Lupus Butterfly Rash

The single most well known symptom of lupus is the rash that a person often gets on their face. This rash will extend from one cheek to the other and over the bridge of the nose. In this way it is said to resemble a butterfly. That is why the rash has been given the name butterfly rash but it is also known as the malar rash.

This rash can look so light that it seems to only brush the cheeks with a hint of color or it can be a deep red. It can be a mild discoloration on the face or there can be bumps. It can also be scaly. In part how this rash appears will tell the patient at which angle the sun was shining on their face. This symptom is seen in nearly half of those who have lupus, particularly those who live with systemic lupus erythematosus which is frequently referred to as SLE.

Where it Comes

The butterfly rash can appear on other parts of the body. It will still be the same pattern but might be seen on the arms, legs or the trunk of the person. The rash only rarely itches, has no pain associated with it but can sometimes be accompanied with a burning feeling.

The rash is more than just a symptom. In many ways it is a sign. It is often the first thing noticed when lupus is newly discovered. Sometimes it can be a warning for someone who already suffers from lupus that they are about to have a flare-up after a period of remission. Or it can be the body giving a sign that the lupus it is about to begin an attack on the persons skin.


The lupus rash was first noticed and written about in the 1840s by a doctor in Vienna named Ferdinand von Hebra. He pronounced the butterfly shaped rash a symptom of lupus and blamed its angle on the stream of sunlight hitting the face. The rash comes because the immune system even attacks the healthy skin tissue. Von Hebra commented that it was very easy to tell the difference between sunburn and the rash based on its special shape.

There are some precautions that can be taken to prevent the butterfly shaped rash that identifies so many lupus sufferers. When going outside be certain to always wear sun screen. The sun protection factor, noted as the SPF on the lotion bottle, should be at least thirty.

Use blinds of some kind on the windows. Wear clothing that will protect the body. This includes a hat with a wide brim. As well, if at all possible try to avoid being out for long periods between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon when the sun it is brightest

If you suffer with lupus and you notice a butterfly type rash coming up on your face, or anywhere else, contact your health care provider immediately as you could be about to have a flare-up of the disease.