For vulva owners, occasional dryness and itchiness is common - it comes with the territory of constantly fluctuating hormones! But not all itching should be dismissed so easily. If you’re experiencing chronic symptoms, a condition called lichen sclerosus could be the culprit. Here’s what you need to know.
Q: What is lichen sclerosus?
A: Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a benign, inflammatory skin condition that affects approximately 1 in 70 vulva owners. While vulvar LS is most common during menopause, up to 40% of those with LS experience the onset of symptoms during their reproductive years and 15% of diagnoses occur before the onset of puberty.
Q: What are lichen sclerosus symptoms?
A: Vulvar LS is characterized by shiny white patches on the skin, itching, and pain. It could also include skin tightening, pain during sex, and changes in vulvar appearance like loss of skin pigmentation, loss of labia minora or covering of the clitoris with the clitoral hood. Many of these changes can be detected with a self-exam at home, but you should consult your medical provider if you feel something isn’t quite right. Proper diagnosis is key to addressing any skin condition.
Q: What causes lichen sclerosus?
A: The truth is, the medical community isn’t entirely sure. But, there have been significant advances made in understanding the condition in recent years. LS is likely an autoimmune condition, meaning that the body stops recognizing part of itself and “attacks” the misidentified intruder. There also seems to be a genetic factor at play - 12% of women with vulvar lichen sclerosus have a mother, sister, or daughter with the same diagnosis.
Q: Is it just a skin condition?
A: Chronic skin conditions like LS affect more than your skin, and can be accompanied by changes in self-esteem, confidence, sexual function, and anxiety. It may also increase the risk of developing other autoimmune conditions or vulvar cancer. But with education and support, a lichen sclerosus diagnosis is manageable.
Q: Is there anything I can do to find relief?
A: The most important thing you can do is consult reputable resources like @jillkrapfmd from the Center for Vulvovaginal Disorders, The Lichen Sclerosus Support Network or @thelostlabiachronicles. Empower yourself with knowledge and find a tribe that can lend support!
Remember there is no shame in seeking help! Vulvar skin is skin, after all - it deserves the same treatment you give the more visible parts of yourself.
Let's Talk About: Lichen Sclerosus
For more information on LS, check out our recent live virtual event with SSL CEO Julie Chamberlain, pelvic pain specialist Dr. Jill Krapf & Kathy Ruiz-Carter, from The Lichen Sclerosus Support Network.