Lichen Planus

Condition 101

What is the definition of Lichen Planus?

Lichen planus is a condition that forms a very itchy rash on the skin or in the mouth.

What are the causes for Lichen Planus?

The exact cause of lichen planus is unknown. It may be related to an allergic or immune reaction.

Risks for the condition include:

  • Exposure to certain medicines, dyes, and other chemicals (including gold, antibiotics, arsenic, iodides, chloroquine, quinacrine, quinide, phenothiazines, and diuretics)
  • Diseases such as hepatitis C

Lichen planus mostly affects middle-aged adults. It is less common in children.

What are the symptoms for Lichen Planus?

Mouth sores are one symptom of lichen planus. They:

  • May be tender or painful (mild cases may not cause pain)
  • Are located on the sides of the tongue, inside of the cheek, or on the gums
  • Look like bluish-white spots or pimples
  • Form lines in a lacy network
  • Gradually increase in size
  • Sometimes form painful ulcers

Skin sores are another symptom of lichen planus. They:

  • Usually appear on the inner wrist, legs, torso, or genitals
  • Are extremely itchy
  • Have even sides (symmetrical) and sharp borders
  • Occur alone or in clusters, often at the site of a skin injury
  • May be covered with thin white streaks or scratch marks
  • Are shiny or scaly looking
  • Have a dark, violet color
  • May develop blisters or ulcers

Other symptoms of lichen planus are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Hair loss
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Ridges in the nails

What are the current treatments for Lichen Planus?

The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms and speed healing. If your symptoms are mild, you may not need treatment.

Treatments may include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Medicines that calm down the immune system (in severe cases)
  • Lidocaine mouthwashes to numb the area and make eating more comfortable (for mouth sores)
  • Topical corticosteroids or oral corticosteroids to reduce swelling and lower immune responses
  • Corticosteroid shots into a sore
  • Vitamin A as a cream or taken by mouth
  • Other medicines that are applied to the skin
  • Dressings placed over your skin with medicines to keep you from scratching
  • Ultraviolet light therapy

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Lichen Planus?

Lichen planus is usually not harmful. Most often it gets better with treatment. The condition often clears up within 18 months, but may come and go for years.

If lichen planus is caused by a medicine you are taking, the rash should go away once you stop the medicine.

What are the possible complications for Lichen Planus?

Mouth ulcers that are present for a long time may develop into oral cancer.

When should I contact a medical professional for Lichen Planus?

Call your provider if:

  • Your skin or mouth lesions change in appearance
  • The condition continues or gets worse, even with treatment
  • Your dentist recommends changing your medicines or treating conditions that trigger the disorder


James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Lichen planus and related conditions. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 12.

Patterson JW. The lichenoid reaction pattern ('interface dermatitis'). In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2016:chap 3.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
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  • Journal: The oncologist
  • Treatment Used: Immune Checkpoint Blockade (ICB) Therapy
  • Number of Patients: 2
  • Published —
This study evaluated the side effects associated with immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapy (acts as a type of “off switch” that helps keep the T cells from attacking other cells in the body) in patients with squamous cell carcinoma (form of skin cancer; SCC)
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Paraneoplastic Syndromes Associated with Thymoma
  • Journal: The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery
  • Treatment Used: Multi-Modal Treatment
  • Number of Patients: 507
  • Published —
This study examined the association between surgically resected thymomas (thymus tumors) and paraneoplastic syndromes (symptoms associated with cancer) over the past half century.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Alopecia
  • Journal: Photodiagnosis and photodynamic therapy
  • Treatment Used: superluminescent diodes
  • Number of Patients: 16
  • Published —
The purpose of the study was to assess the efficacy of novel superluminescent diodes with a "soft-start" as an adjuvant treatment in selected types of scarring alopecia.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Oral Lichen Planus with Anxiety or Depression
  • Journal: Shanghai kou qiang yi xue = Shanghai journal of stomatology
  • Treatment Used: Modified Xiaoyao Pill
  • Number of Patients: 60
  • Published —
This study tested the safety and efficacy of using a modified Xiaoyao pill to treat patients with oral lichen planus that also have anxiety or depression.