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October 2016

Defining “Lichen”: From Greek Mycology to Modern Dermatology

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Dermatology, Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas, Texas
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(10):1136. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.1915

The term lichen is frequently used in modern dermatology. Hippocrates (460-371 bc), who was among the first to use the term lichen, described it as “an eruption of a papulae,” a definition still given in the Merriam Webster dictionary.1 Near to the first century ad, the Roman physician, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, characterized lichen as a “papulae,” and an eroding blistering eruption. The Roman naturalist and philosopher, Gaius Plinius Secundus (ad 23-79), better known as Pliny the Elder, characterized lichen as “synonymous with the impetigo of the Latins.”2 Approximately 100 years later, Galen of Pergamon (ad 129-217) was the first to associate lichen with pruritus by describing lichen as “a roughness of the skin, attended with much itching.”3

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