One Patient's Positive Perspectives

Living with Lupus: The malar, or “butterfly” rash on the face is present in about one-third of those with systemic lupus. This flat, reddish rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks, is often the only visible symptom of this form of lupus.  Before I was treated for lupus, a malar rash showed up on my face many times.  As a teenager, my mother was intrigued by the deep purple splotches I had over my cheekbones.

Faces of malar rash

Malar rash is one of the eleven diagnostic criteria for lupus.  After my treatment with Plaquenil, the standard medication for all lupus patients, most of the vivid pigmentation of malar rash quieted down.  Now, malar rash shows up after getting too much sun, or during a flare. To prevent over exposure to sun, I wear a large hat and just try to stay out the heat of the day.

Is it malar rash or rosacea?

The Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) provides this important discussion about malar rash, and compares it to rosacea:

“The butterfly blush or rash is a faint or prominent red rash over the malar area and the bridge of the nose. The rash does not go into the sides of the nostrils or down the fold between the nose and the outer part of the lips. These areas are always spared and look white in contrast to the red rash of the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Sometimes the rash is flat, and sometimes it is elevated. It may be in the form of red blotches or may be completely red over the area. The rash may be itchy, especially if it looks more like a rash than a blush. This rash is typical of SLE but is present in only about 30 percent of patients.

The butterfly rash is often confused by patients and by physicians with a similar red rash which also is over the cheeks. This rash is called acne rosacea. It does involve the areas of the outside of the nostrils and does involve the folds between the nose and the outer part of the lips. In addition, pimples may be seen on top of the red rash in acne rosacea.”

Malar rash or rosacea?

Treating malar rash is best accomplished by treating the lupus, and usually Plaquenil is prescribed.  Patients are encouraged to stay out of the sun to avoid excessive UV exposure, which triggers the rash.  Here are some tips the LFA recommends for reducing sun exposure:

1. The first rule is to stay out of the sun, especially during the middle of the day.
2. The second rule is to wear a good protective sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Use the sunscreen on all exposed skin areas, including the hands.
3. The third rule is to wear a hat with a broad brim.
4. The fourth rule is to wear long sleeves.

Not make up, it is malar!

Lupus malar rash and an unforgettable social reaction!

Once, I had very uncomfortable and unforgettable moment at work because of my malar rash.  A woman who really didn’t like me or our managing attorney very much began belittling me in front of other co-workers.  I was bewildered as this woman began broadcasting her catty critique, “didn’t you get a little too carried away with your rouge this morning?” assuming the unbalanced redness on my cheeks was because I had used my cosmetics without skill.

I will never forget standing there, with my mouth gaping, wondering what in the world she was talking about! I wasn’t even wearing any cosmetics that day, not even lipstick.  Unbeknownst to me, my malar rash had erupted during my morning bus ride to work from the sun exposure during my three block walk to my office.  I had not looked in mirror since leaving my house, so I was caught completely off guard by her stinging comment.

Forgive the unkind, unaware, rude people

This woman had an unkind habit of making fun of people to try to lower other people’s opinions of them, I suppose in misguided efforts to try to make herself  look better.  It is sad that some people think that making fun of someone who is different, albeit diverse from themselves, is somehow a social “sport.”  I think that people who act this way should actually be pitied, and even prayed for, but not hated — because of their lack of wisdom, kindness, insight and understanding.  They reveal the true shallowness of their own soul by their rude acts, and they completely miss out on the rich blessings that kindness produces in relationships.

Fortunately for me, a couple of coworkers who were the intended audience for her unkind “put down,” instantly arose to my emotional defense.  Without me saying a single word in retort, a couple of other coworkers immediately engaged the woman and publicly shamed her for her rudeness toward me.  They spoke directly to her and harshly condemned her behavior!  Others standing by in the room joined in a spontaneous chorus of rebuke.  My coworkers who knew about my lupus recognized it as the cause of my overly red cheeks. After confronting my critic, they turned to me with many encouraging comments.  As for me, for once, I was speechless!

Grateful for lupus awareness

In retrospect, I was very thankful most of my coworkers were lupus aware, and cared enough about me to take up my cause and handle this woman’s rudeness through a little well-timed peer pressure.  Later, I overheard a “water cooler” discussion among other members of the office about their disbelief and disapproval of the woman’s social crudeness, judging it grossly inappropriate for the woman’s supposed professional, economic and social class.

This woman’s stack of degrees and professional position did not impress anyone that morning, but lupus malar rash certainly had an unexpected impact on my day.

[NOTE:  This post was inadvertently published unfinished at 7:00 a.m. using the pre-scheduled posting feature, before I had really finished writing it and including the personal story I felt was very important to share.  When I realized that this morning, I went ahead and completed it over coffee this morning, and re-published the updated version at 9:30 a.m.  My apologies for making major changes to a post after its initial release.  LA 5-22-2012]

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Comments on: "Living with Lupus: Fact #22 – Not so beautiful butterfly rash!" (6)

  1. […] Many of those posts from two years ago had surprising lasting appeal, and stay on the list of all-time most often read posts.  In fact, the #2 on that list is one you might want to read, too:  Living with Lupus Fact 22 – Not So Beautiful Butterfly Rash. […]

  2. […] 2. Living with Lupus: Fact #22 – Not so beautiful butterfly rash! – May 22, 2012 – 10,152 views (#3 all-time) […]

  3. This is something Michael Jackson suffered from, too. There are a ton of photos from the mid-1980s in which you can clearly see his malar “butterfly” rash: http://rhythmofthetide.com/category/michaels-appearance/lupus-michaels-appearance/

    Similar to your experience, Jackson was mocked by magazines and tabloids, who joked that he went crazy with blush, when that clearly wasn’t the case (too raw / irritated and scaly-looking).

    Jackson also went on Plaquenil and Atabrine in in the mid-’80s (as reported in his medical records from his 1984 Pepsi burn, which were recently up for auction). Guess that did the trick, because the rash seemed to have calmed down after that. (It did flare up again in ’86 pics, though.)

    Just thought you might find this celeb lupus tidbit interesting. 😄

    Thank you for sharing your own experiences!

  4. I hate my butterfly rash. It doesn’t hurt or itch, but it’s so red and there’s not much I can do to hide it when it does appear. :[ All I can do is slap on the foundation and make the color look faded. But I’m glad your co-workers are aware about your lupus and they care enough to have your back. :]

  5. wwfd301 said:

    No apology needed. We can chalk it off to Lupus Brain Fog! =) And that coworker totally got what she deserved!!! Too bad it was at your expense!

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