What Is LS?

Lichen sclerosus (LIKE-in skler-O-sus, also spelled sclerosis) is a skin disorder that can affect men, women, or children, but is most common in women.

It usually occurs on the vulva (the outer genitalia or sex organ) in women, but sometimes develops on the head of the penis in men. Occasionally, lichen sclerosus is seen on other parts of the body, especially the upper body, breasts, and upper arms. The symptoms are the same in children and adults.

Early in the disease, small, subtle white spots appear. These areas are usually slightly shiny and smooth. As time goes on, the spots develop into bigger patches, and the skin surface becomes thinned and crinkled. As a result, the skin tears easily, and bright red or purple discoloration from bleeding inside the skin is common.

More severe cases of lichen sclerosus produce severe scarring that may cause the inner lips of the vulva to shrink and disappear, the clitoris to become covered with scar tissue, and the opening of the vagina to narrow.

Lichen sclerosus of the penis occurs almost exclusively in uncircumcised men (those who have not had the foreskin removed). The foreskin can scar, tighten, and shrink over the head of the penis.

Skin on other areas of the body affected by lichen sclerosus usually does not experience scarring or pain.

“A piece of skin the size of a quarter contains more than three million cells, 12 feet of nerves, 100 sweat glands, 50 nerve endings, and almost three feet of blood vessels.”

The Human Connection
Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson
McGraw-Hill, 1979