We have characterized the clinical and laboratory features of 27 patients who had in common a recurring, superficial, nonscarring type of cutaneous lupus erythematosus (LE) that occurred in a characteristic distribution (subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus [SCLE]). This clinically distinct form of cutaneous LE has not previously been analyzed as a separate entity and thus, its clinical importance has not been fully appreciated. We found that these patients frequently had a mild systemic illness marked by musculoskeletal complaints and serologic abnormalities. Forty-eight percent had systemic LE by American Rheumatism Association criteria; however, none had serious CNS or renal disease. Thus, those with SCLE are a subset of patients with LE who generally have an illness intermediate in severity between discoid LE and severe systemic LE.