Lichen planus is a chronic skin condition. It causes itchy, flat, scaly patches on the wrists, legs, trunk, or genitals. It can also affect the inside of the mouth and vagina. There it resembles a white spider web. It may ulcerate. Rarely, it can also become cancerous. The scalp and fingernails can also be affected. It may become wart-like in thickness. Lichen planus may continue on and off for months or years. Scratching makes this condition worse.
Section of Skin with Lichen Planus
Not much is known about the cause. It is possibly an immunologic reaction due to genetic factors. It may be brought on by certain medications or diseases.
Lichen planus is more likely to occur in the presence of:
- Hepatitis C
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Certain prescription medications
- Graft vs. host disease
- Dental materials
The condition is more common in females. It is also more common and in those 30 to 60 years old. Lichen planus is rare in children and the elderly.
Lichen planus may cause:
- Itching, flat-topped purplish bumps or scaly patches—especially on the palm side of the wrists, the top of the foot and shins, the trunk, or the genitals
- Hair loss
- Abnormal appearance to the nails
- Milky-white, spider web-like patches in your mouth or vagina, with or without burning or discomfort
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medications, and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Usually can be diagnosed by the appearance of the rash. You may be referred to a dermatologist.
If the diagnosis is unclear, a skin biopsy may be done.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
- Topical or oral antihistamines to relieve itching
- Other topical anti-itching products, such as menthol or eucalyptus oil
- Soothing oatmeal baths
Topical steroids may be used to help decrease inflammation. Steroids may also be injected by a needle directly into a lesion. Oral or IV steroids are only used in severe cases.
There are no current guidelines to prevent lichen planus. Avoid any medications that may have triggered it in the past.
Canadian Dermatology Association
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Gorouhi F, Solhpour A, et al. Randomized trial of pimecrolimus cream versus triamcinolone acetonide paste in the treatment of oral lichen planus. J Am Acad Dermatol. 200757(5):806-813.
Lichen planus. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/i---l/lichen-planus. Accessed December 17, 2013.
Lichen planus. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aocd.org/?page=LichenPlanus. Accessed December 17, 2013.
Turan H, Baskan EB, et al. Methotrexate for the treatment of generalized lichen planus. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009;60(1):164-166.
Wackernagel A, Legat FJ, et al. Psoralen plus UVA vs. UVB-311 nm for the treatment of lichen planus. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2007;23(1):15-19.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.