Got an itch you can't seem to scratch? Itchy skin can be uncomfortable, irritating, or even painful when it gets out of hand, and it can negatively impact your quality of life if it's unmanageable.
The first step to finding relief is narrowing down what is causing the itching because treatment may vary.
What Causes Skin Itching
Itching can be either general (all over the body) or localized (only occurring in a specific spot or area), and it may last a few hours, a few days, or it may be chronic and constant.
There are various causes of itching that range from mild to severe.
Bites from mosquitoes, spiders, and other insects may leave behind noticeable red bumps, but they may be hardly visible tiny pricks in the skin. Regardless of appearance, bug bites will likely cause itching and irritation at the site of the bite.
Fungal and bacterial infections like impetigo, folliculitis, chickenpox, athlete's foot, scabies and thrush can all cause itching skin. Infections are best treated by a medical professional though some may go away on their own.
Dry skin is one of the main four skin types, but if you have severely dry skin it could come with chronic itch as well. Dry skin is unable to keep water trapped under the skin barrier, leading to dehydrated, tight, itchy skin. Genetics play a large role in what causes dry skin, but dry skin is also more common in older people and those who live in dry, hot climates.
The key to managing itch from dry skin is to manage the dry skin itself by staying hydrated, using simple, nourishing skin care products for dry skin that strengthen the skin barrier, and try to avoid dry weather and air, or purchase a humidifier for your home.
Emu Oil not only helps hydrate dry skin, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help tame itchiness.
Skin Conditions that Cause Skin Irritation and Itch
If your itching is constant, severe, or consistently occurs under the same circumstances, a skin disorder could be what's responsible.
- Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) is a common skin condition that often occurs in children. Symptoms include patchy, dry skin and itchy rashes that come and go. Symptoms of eczema can be triggered by various elements including environmental factors, stress, and the products you use on your skin.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis causes flakey, greasy patches of skin. It often appears on the scalp as dandruff (or cradle cap in babies) but it can also occur on your upper back and chest, face/forehead, the base of your nose, behind your ears, belly button, the creases of your arms and legs, and other places where the skin produces a lot of sebum (oil). Itching at these patches of skin will commonly make the crusty skin come loose and flake off.
- Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes skin cells to reproduce too quickly which leads to pile ups of rough scaly patches of skin that often itch.
- Contact Dermatitis occurs when a specific substance comes into contact with your skin and causes an allergic reaction or irritation. It can be broken down into two types: allergic contact dermatitis which results from an immune response from direct contact with an allergen such as nickel, fragrance, or plants like poison ivy, and irritant contact dermatitis which results from repeated exposure to a harsh chemical that typically develops over time.
Products that May Irritate Sensitive Skin
If you have allergies or contact dermatitis, anything that comes into your contact with your skin may cause a reaction that can result in itching. This can be common allergens like grass, latex, or pet dander or could be something more hidden deep in an ingredient list like a chemical preservative.
In general you should look out for the ingredients and raw materials in the following products you use daily:
- Skin Care and Makeup - Skin care and cosmetic products come into contact with our skin almost every day, and if you're not keeping a watchful eye on the products you layer onto your skin, there could be allergens lurking in some of your favorite products. The most common culprits for allergic reactions or irritation in skin care products are fragrance which can be made up of any number of plants, essential oils, or chemicals, and sulfates like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) which is a strong detergent found in many personal care products that lather, and it is a common irritant.
- Hair Care - When we're talking hair care, a lot of people only think about how shiny and sleek they make your hair look, and don't think about the effect they could have on your skin, specifically the scalp. Sulfates and fragrance are also commonly found in shampoos, and drying ingredients like harsh alcohols are often found in hairspray. If you are suffering from an itchy scalp or dandruff, then your hair products are likely causing or negatively impacting the health of your scalp.
- Toothpaste - SLS is found in most toothpastes, as well as mint which is also a very common allergen.
- Textiles - specifically the dyes, resins, and fibers used in the fabrics of your clothing, blankets, and upholstery can cause a skin reaction.
- Laundry Detergent - Your laundry detergent leaves a bit of residue on your clothes even after their dry so try a fragrance free option or make your own hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
- Jewelry and metals
In general, there are some ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin, so check your ingredient labels when you shop and stay away from those common irritants that may bring on the itch.
Underlying Health Issues that Can Lead to Body Itching
Though unlikely, a more serious underlying condition could be causing your itching. These include:
- Blood disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Overactive thyroid gland
If you suspect you have one of these issues contact your doctor for the best treatment.
How to Relieve Itchy Skin
The best way to relieve itchy skin is to see a board certified dermatologist to help diagnose exactly what is causing your itching and skin reactions, and find the right treatment path. This may include topical steroid itch creams or oral anti-itch medications.
There are also some home remedies for itchy skin that you can try, as well as some habits you can pick up in your day to day life.
- Colloidal Oatmeal Bath - Oats are incredible soothing for the skin, and are a common ingredient in eczema skin care products. To take an oatmeal bath, grind one cup of oats in a blender or food processor and add it to warm water with a pinch of baking soda and soak for 10-15 minutes.
- Cold Compress - apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack to the itchy area until the itch subsides
- Take Shorter, Cooler Showers - Some people love to unwind in a scalding hot shower, but long, hot showers can dry out the skin, so keep it quick and cool.
- Moisturize - Keep your skin's natural moisture locked in and boost the skin barrier using moisturizer with ingredients like shea butter, glycerin, or sodium hyaluronate and without irritating ingredients like fragrance or alcohol.
- Wear loose fitting clothes - Tight clothing made from abrasive fabrics can worsen or cause itching so stick to flowy, loose clothing made from naturally soft fibers like cotton.
Personal Care Products we Recommend for Itchy Skin