Psoriasis vs. Lichen Planus: Symptoms, Treatment, and More

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on October 26, 2017Written by Natalie Silver on December 21, 2015

Overview

If you’ve noticed a rash on your body, it’s natural to be concerned. You should know that there are many skin conditions that can cause skin abnormalities. Two such conditions are psoriasis and lichen planus.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition, and outbreaks can appear just about anywhere on the body. Lichen planus also manifests on the skin, but is typically found on the inside of the mouth. Keep reading to learn more.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a lifelong autoimmune condition. It is a genetic disease that results in skin cells turning over too quickly. This turnover can cause scales and patches to build up on the skin’s surface. Outbreaks may vary in intensity and can come and go over time.

Psoriasis is a common skin condition, and more than 7 million people in the United States are affected. It impacts people of all ages, although most get it for the first time between the ages of 15 and 30.

What is lichen planus?

Lichen planus is an inflammatory skin condition that can cause bumps or lesions to appear on your skin, in your mouth, or on your nails. There is no known cause of lichen planus, and it usually disappears on its own. Most cases last about 2 years.

This condition is most common in middle-aged adults between the ages of 30 and 60. It often affects perimenopausal women. It’s not infectious, so it can’t be passed from person to person.

Understanding the symptoms: Psoriasis

Psoriasis can appear in several different forms. The most common form is plaque psoriasis, which appears on the skin’s surface as red patches with silvery scales. Plaque psoriasis often develops on the scalp, knees, elbows, and lower back.

Four other forms of psoriasis include:

  1. guttate, appearing as small dots on the entire body
  2. inverse, characterized by red lesions in body folds
  3. pustular, which consists of white blisters surrounded by red skin
  4. erythrodermic, a widespread red irritated rash throughout the body

You can experience these different types of psoriasis simultaneously.

If you have a psoriasis flare-up, you may experience these obvious visual signs along with pain, soreness, burning, and cracked, bleeding skin. Psoriasis can also appear as psoriatic arthritis, which causes soreness and stiffness in the joints.

Understanding the symptoms: Lichen planus

Lichen planus appears as bumps or lesions on the body. Those that appear on the skin are reddish-purple in color. Sometimes, these bumps have white lines through them.

Lesions typically appear on the inner wrists, legs, torso, or genitals. They can be painful and itchy, and can form blisters as well. About 20 percent of the time, lichen planus that appears on the skin requires no treatment.

Another common location where lichen planus develops is in the mouth. These lesions can appear as fine white lines and dots, which may grow with time. They can be on the gums, cheeks, lips, or tongue. Often, lichen planus in the mouth causes few symptoms, although outbreaks can be painful.

You may also have lichen planus on your nails or scalp. When it appears on your nails, it may result in grooves or splits, or you may even lose your nail. Lichen planus on your scalp can result in hair loss.

Options for treatment

There isn’t a cure for psoriasis or lichen planus, but there are treatments to reduce discomfort for both.

Psoriasis outbreaks can be treated with topical ointments, light therapy, and even systemic medications. Because psoriasis is a chronic condition, you will always be susceptible to outbreaks.

You can reduce the occurrence of outbreaks by reducing stress, monitoring your diet, and staying out of the sun for long periods of time. You should also be mindful of potential triggers that can cause psoriasis outbreaks, and avoid them if you can.

Lichen planus generally disappears on its own. To reduce painful symptoms and speed up healing, your doctor may prescribe topical and oral medicines, as well as light therapy.

If you still experience skin discoloration after the lichen planus clears up, you may want to seek the advice of a doctor who can recommend creams, lasers, or other methods to reduce it.

Risk factors

If you have psoriasis, you may have an increased risk for diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Lichen planus is not connected to such serious risks, but ulcers of the mouth can increase the risk of oral cancer. Speak with your doctor if you notice any lesions or scales in your mouth.

See your doctor

If you notice an unusual rash on your skin or in your mouth, contact your doctor to determine the cause of the outbreak. Although psoriasis and lichen planus can’t be cured by medication, both conditions can be managed with the help of your doctor and specialized treatment plans.

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