Lichen Spinulosus

Lichen spinulosus is a harmless (benign) skin condition. It causes small spiny bumps and rough patches called plaques to form on your skin. The condition usually resolves on its own, but healthcare providers can help control symptoms. They may recommend medicated creams and changes to your skin care routine.

Overview

What is lichen spinulosus?

Lichen spinulosus is a harmless (benign) skin condition. It causes spiny bumps (papules) to develop in your skin’s hair follicles. The papules typically cluster in rough patches on your skin.

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How common is lichen spinulosus?

Lichen spinulosus (pronounced “LIKE-en spine-you-LOH-sis”) is uncommon. Although anyone can get this condition, it mostly occurs in children and adolescents. Lichen spinulosus in adults is rare.

How will lichen spinulosus affect me?

Lichen spinulosus affects your skin. It doesn’t harm your body or change how your body works. You may feel uncomfortable with how your skin looks or feels, but the condition isn’t dangerous.

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What is the difference between lichen spinulosus and lichen nitidus?

Lichen spinulosus and lichen nitidus are both skin conditions that cause bumps on your skin. In lichen nitidus, the bumps that form are round or have a flat top and are shiny or scaly. Lichen nitidus often causes discrete bumps while lichen spinulosus causes bumps that form in clusters.

In lichen spinulosus, each bump has a little spine or horn at the center. These spines form when a protein called keratin collects in hair follicles.

What is lichen spinulosus versus keratosis pilaris?

Lichen spinulosus is a variant of keratosis pilaris, a common skin condition of the hair follicles. Sometimes, lichen spinulosus is called “keratosis spinulosa.” Both conditions involve a buildup of keratin.

In keratosis pilaris, dead skin cells clog follicles, causing bumps (keratin plugs) to form. The bumps may be brown, red or white in color. Adults may see keratosis pilaris bumps on their arms, thighs or buttocks, and children may also get them on their cheeks. Lichen spinulosus doesn’t typically occur on your face.

Keratosis pilaris is more common than lichen spinulosus. The bumps in keratosis pilaris typically spread out over a wider area than in lichen spinulosus.

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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of lichen spinulosus?

Small bumps — about the size of a crayon tip — are the primary symptom of lichen spinulosus. The bumps typically have tiny, scaly spines. The condition usually isn’t painful, but you may have rough reddish or pink patches called plaques. They feel like sandpaper when you touch them.

Where does lichen spinulosus appear?

You may have one plaque or many plaques. The patches are often between the size of a grape and an egg (3 to 6 centimeters or 1 to 2 inches). They usually appear on your:

  • Abdomen, back and chest (trunk).
  • Arms.
  • Buttocks.
  • Knees.
  • Thighs.

Is lichen spinulosus itchy?

Some people with lichen spinulosus get itchy skin (pruritus), but not everyone experiences itchiness.

What causes lichen spinulosus?

Healthcare providers don’t know what causes this condition. Researchers think causes may include:

Is lichen spinulosus contagious?

Lichen spinulosus isn’t contagious. You can’t get it from touching the skin of someone who has the condition.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose lichen spinulosus?

Your healthcare provider can diagnose lichen spinulosus by looking at your skin during a physical examination.

Are there tests to diagnose lichen spinulosus?

Though rarely needed, a skin biopsy can be done to help diagnose lichen spinulosus. In addition, your provider may recommend some tests to rule out other skin conditions, such as:

Does lichen spinulosus have the same symptoms as other skin conditions?

Lichen spinulosus symptoms mimic those of other skin conditions. Tell your healthcare provider about any symptoms you experience. Knowing all of your symptoms will help your provider make a lichen spinulosus diagnosis.

Management and Treatment

What is the treatment for lichen spinulosus?

There aren’t any treatments that cure lichen spinulosus, but it usually clears up over time. Your healthcare provider may recommend changes to your skin care routine to help you manage your symptoms.

Your healthcare provider may recommend you:

  • Avoid using soap, which may cause your skin to become too dry.
  • Exfoliate your skin gently to remove dead skin cells.
  • Moisturize your skin with a cream that contains alpha-hydroxy acids or salicylic acid.
  • Use a cream that contains retinol (retinoid cream) or have laser hair removal.

Are there home remedies for lichen spinulosus?

There aren’t any home remedies that get rid of lichen spinulosus, but following your healthcare provider’s recommendations and guidelines for skin care can help you feel better.

Does lichen spinulosus go away?

Lichen spinulosus often goes away on its own. It may take a year or two for symptoms to disappear. Sometimes, lichen spinulosus returns. Talk to your healthcare provider or a dermatologist (skin care specialist) about treatment options if the condition returns.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of lichen spinulosus?

Because healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes lichen spinulosus, there’s nothing specific you can do to prevent this condition. Talk to your provider if you have questions or concerns about how to keep your skin healthy.

Are there other conditions that put me at higher risk for lichen spinulosus?

Lichen spinulosus isn’t caused by other conditions. But some conditions can make it worse, such as:

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have lichen spinulosus?

You may find lichen spinulosus annoying or unattractive, but it isn’t likely to affect your health. Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you have. If you experience itching or dryness, your provider can recommend products to relieve your symptoms.

Living With

How do I take care of myself if I have lichen spinulosus?

Talk to your healthcare provider about which skin care products to use or avoid if you have lichen spinulosus.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Bumps that appear on your skin can be troubling. You may worry they’re a sign of something serious or feel embarrassed about how they look. Lichen spinulosus is a harmless (benign) skin condition that causes little spiny bumps to form in your hair follicles. The condition usually goes away on its own, but your healthcare provider can treat your symptoms with medicated creams. They can also recommend changes to your skin care routine to help control skin symptoms until the condition clears.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/16/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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