Your skin and autoimmune disease

Woman holding jar of lotion. We see just her feet and hands.

Your skin is your body’s largest organ. When something isn’t right in your body, your skin is often the first indication that there’s a problem. This is definitely true when it comes to autoimmune disease.

“Virtually all autoimmune diseases can affect your skin, either directly or even through side effects from autoimmune disease treatments,” says Dr. Erin Foster. A dermatologist, Dr. Foster is an expert in treating autoimmune blistering diseases.

Along with fellow dermatologist, Dr. Noelle Teske, Dr. Foster is now seeing patients at the Center for Women’s Health for everything from acne and skin cancer screening to more complex skin problems.

We asked Dr. Foster to help us understand the connection between autoimmune diseases and skin.

“The skin is not just your largest, most visible organ,” Dr. Foster says. “It’s full of the immune cells you need to prevent infection and when there are problems with your immune system, we often see problems in your skin too.”

A few examples:

  • Lupus can affect your whole body and most people with lupus have some skin-related symptoms. Some people have skin-limited lupus – they only have skin symptoms.
  • Vitiligo causes your immune system to destroy the cells that give your skin its color.
  • Alopecia causes your immune system to attack hair follicles.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and scleroderma all cause problems in your skin and connective tissue.
  • Crohn’s disease can cause vulvar and mouth sores.
  • Celiac disease can cause an itchy skin rash.
  • Gestational pemphigoid (GP) is an autoimmune disease that only happens in pregnancy. It causes a rash that turns to blisters late in pregnancy, and usually fade away after delivery.

Many autoimmune diseases, including lupus, can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If you have skin issues along with autoimmune disease, a dermatologist can be an important part of your care. Even if you have rashes or sores caused by medication you take for your condition, a dermatologist can help you find an ointment or cream to lessen the side effects.

Want to see one of our dermatologists? Call 503-418-4500 to make an appointment. Both are ready to see patients for acne, rashes, and cancer screening as well as more complex conditions.

Dr. Erin Foster is an expert in treating autoimmune blistering diseases and will see patients for skin issues of the vulva and mouth at CWH.

Dr. Noelle Teske has expertise in treating complex conditions caused by autoimmune diseases like lupus and scleroderma.