DermNet provides Google Translate, a free machine translation service. Note that this may not provide an exact translation in all languages


Lichen simplex

Author: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1997. Updated July 2014.

Lichen simplex — codes and concepts

What is lichen simplex?

Lichen simplex is a localised area of chronic, lichenified eczema/dermatitis. There may be a single or multiple plaques. It is also called neurodermatitis.

What causes lichen simplex?

Although the mechanism is not understood, lichen simplex follows repetitive scratching and rubbing, which arises because of chronic localised itch. The primary itch can be due to:

Itch due to neuropathy appears to be due to hyperexcitable sensory nerve fibres following nerve injury or entrapment.

Who gets lichen simplex?

Lichen simplex occurs in adult males and females. It is unusual in children. It is more common in people with anxiety and/or obsessive compulsive disorder.

What are the clinical features of lichen simplex?

A solitary plaque of lichen simplex is circumscribed, somewhat linear or oval in shape, and markedly thickened. It is intensely itchy. Other features may include:

  • Exaggerated skin markings
  • Dry or scaly surface
  • Leathery induration
  • Broken-off hairs
  • Pigmentation
  • Scratch marks.

Lichen simplex is often solitary and unilateral, usually affecting the patient’s dominant side. Multiple plaques can also arise, with bilateral and symmetrical or asymmetrical distribution. The location of lichen simplex is not random, as some body sites are particularly commonly affected. These include:

  • Back of scalp and neck
  • Scrotum or vulva
  • Wrists and forearms
  • Lower legs.

Lichen simplex

See more images of lichen simplex chronicus and images of vulval lichen simplex ...

How is lichen simplex diagnosed?

Clinical appearance is generally typical. At times, it may be helpful to do some investigations. These would include:

In the absence of known underlying skin problem or infection, consider neuropathy. Is there a history of spinal injury, disease or symptoms? In severe cases, the following tests may be performed (although they are often unhelpful):

  • Spinal imaging: X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans
  • Electrophysiological nerve conduction studies.

What is the treatment for lichen simplex?

It is important to understand that the itchy patch of skin is, at least in part, due to scratching and rubbing. Treatment needs to address the symptoms and any underlying cause.

Treatment of the lichen simplex may include:

The primary condition needs treating; for example:



  • Cohen AD, Andrews ID, Medvedovsky E, Peleg R, Vardy DA. Similarities between neuropathic pruritus sites and lichen simplex chronicus sites. Isr Med Assoc J 2014; 16(2): 88–90. Journal

On DermNet NZ

Other websites

Books about skin diseases


Related information

Sign up to the newsletter