Lichen sclerosusOverview

Lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that causes itchy white patches on the genitals or other parts of the body. There's no cure, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.

Check if you have lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus affects people of all ages, including children. But it's much more common in women over 50.

It causes patches on the skin that are usually:

  • itchy
  • white
  • smooth or crinkled
  • easily damaged – they may bleed or hurt if rubbed or scratched

The patches can appear anywhere but most often are on the:

  • area around the opening of the vagina (vulva) and anus – in girls and women
  • foreskin and end of the penis – in boys and men

See a GP if you have:

  • an itchy white patch on your genitals or skin
  • been diagnosed with lichen sclerosus and treatment isn't helping
  • been diagnosed with lichen sclerosus and have pain when going to the toilet or having sex

Your GP may refer you to a specialist for tests and treatment.

Treatment for lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus cannot be cured, but prescription steroid cream usually helps relieve the symptoms.

You may need to use the cream regularly for a few months to get your symptoms under control.

If your symptoms keep coming back, you may have to keep using it every now and again.

You can get more cream from your GP if you need it.

Things you can do to help

To help stop your skin becoming irritated or damaged:

Do

  • wash with emollient soap substitutes instead of regular soap – ask a doctor or pharmacist about suitable products
  • gently dab your genitals dry after peeing
  • regularly apply a barrier cream or ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to affected areas
  • wear cotton or silk underwear
  • use vaginal lubricant if sex is uncomfortable

Don't

  • scratch or rub the affected skin
  • wear tight or restrictive clothes – women may find it helps to wear stockings rather than tights
  • wash your underwear with detergent – just use water

Problems caused by lichen sclerosus

Although treatment can help, skin affected by lichen sclerosus can sometimes become scarred and tight over time.

This can cause discomfort when peeing, pooing, having sex or getting an erection.

If it's severe, you might need a small operation – such as surgery to widen your vagina or remove your foreskin (circumcision).

Important

Cancer and lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus also increases your risk of getting cancer on your vulva or penis.

The risk is low, but it's a good idea to check yourself regularly and see a GP if you're worried.

Symptoms to look for include a lump or ulcer that doesn't go away.

Read about vulval cancer and penile cancer.

Causes of lichen sclerosus

The cause of lichen sclerosus is unknown.

It might be due to your immune system (the body's defence against infection) mistakenly attacking and damaging your skin.

Lichen sclerosus is not:

  • contagious – you can't spread it to other people
  • caused by poor personal hygiene

Page last reviewed: 31/05/2018
Next review due: 31/05/2021