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Lichen planus

What is it?

Inflammatory disease of unknown cause that affects the skin, visible mucosa, nails and hair. It affects men and women equally and is uncommon in children. Although benign, it is a long-lasting and very uncomfortable disease due to its symptoms.

Characteristics and symptoms

The characteristic lesions of lichen planus are elevated, flat, purplish or reddish and with whitish streaks on the surface, accompanied by intense itching. The duration of the disease varies and can last 1 to 2 years, when it usually regresses spontaneously, leaving residual dark spots where active lesions used to be.

Lichen planus may acquire different forms of expression, forming annular, linear, verrucous (specially on the feet and ankles), bullous or atrophic (depressed) lesions. When it affects the entire skin, it is called generalized lichen planus.

On the mucous membranes, which are affected in around 50% of cutaneous cases, the lesions are whitish, look like branches of a tree and can be accompanied by burning sensation. In around 10% of cases of lichen planus, only the mucous membranes are affected, characterizing the form of mucosal lichen planus.

When lichen planus affects the nails, it forms longitudinal grooves, thinning and progressive destruction of the nail plate, which can be irreversible and lead to nail loss.

On the scalp, lichen planus cause atrophy of hair follicles leading to the formation of areas of alopecia (absence of hair) that are irreversible.


Treatment will vary according to each case and aims at controlling the inflammatory process that causes the lesions and to reduce itching. Local and oral medications may be used.

The disease is refractory to treatment and often requires the use of several drugs for best results. Treatment can last for months until reaches full recovery.

Related articles

- Lichen sclerosus
- Psoriasis

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