Flakey Skin Around Your Vulva? What You Need to Know About Lichen Sclerosus

Sep 28, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images

Lichen sclerosus is a serious, often long-term skin condition that typically affects the genital region. According to the Mayo Clinic, professionals aren’t sure what causes this condition, but hormonal imbalances and/or an overactive immune system may be factors.

“There is abnormal activity of the cells that cause scarring in the body, called fibroblasts,” explains Dr. Tanya Kormeili, a dermatologist. “This leads to scarring and tightening in the upper dermis of the skin, making the vaginal opening narrower over time, making intercourse near impossible for some.”

More: 3 Skin Conditions That Can Affect Your Vulva

The common symptom, Kormeili adds, is white, patchy skin that feels thinner than normal in the genitalia region, including both the vulva and the penis as well as the anal area. Although postmenopausal women have a high risk, the skin condition can even start in young people. However, those who have the condition when they are children are more likely to see symptoms decrease as they age into puberty.

Other symptoms include discomfort and pain, especially during sexual intercourse, as well as bleeding and blisters in the affected area according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Many are physically unable to have traditional sexual intercourse due to this condition. However, professionals recommend using personal lubricant and/or a vaginal dilator when attempting sexual intercourse in order to make the experience more tolerable.

More: Here's How 9 Real Women With Skin Conditions Stay Confident While Baring Skin

“There is increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer, less than 5 percent, with genital lichen sclerosus,” Kormeili mentions. In other words, although lichen sclerosus doesn’t cause cancer, there is a chance those who have it may develop skin cancer in their genital regions.

Fortunately, there are a few different options in terms of treatment. Kormeili recommends seeing a dermatologist in addition to receiving treatment from a gynecologist because the condition “needs constant supervision until it is managed.”

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic also says topical corticosteroid ointments and creams are commonly prescribed, but immune-modulating medications and ultraviolet light treatment for nongenital areas can also be recommended by a medical professional. Previously, sex hormone treatments were used, but recent evidence suggests they were ineffective.

More: Nearly half of American men have genital HPV infections (gulp)

There are also techniques you can practice on your own. The British National Health Service recommends those with this skin condition to practice self-care routines, such as avoiding irritating the affected area by not touching or washing it as well as not wearing particularly restrictive, tight clothing.

By Danielle Corcione