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Smokers with Autoimmune Disorder May Damage Skin

Posted: December 7, 2009

People that suffer from the autoimmune disorder systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and are smokers may be more likely to develop skin damage.

As if there weren't enough reasons to stop smoking, a team of researchers at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) have just found another. A study led by Dr. Christian A Pineau, co-Director of the Lupus and Vasculitis clinic at the MUHC, has clearly linked skin damage and rashes to smoking in people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Rheumatology.

SLE is a long-term autoimmune disorder affecting about one in every 2,000 people. About 90% of SLE patients are women, many of them young. Symptoms are caused by an overactive immune system, and the disease can cause inflammation and damage in almost any organ system, including the skin.

"Up to 85% of people with SLE develop skin involvement at some point," explains Dr. Pineau. "Our study shows that the risk of skin damage such as permanent hair loss and scarring from skin inflammation is significantly increased in smokers. So is the rate of active lupus rash."

While there is no cure for SLE, symptoms can be treated with drugs. "However, smoking may interfere with the effectiveness of some medications used to control skin disease in SLE," says Dr. Sasha Bernatsky, study co-author and physician in the MUHC's rheumatology division. "This may be part of the reason why smoking heightens skin damage in SLE.