Lichen planus

Lichen planus is a rash that can affect different parts of your body, including the inside of your mouth. See your GP if you think you might have it.

When to get medical help

See a GP if you have:

  • clusters of shiny, raised, purple-red blotches on your arms, legs or body (you may see fine white lines on the blotches)
  • white patches on your gums, tongue or the insides of your cheeks
  • burning and stinging in your mouth, especially when you eat or drink
  • bald patches appearing on your scalp
  • sore red patches on your vulva
  • rough, thinning nails with grooves on
  • ring-shaped purple or white patches on your penis

You may only have one of these symptoms.

Lichen planus on your skin can be very itchy, but not always.

You can't catch lichen planus and it doesn't usually come back once it's cleared up.

Lichen planus often appears on the inside of your wrist

White patches in your mouth may be lichen planus

If you're not sure it's lichen planus

Symptoms Possible cause
Red, flaky, crusty patches, often on elbows or knees psoriasis
Raised, red, scaly patches on the body pityriasis rosea
Itching and white patches on the vulva lichen sclerosus
Ring-like red patch anywhere on the body ringworm
Itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red skin eczema

Treatments from a GP

Lichen planus on your skin usually gets better on its own in about 6 to 9 months. Creams and ointments from your GP can help control the rash and ease itching.

If creams and ointments don't work or you have severe lichen planus, steroid tablets or treatment with a special kind of light (light therapy) can help.

Lichen planus in your mouth can last for several years. Mouthwashes and sprays from your GP can help ease symptoms like burning or sore gums.

For support and information, see UK Lichen Planus.

How to relieve lichen planus at home

If you have lichen planus on your skin

  • wash with plain, warm water – avoid soaps and body washes
  • wash your hair over a sink or bath so the shampoo doesn't come into contact with the rest of your skin
  • use an emollient (moisturising treatment for the skin) on the rash

If the lichen planus is on your vulva, it may also help if you:

  • use Vaseline before and after weeing
  • hold a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a clean tea towel against the affected bits to ease itching and swelling
  • avoid wearing tights

If you have it in your mouth

  • brush your teeth carefully twice a day to keep your gums healthy
  • avoid salty, spicy or acidic foods if they make your mouth sore
  • avoid alcohol and mouthwashes that contain it
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