Lichenification of Skin: Definition & Treatment

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  • 0:01 What Is Lichenification?
  • 0:50 Causes of Lichenification
  • 1:46 Treatment Options
  • 2:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Lichenification of the skin sounds like something out of a movie, but it is a real condition that unfortunately affects many people. Read this lesson to learn more about the symptoms and treatment options.

What Is Lichenification?

Itching and scratching can lead to skin disorders that are unsightly and uncomfortable. Lichenification is a skin condition that occurs in response to excessive itching or rubbing of the skin and results in thick, leathery patches of skin. This occurs because the outer layer of skin naturally thickens with the extra irritation, and it often happens in tandem with eczema or other skin disorders.

This thickening of the skin is caused by the deposits of dead skin cells that stick to the skin's surface; this result is actually meant to be a form of defense from future itching or rubbing. Occasionally, cracks form in the skin, bearing a frightening resemblance to tree bark. Lichenification is especially itchy and commonly occurs around the calf, elbow, neck, and genitalia. When patches develop, they are usually longer than five centimeters in total length.

Causes of Lichenification

Lichenification can come about in two ways. First, it may arise from otherwise normal-appearing skin through lichen simplex chronicus, a skin disorder that often occurs in people with a form of atopic dermatitis (or chronic inflammation) already found somewhere on their body. Or, lichenification may occur as a result of an underlying skin disorder, such as eczema, insect bites, scars, or circulatory disorders.

As the itching from these conditions increases, the person scratches more, developing a feedback loop that leads to lichenification. There appears to be a correlation with age, with individuals between 30-50 years old being most susceptible. Though people of any race can develop it, those with darker skin tones tend to show the most pigment discoloration. Interestingly, the condition tends to develop more in sedentary people, likely because they lack a distraction to stop or pause the itching or rubbing.

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