibits the body’s ability to replace old cells with new, healthy ones. Sunburn can cause instances of massive cell death, and when these dead cells build up it is likely to trigger an inflammatory response that leads to a lupus rash.
These rashes can appear on the nose and face or show up as raised patches of skin on any exposed area of the body. Lupus sufferers should take extra precautions to protect themselves from sunburn and its subsequent issues.
Many lupus sufferers also experience photosensitivity. This means excess UV exposure (not just sunburn) can lead to flare-ups and cause pain in the joints, muscles, and internal organs. Surprisingly, this includes the light that fluorescent bulbs give off in addition to external UVA and UVB radiation.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear sunscreen inside, it does mean that thoughtful consideration should be given when deciding what products are best for everyday use when you do leave the house.
After thorough research into requirements for sunscreen to be effective for lupus patients, SimplySunSafe recommends BurnOut SPF 30 for Face and Body as the best sunscreen for lupus. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for those suffering from this condition.
To make sure they get the serious skin protection they need, lupus sufferers should make sure the product they choose a sunscreen that has the following features:
Broad spectrum protection
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation comes in two separate forms with different effects.
UVA radiation can damage the DNA of deep skin cells, which leads to skin cancer and an increase in visible signs of aging such as skin sagging and wrinkling.
UVB radiation is particularly responsible for sunburn and the destruction of surface-level skin cells that cause rashes for those with autoimmune disease.
While most sunscreens offer protection from UVB rays, it is vital to get the widest range of protection possible. Broad spectrum sunscreens prevent UVA and UVB equally, ensuring that your skin is protected in the short and long-term.
Best SPF for lupus
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a common barometer for the effectiveness of sunscreen. However, simply knowing that a higher number is better is not enough to give you a complete understanding of what this number means.
SPF operates on a rating system that indicates the amount of UVB radiation it lets through to your skin. So an SPF 15 sunscreen lets 1/15th of UVB radiation reach your skin while SPF 30 lets 1/30th. This means that, contrary to popular belief, SPF 30 sunscreen does not offer twice as much protection as SPF 15.
This system also hints that SPF indicates the amount of increased time you can spend in the sun without burning. If it normally takes you 10 minutes to burn, an SPF 15 sunscreen will protect you for 15 times longer, or 150 minutes. However, this tend to exaggerate how long you will be protected as an SPF 50 sunscreen would suggest the same person could last for 500 minutes in the sun.
Regardless of the number rating, the effectiveness of most sunscreens wears off around two hours after application, especially if you’re sweating or swimming. A combination of reapplication, wearing protective clothing, and sticking to the shade when possible are all important things to think about in protecting your skin from the sun. Plus, this 2 hour maximum can be reduced based on external factors like sunlight intensity and the thickness of application.
This is especially true for someone with highly photosensitive skin as is a common symptom of lupus. Your ability to resist UV exposure will be dramatically reduced, meaning high SPFs and the extra precautions recommended above are a must.
Also note that SPF concerns UVB radiation specifically, and that reading the product’s active ingredients is the only way to get an idea of UVA protection (more on this in a minute).
To get a clearer understanding of what SPF actually means to us, let’s just focus on the amount of UVB protection each SPF rating provides:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
As shown in the above table, the effectiveness of sunscreen directly correlating to its SPF rating generally caps off after SPF 30. The FDA discourages any rating above 50 in order to stop marketers from using high ratings (100) to mislead people into thinking it will protect your skin for hours on end.
Since no sunscreen is 100% effective, dermatologists say an SPF of 30 or more is usually good enough, and don’t recommend anything higher than SPF 50 even for those extra sensitive cases like people suffering from lupus.
Physical is better than chemical
Physical sunscreens work by reflecting sunlight away from the skin due to their active ingredients. Chemical sunscreens rely on (sometimes harmful) materials to absorb UV radiation as it hits your skin.
As a body care product which requires thick and frequent application, you would think it should be a top priority of its manufacturers to limit the amount of chemicals that can be irritating to the skin as much as possible. According to the Environmental Working Group, however, sunscreens often contain ‘penetration enhancers’ that help the product stick to your skin and as a result are absorbed directly into the body.
Some chemical UV filters mimic hormones or cause allergic reactions in users, a threat directly relevant to those already susceptible to skin discomfort like lupus patients. The biggest culprit of this undesirable effect is oxybenzone, which is known to disrupt hormone regulation.
Other chemical filters in addition to oxybenzone are labeled as endocrine disruptors. Multiple studies have shown all kinds of issues affecting cell development by altering reproductive and thyroid hormones. The direct correlation between these chemicals and hormone regulation are not totally clear, but it is recommended that someone who already has issues in this area take extra care to stay away from these kinds of products.
So if you’ve got lupus, you should steer clear of chemical sunscreens and stick to purely physical ones instead. On top of not using nasty chemicals that could affect your condition, they have the added bonuses of:
- Working immediately upon application
- Lasting longer
- Being less likely to cause irritation
- Having a longer shelf life
To make sure you’re buying a physical sunscreen rather than a chemical one, check the active ingredients list for high concentrations of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These are the two physical sunscreen filters you’ll want to ensure your body is protected without being irritated or affected hormonally.
Alternatively you could just choose one of the sunscreens recommended on SimplySunSafe as all of the sunscreen recommended for lupus her are physical sunscreens that offer fantastic protection without affecting your condition.
Avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone
One of the most common ingredients used in sunscreens with chemical filters is called oxybenzone, which may disrupt hormones by acting like estrogen in the body (Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012). As lupus is an autoimmune disorder that directly relates to hormonal imbalance, it is strongly recommended to avoid using sunscreen with this active ingredient.
This chemical is also known to correlate with endometriosis in women, and for this reason is especially absent from the list of recommended sunscreens for lupus.
Suitable for daily use and wearable with makeup
It’s worth noting that females are much more likely to develop lupus than males, a trend that has led researchers to explore the relationship between hormone imbalance, particularly estrogen, and the severity of its symptoms.
With this in mind, this guide to the five best sunscreens for lupus takes into account products that are formulated for use with cosmetics and makeup.
One common side effect of lupus is referred to as a ‘butterfly rash’ across the face and nose (pictured above). It’s important to choose a sunscreen that is safe and convenient for facial application, and that it is gentle enough for use everyday.
If you are going to be wearing makeup, an additional requirement of the desired product is compatibility with cosmetics. While each sunscreen is different, it’s usually a good rule of thumb to apply it at least 20 minutes before makeup to ensure it is fully absorbed before proceeding with your standard beauty routine.
Best Sunscreen for Lupus Comparison
|BurnOut for Face & Body||CōTZ Sensitive||DeVita Solar Protective||EltaMD UV Physical||Heliocare Ultra Gel|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (18.6%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (14%)||Zinc Oxide (9%) & Titanium Dioxide (7%)||Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide|
|Fragrance free||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No (light but inoffensive smell)|
5 Best Sunscreens for Lupus
After thorough research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, participating in skincare forums, and reading medical journals SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for lupus. All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, have an invisible finish, and are compatible with makeup products.
BurnOut SPF 30 for Face and Body scores well in all categories to make it an all-around great sunscreen for lupus sufferers.
It is a physical sunscreen with broad spectrum protection to cover both UVA and UVB radiation, uses zinc oxide as its active ingredient, avoids chemicals which may disrupt hormones, is good for daily use on the face (as mentioned in the name), and has a matte finish without that pesky white cast left on your skin.
With proper use, even users with darker skin tones are satisfied with BurnOut’s completely matte look. It also absorbs well so that makeup can be applied over your invisible protective layer.
In addition, this product is paraben, oil, nanoparticle, and fragrance free, and priced reasonably for its high quality. All of these features put together make BurnOut for Face and Body a confident pick as the best sunscreen for lupus patients.
It’s important not to confuse this product with Burnout Eco-sensitive Zinc Oxide Sunscreen. The original recipe was changed for this version to increase the SPF to 35, which has unfortunately resulted in a reduction of quality. Although it offers great protection, this sunscreen is not good for facial application as it feels and looks greasy, making it a particularly unappealing choice in the search for the best sunscreen for discoid lupus.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Great value
- Matte finish makes it a great base for makeup
- Formula feels a little thick
CōTZ Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 40 is a close second in the race for the best sunscreen for lupus. It is specifically formulated for sensitive skin (again, it’s the name) and shouldn’t irritate or cause flare-ups on the most sensitive lupus-affected skin.
It is extra gentle and free of chemical sunscreen filters as required for lupus. It offers balanced broad spectrum protection and is even water and sweat resistant, but this shouldn’t stop you from reapplying often.
This product has no fragrance and contains zero preservatives. It blends translucent and won’t clog the pores on your skin. It soothes while protecting sensitive areas, making this particular version great for your face.
It is priced as reasonably as BurnOut for an equally effective sunscreen. The only reason it places second is its slightly higher zinc oxide content (which makes it a little less compatible with cosmetics) and less unanimously positive user reviews.
However, don’t let this deter you from trying out what works best for your own skin! Chances are good it will do as well of a job as the top pick.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- 40-minute water resistance
- Designed for sensitive skin
- Not as compatible with cosmetics
DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+ is a broad spectrum sunscreen that is zinc oxide-based and offers physical rather than chemical protection. It’s full of natural ingredients, and is free of parabens, nanoparticles, and added fragrances.
DeVita takes particular pride in prohibiting the use of hormone disruptors in their products as well as making sure they are environmentally safe. With a list of ingredients including Japanese green tea extract, essential oils of lavender and chamomile, seaweed extract, and grape seed extract, it is sure to leave your skin feeling refreshed and healthy.
This product is safe for everyday use and feels great on sensitive skin. Because of its natural composition, its texture is a little less cosmetic as others in this list. It still results in a matte finish, but requires a little extra work during application to achieve a perfectly smooth and even look. DeVita Solar is, however, the only recommended product that is 100% vegan, so if that is important to you, the texture might be a worthy trade-off.
Don’t be thrown off by the mixed reviews of this product. This was due to a temporary change in formula that left the product feeling thick and sticky, which upset its loyal customers. DeVita listened to the negative feedback and updated the formula years ago. This product is a swell pick for those healthy and environmentally conscious sufferers of lupus.
If you’re not interested in the 7 ounce version of this product linked above it also comes in a smaller 2.5 ounce version for travel and convenience.
- Hydrating ingredients
- Less cosmetic texture
EltaMD UV Physical Broad Spectrum SPF 41 Sunscreen protects against the entire range of UV rays using physical protection, as the name suggests. It uses both zinc oxide and titanium oxide but is still missing those dangerous hormone disruptors. It dries clear and is a good base for makeup.
This product is free of oils and fragrances, and was designed for sensitive skin. This is great for people who are just as aware of the value of comfort as its manufacturers.
This sunscreen is tinted slightly to brighten skin tone. In combination with makeup, EltaMD UV Physical blends well and looks natural.
While darker skin tones have been occasionally known to experience an ashy look after applying, this can be easily fixed with a good makeup foundation. For this reason it is listed as number four in this list of the best sunscreens for lupus sufferers.
- Designed for sensitive skin
- Lightly tinted
- Lower levels of active ingredients
Heliocare Ultra SPF 50+ Gel is the highest SPF sunscreen on this list. It is broad spectrum and uses both zinc and titanium oxide as active ingredients. It is free from hormone disruptors and good for daily use with makeup.
This product is specifically marketed for patients of clinical treatment and designed to provide the most sensitive skin out there with the highest protection available. The gel feels like a moisturizer during application and dries transparent. It’s great for greasy skin types that are prone to acne breakouts and has a light feel that absorbs well under makeup.
This is the most expensive sunscreen on the list by far, and this may mean one of the more inexpensive options featured is more suitable. However, this is an amazing product. A possible compromise it to use Heliocare Ultra only during your lupus flare-ups when it’s most effective and select a different option that costs less for daily use.
INSIDER’S TIP: Before the SPF 50+ cap was imposed by the FDA, this product was marketed as Heliocare Ultra SPF 90 Gel. This SPF 90 product is now sold in the SPF 50+ container, so it’s the same product! If you’re interested in the identical product you can pick it up for slightly cheaper still being sold in the old SPF 90 packaging. This won’t last forever, so get in while you can!
- Designed for post-treatment skin
- Cosmetic texture
After consulting this comprehensive guide looking into the best sunscreens for lupus, you should be much more familiar with the necessity of this product for lupus sufferers, the important feature of sunscreens, and how to go about making your choice.
While SimplySunSafe recommends BurnOut SPF 30 for Face and Body, all five products will provide the protection you need without causing any extra discomfort due to your lupus. Choose the product that sounds best for you and if it doesn’t work out, come back and try another until you find the right sunscreen for your skin.
If you experience particularly positive results with any other brands, share them in the comments and I’ll do some research and might add them to this guide.
If you’d like sunscreen recommendations for other skin conditions, SimplySunSafe has a range of guides including keratosis pilaris sunscreen, sunscreen for melasma, and sunscreen for rosacea. Just go to the top of this page and search for a condition to find the recommendations you’re looking for.