Skin Disorders and Disability Benefits
While most skin conditions are not disabling enough to make someone eligible for disability benefits, there are some serious diseases that may qualify, especially if the skin affected is on the hands or feet.
While some skin problems can be merely unsightly and cause embarrassment, there are skin disorders that cause serious limitations, such limitations of the range of motion and the inability to grasp items with the hands. If you suffer from a chronic skin disorder that prevents you from working full-time, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may grant you disability benefits.
Can I Get Disability Benefits for My Skin Disorder?
Social Security will first look to see if you are working and earning money at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level. In 2017, that amount is $1,170; therefore, if you earn $1,170 or more per month, the SSA will automatically deny your claim.
If you are not working at the SGA level, the SSA must decide if you skin disorder will last at least 12 continuous months. If it is expected to meet the duration requirement, the SSA must then decide if your skin disorder is "severe." A "severe" impairment is one that causes more than a minimal interference with your ability to work.
Once the SSA has made these initial determinations, it will look to see if your skin disorder meets or equals one the requirements for one of the skin diseases established in the SSA's Listing of Impairments. If your skin disorder meets the criteria of one of the listings, you will be automatically approved for disability. (Learn more generally about qualifying for disability benefits through an impairment listing).
Listing 8.00, Skin Disorders
The SSA addresses qualifying skin disorders in Listing 8.00. Because the criteria for the skin disorders discussed in Listing 8.00 are complex, it will be helpful to review the listing requirements with your treating physician to determine if you qualify.
Listing 8.02 Icthyosis
Icthyosis is also known as fish scale disease. It causes thick scaling on your skin that can develop into painful cracks on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands. If you have been diagnosed with icthyosis, you will be automatically approved for disability if you show that your lesions are widespread and have lasted at least three months despite following the treatments prescribed by your doctors.
Listing 8.03 Bullous Disease
Bullous disease is a term used to describe numerous skin ailments that cause severe lesions. Some examples of bullous diseases are: pemphigus, dermatitis herpetiformis, and pemphigus. To qualify under Listing 8.03, you must be diagnosed with a bullous disease and suffer widespread skin lesions that last at least three months, despite following the treatments prescribed by your doctors.
Listing 8.04 Chronic Infections of the Skin or Mucous Membranes
If you suffer from infections of your skin or mucous membranes (for example, on the inside of your mouth, nose, or stomach), you may be approved for disability automatically if your infection doesn't go away despite following a doctor's treatment for a period of at least three months. You must also show that the infection causes widespread breakdown of your skin tissue (ulcerating lesions) or breakdown of the skin tissue with necrosis (death of the tissue).
Listing 8.05 Dermatitis
Dermatitis describes skin disorders that can cause intense itching, redness, and inflammation of the skin. Some examples of dermatitis are psoriasis, dyshidrosis, and atopic dermatitis. To qualify for disability under Listing 8.05, you must be diagnosed with dermatitis and experience widespread lesions that last at least three months, despite following your doctor's course of treatment.
Listing 8.06 Hidranitis Suppurative
Hidranitis suppurative is a severe form of acne that results in numerous blackheads and pus-filled lesions. The lesions are painful and may cause permanent scarring. They occur most often in the groin, armpit, anus, or wherever skin rubs together. If you have been diagnosed with hidranitis suppurative, you will be automatically approved for disability, if you experience widespread lesions complications (despite following your prescribed treatment for at least three months):
- in both armpits.
- in both the left and right groin area, or
- in the perineum.
Listing 8.07 Genetic Photosensitivity Disorders
People who suffer from genetic photosensitivity disorders have an inherited condition that causes their skin to react abnormally when exposed to sunlight. To qualify for disability for your genetic photosensitivity disorder you must meet one of the following criteria:
- You must be diagnosed with xeroderma pigmentosum (XP). (An individual with XP is considered disabled from birth.)
- You must be diagnosed with another genetic photosensitivity disorder and:
- suffer from widespread skin lesions that have lasted or are expected to last at least 12 continuous months, or
- be unable to live outside of a highly regulated environment for at least 12 months.
Listing 8.08 Burns
If you have suffered serious thrid degree burns, say from corrosive chemicals, a kitchen fire, or a car accident, you will be automatically approved for disability if you have widespread lesions that have lasted or are expected to last at least 12 continuous months. In addition, the burns must:
- significantly limit your functional use of your arms, your legs, or one arm and one leg, or
- be on the palms of both hands, limiting your ability to handle and finger objects, or
- be on the soles of both feet, limiting your ability to walk and carry out the duties of everyday living.
Listing 13.03 Skin Cancer
If your skin disorder is skin cancer or melanoma, see our article on disability for skin cancer.
What If My Skin Disorder Doesn't Meet a Listing?
Some people suffer from skin disorders as a result of other diseases. In these cases, the SSA will look first to the primary illness to determine if your primary disease meets or equals a listing. If neither your skin disorder nor primary illness meet or equal a listing, the SSA must determine if you can work despite your disease. If the SSA feels you can do your past work, you will be denied; otherwise it will assess what work you are able to do given your age, education, past work experience, and symptoms of your illness.
To notify the SSA that you have limitations that prevent you from working, you should provide the SSA with a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC) from your treating doctor that discusses your work-related limitations that result from your skin disorder. For example, if your disorder causes painful cracking and blisters on your hands, your ability to use your hands may be significantly affected. If you cannot use your hands more than one-third of a normal workday, the SSA will likely approve you.
Similarly, your skin ailment may cause painful blisters on the buttocks, back, and feet that significantly affect your ability to sit, stand or walk; your RFC should state specific time limits for these activities. If you can prove you are unable to sit or stand for a total of six hours during a workday, your claim will likely be approved.