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Lichen planus

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

Check if it's lichen planus

The main symptoms of lichen planus include:

  • clusters of shiny, raised, purple-red blotches on your arms, legs or body (you may see fine white lines on the blotches) – the rash may be harder to see on black or brown skin
  • 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 1 of these symptoms.

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

Lichen planus on the inside of the wrist of a person with white skin.
Lichen planus often appears as purple-red blotches on the inside of your wrist.
Lichen planus on the inside of the arm of a person with black skin.
Lichen planus can appear as a rash on the inside of your arm.
White patches of lichen planus in the mouth of someone with white skin.
White patches in your mouth may be a symptom of lichen planus.
If you're not sure it's lichen planus
Conditions similar to lichen planus
Symptoms Possible cause

Red, flaky, crusty patches, often on elbows or knees

Possible cause



Raised, red, scaly patches on the body

Possible cause

Pityriasis rosea


Itching and white patches on the vulva

Possible cause

Lichen sclerosus


Ring-like red patch anywhere on the body

Possible cause



Itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red skin

Possible cause


Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you think you have lichen planus

Treatments for lichen planus

Lichen planus on your skin usually gets better on its own in about 9 to 18 months.

Creams and ointments from a GP can help control the rash and ease itching.

If creams and ointments do not 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 a GP can help ease symptoms like burning or sore gums.

You cannot catch lichen planus and it does not usually come back once it's cleared up.

How to ease lichen planus at home

There are things you can do to help ease lichen planus symptoms at home. These will depend on which area of your body is affected.

Lichen planus on the skin

If you have lichen planus on your skin:

  • wash with warm water – avoid soaps and body washes
  • wash your hair over a sink or bath so the shampoo does not touch the rest of your skin
  • a GP may prescribe a moisturising treatment for the skin (emollient) to use on the rash
  • try not to scratch your skin

Lichen planus on the genitals

If you have lichen planus on your genitals:

  • try to have showers rather than baths
  • hold a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a clean tea towel against the affected areas to ease itching and swelling
  • avoid wearing tights or close-fitting clothes
  • carefully dry yourself after having a pee to reduce the chances of pee getting in contact with your skin – avoid rubbing the area
  • use a lubricant if sex is painful

Lichen planus in the mouth

If you have lichen planus in your mouth:

  • avoid salty, spicy and acidic foods, or alcohol, if they make your mouth sore
  • brush your teeth carefully twice a day to keep your gums healthy
  • use a mouthwash that does not contain alcohol, if it makes your mouth sore

Page last reviewed: 02 August 2023
Next review due: 02 August 2026