Photosensitivity in patients with lupus erythematosus: a clinical and photobiological study of 100 patients using a prolonged phototest protocol

Br J Dermatol. 2003 Jul;149(1):131-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.2003.05379.x.


Background: There is a clear relationship between ultraviolet (UV) radiation (UVR) and the clinical manifestations of patients with lupus erythematosus (LE). Cutaneous lesions are induced or exacerbated by exposure to UVR. Of patients with LE, 24-83% are reported to be photosensitive to UVR. LE tumidus appears to be the most photosensitive subtype of LE, followed by subacute cutaneous LE (SCLE). In general, the history of patients with LE correlates poorly with the presence or absence of photosensitivity, due to a delayed time interval between UV exposure and exacerbation of skin lesions. Phototesting using artificial UVR and visible light is a reliable way of diagnosing photosensitivity.

Objectives: To investigate the photoreactivity of patients with various subtypes of LE using an individualized phototest protocol. The results of phototests were correlated with the history of photosensitivity, the subtype of LE, the presence of autoantibodies and the use of anti-inflammatory medication by these patients.

Methods: Phototesting with UVA, UVB and visible light was performed in 100 patients with LE. The diagnosis of LE was established both on clinical examination and skin histology. Serological studies were also performed in all patients. The phototests were performed on large skin areas of the forearm or trunk; the first dose was twice the minimal erythema dose and the dosage was increased according to the individual reactions of the patients at the test sites. Follow-up of skin reactions at the test sites was performed for up to 2 months. Histological examination of the photoprovoked skin lesions was carried out in 57 patients.

Results: Of the 100 patients included (81 women and 19 men; mean age 41 years, range 17-79), 46 had chronic discoid LE, 30 SCLE and 24 systemic LE. An abnormal reaction to UVR and visible light was found in 93% of our patients with LE. No clinical or histological evidence at the phototest sites of polymorphic light eruption was found. There was no correlation between photosensitivity and LE subtype, presence of autoantibodies or medical history. Concomitant use of anti-inflammatory medication seemed to exert only minimal influence on the results of phototesting.

Conclusions: When using an extended phototesting protocol, almost all patients with LE in this study showed clinical and histological evidence of aberrant photosensitivity. Therefore, patients with LE should receive thorough advice and instruction on photoprotective measures, regardless of their history, LE subtype or presence of autoantibodies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / complications*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Discoid / complications
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Discoid / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / complications*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photosensitivity Disorders / diagnosis
  • Photosensitivity Disorders / etiology*
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Tests / methods
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Prednisone