Understanding Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a long-term (chronic) skin condition. It causes white patches to form on the body. These can appear anywhere, even in the mouth. But they most often affect skin around the genitals. The condition is more common in older women and young girls. It also tends to occur in men who are not circumcised.

How to say it

LY-ken skluh-ROH-sus

What causes lichen sclerosus?

Experts don’t yet know exactly what causes lichen sclerosus. It may be an autoimmune disease. That’s when the immune system attacks healthy parts of the body, such as the skin. It may also be linked to genetics, hormones, or some infections.

Symptoms of lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus causes white patches on the skin. These patches break down the skin. The skin may become thin, wrinkled, and cracked. It can be itchy and painful. The patches may scar, discolor, and disfigure the skin. These changes can damage the skin. They are often found on the back, shoulders, neck, wrist, thigh, and breast areas. They may also be found on the lips or in the mouth. They can also appear around the vagina and on the penis. That may lead to problems having sex and using the bathroom.

Treatment for lichen sclerosus

Treatment can ease symptoms and prevent scarring. It should be started early to avoid lasting (permanent) damage to the skin. Treatment options include:

  • Skin care. Bathing with mild soaps and using moisturizing cream may ease itching.

  • Steroids. These medicines are often put on the skin as an ointment or cream. Very strong steroid creams are used. Your provider may also inject these into the white patches in severe cases.

  • Other medicines. An oral medicine (antihistamine) may be given to ease itching. Other creams or ointments are also available if a steroid doesn’t work.

  • Phototherapy. This treatment directs ultraviolet light on the skin to help clear it.

  • Surgery. This treatment helps with scarring and skin disfigurement. Men may benefit from circumcision if they haven’t yet had it done.

Possible complications of lichen sclerosus

  •  Skin cancer of the genitals

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed

  • Redness, swelling, or fluid leaking from your incision that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • New symptoms