Lichen Planopilaris Overview

Lichen planopilaris is a type of lichen planus, a common skin disease that affects hairy areas of the body, causing inflammation, hair loss, and scarring. In some cases, lichen planopilaris leads to permanent hair loss.

Causes of Lichen Planopilaris

Exposure to certain chemicals and allergic reactions to certain drugs are known to cause "lichenoid" reactions, though how is unclear. For example, exposure to antimalarial agents, penicillin, beta blockers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and gold has been known to cause lichen planus. The reaction can occur within weeks or years of exposure to the drug or the offending agent. Some cases of lichen planus have been linked to hepatitis virus C (HVC) infection.

Signs & Symptoms of Lichen Planopilaris

Papules are small, elevated areas on the skin (like pimples). In lichen planopilaris, the papules are purple, reddish purple, or white and shiny with flat tops and uneven shapes. They are often very itchy.

Treatment for Lichen Planopilaris

Lichen planopilaris should be treated as quickly as possible to avoid permanent hair loss. Treatment is individualized because severity of symptoms, extent of the lesions (papules), and response to treatment vary. If a drug or chemical is the suspected cause, the drug should be discontinued and the chemical avoided. Treatment may include the following:

  • Antihistamines to relieve moderate itching
  • Injectable triamcinolone acetonide to treat large, itchy lesions
  • Systemic corticosteroids (e.g., oral prednisone) for severe cases
  • Topical triamcinolone acetonide cream or another, more potent corticosteroid cream to relieve intense itching

Lichen planopilaris usually resolves without treatment, but can recur years later.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 03 Feb 2001

Last Modified: 18 Aug 2011