Skin manifestations of lupus erythematosus (LE) are common and are a significant source of morbidity. Lupus-specific skin disease includes chronic cutaneous lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus and acute cutaneous lupus. These conditions have in common a lichenoid tissue reaction. The best-characterized mouse model of spontaneous onset lupus-like skin disease is the MRL/lpr mouse. We review features of this mouse model pertinent to lupus skin disease. Transgenically altered mice indicate an important role for keratinocytes and skin dendritic cells in the development of cutaneous LE. Ultraviolet light (UV) is an environmental factor that has been implicated in exacerbation of systemic disease in LE. Two inbred mouse strains, BXSB and NOD, demonstrate UV accelerated, and UV induced, systemic LE-like disease respectively. We discuss mechanisms of UV-mediated acceleration of disease in these models. A better understanding of these mouse models will lead to an improved understanding of clinical cutaneous lupus erythematosus.