Also known as pruritus, itchy skin is an unpleasant and uncomfortable sensation that makes you want to scratch yourself raw. It can be disruptive during your waking hours, often making it difficult to concentrate at work or school. It can also keep you tossing and turning all night as you struggle to get comfortable despite the itch. Because of this, the impact on people who experience chronically itchy skin is far more than just physical. In addition to experiencing poor sleep which can affect work and school performance, pruritus is also linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
While there are several possible reasons for experiencing itchy skin, the root of the problem usually stems from having dry skin. While some people are born with naturally dry skin, the condition is usually linked to different external factors including pregnancy, exposure to cool temperatures, age, cancer, having a chronic skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, and other health-related issues.
The good news is that for most people, dry skin is a temporary problem that can be treated with some self-care measures or lifestyle changes. Common ways to find relief from itchy skin include applying a natural moisturizer daily, taking a lukewarm colloidal oatmeal bath, and keeping the body hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
In this post, we’ll cover pruritus in more detail, describing its causes and symptoms, and describing different at-home remedies you can employ to help treat itchy skin. Read on to learn all you need to know about treating pruritus.
Why is My Skin Itching?
If you find yourself scratching your skin day in and day out, this is probably a question you’ve asked yourself many times. Determining the exact causes of your pruritus can take some time. It may even require a visit to your clinic to speak to a medical professional like your doctor or dermatologist. With the help of a physical exam or blood test, your doctor can learn whether itching is the result of an underlying internal disease like a liver disease, blood disease, or a kidney disease. It can also be linked to cancer such as multiple myeloma or lymphoma.
Other possible causes of itching include allergies. Many common triggers of allergies are household products that you may use on a daily basis. For example, nickel is a common trigger that the skin likely comes into contact with every day. It can be found in jewelry, zippers, belt buckles, and even in cell phones. Other common factors that can cause allergies include beauty and cosmetic products. Unfortunately, many shampoos, soaps, and other beauty products contain harsh chemicals or toxins that can trigger allergies, ignite an acne breakout, or simply irritate the skin. This makes it highly important to do your research and read labels carefully to ensure the ingredients you are putting on your skin are safe for your health and the planet.
Symptoms of Itchy Skin
While everybody is different and may experience different symptoms, there are some common signs of itchy skin. For example, itching is typically associated with redness, cracked skin, and pimple-sized bumps or blisters. Intense scratching can sometimes cause the skin to crack or bleed. This can lead to an infection as the skin opening allows bacteria to more easily enter the body. In addition, repetitive scratching over time can lead to lichenification. This gives the skin a thick and leathery texture or a raised patch that looks dark or red. According to healthline, those who suffer from atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, anxiety disorders, high levels of stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorders are at risk for developing lichenification.
The most common areas to be affected by itching include the scalp and hair, arms, or legs. However, itching can develop anywhere on the body including the stomach, back, chest, and even the buttocks.
We want to reiterate that symptoms of itchy skin can vary from person to person. In addition, symptoms may go through various degrees of intensity. There may be some periods where you experience intense flare ups and other times when symptoms are barely noticeable. For example, many people note that their itching gets worse in the winter when the air is drier and humidity levels are lower. The severity of your symptoms will affect whether your daily routines or sleeping partners are disrupted.
Finally, it’s also possible that you can experience itching without any other obvious changes on the skin.
Who Gets Pruritus?
While anyone can suffer from itchy skin, there are certain groups of people who are more likely to develop the condition. One such group is the elderly. Research shows older people are more likely to experience dry skin compared to younger people. This is because, as you age, your pores naturally produce less oil. Statistics show that more than 50 percent of adults older than 40 have dry skin.
Those with illnesses including diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and various types of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma are also more at work at developing pruritus. Dry skin is also more likely to affect pregnant women. This is because hormone changes result in the skin losing elasticity and moisture the more it stretches. For this reason, the prime spot for itchy skin is the stomach area. That being said, pregnant women can also develop flaky skin and itchiness in other areas of their body, including their thighs, arms, and breasts.
As water, especially hot water, has a tendency to dry out the skin, those who work in jobs that require consistent or prolonged exposure to water can develop dry skin and the accompanying itching. These include jobs like hairdressers, chefs, caterers, and nurses.
Last but not least, there is a connection between dry, itchy skin and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Eczema is a chronic condition that affects over 10% of the population. It’s associated with a damaged skin barrier that has difficulty retaining moisture and makes the skin more sensitive to irritants and allergens. Because the damaged skin barrier has trouble retaining water, the skin becomes chronically dry. This can lead to severe flare ups. Although there are several different types of eczema, each with their own symptoms and causes, the most common kind is atopic dermatitis. According to the NEA, itch is the most burdensome symptom of AD, followed by skin redness and dryness.
Like eczema, psoriasis is another skin condition that is associated with itching. In fact, the word “psoriasis” comes from the Greek word for “itch”. The autoimmune disease causes the body to overproduce skin cells. Rather than reproduce every three-four weeks, skin cells reproduce every three-seven days. The overproduction of skin cells is what causes the red patches with silvery scales to form. As a result, the inflamed skin becomes red, flaky, scaly and unbearably itchy!
The Itch Scratch Cycle
When you experience an itch, the automatic reaction is probably to scratch. We get it – the temptation is real! You probably already know that scratching is the worst thing you can do for your skin because it can increase inflammation, damage the skin, lead to bleeding and possibly infection, and overall exacerbate itchy symptoms. Unfortunately, getting yourself to stop scratching is easier said than done. Why? Because of the vicious itch-scratch cycle.
You see, the more your skin itches, the more you will seek relief by scratching. And yet the more you scratch, the worse your itchy symptoms will become. The NEA says that research claims itch and pain have a yin-yang relationship. This explains why when you experience the low-grade pain of scratching, the feeling of itch subsides.
Can the itch-scratch cycle be broken? Yes! Will it take a lot of effort, will-power and the excessive application of natural moisturizers? Also yes! If you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed by the challenge, take heart. We’ve included some helpful suggestions below on how to care for and manage your itchy skin to lessen symptoms, improve skin health, and break the itch-scratch cycle once and for all!
When to See a Doctor
Although itchy skin is not usually a serious problem and will go away on its own (or with the help of a good moisturizer!), it may be necessary to seek help by visiting your local clinic or speaking with your doctor or dermatologist. For example, if your itching has not subsided or completely gone in two weeks even with self-care measures in place, it could be a good idea to speak with a medical professional. We also recommend taking action if the itching comes about suddenly for no apparent reason and if it affects your whole body. Finally, if itching is accompanied by other bodily changes such as weight loss, fever, or night sweats, definitely seek medical advice.
Your doctor or dermatologist may be able to help you pinpoint the exact cause of your itching and offer a specific solution. According to Mayo Clinic, if the itching persists for more than three months with little to no change despite treatment, your dermatologist will conduct an evaluation for skin disease. This may require a physical examination as well as questions about your medical history. If there is reason to believe that the itch is associated with a medical condition, a blood test may be required. In addition, your doctor may also conduct tests of thyroid, liver and kidney function to check if any abnormalities are the cause of itching.
Does Itchy Skin Get Worse at Night?
Good question! Because the body’s the cortisol level, which is the hormone responsible for controlling itch and inflammation, peaks at night, skin can feel itchier when trying to sleep. In addition, most moisturizers will likely have worn off by evening, meaning that skin will be drier and naturally itchier. Healthline states that health-related causes like atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and hives can cause itching to peak during sleep time.
Pruritus At-Home Remedies
Here are some of our favorite natural at-home remedies for itchy skin.
Our Organic Manuka Skin Soothing Cream is an oil-based balm that can help soothe eczema symptoms, calm irritation, and reduce itching. It’s the perfect treatment for those with sensitive skin because it’s made with just 6 all-natural ingredients. Medically reviewed and approved by doctors, it’s effective on adults and kids alike.
Taking a gentle bath with colloidal oatmeal, which is a finely ground oatmeal that dissolves easily in water, is another excellent treatment for beating the itch. We recommend using lukewarm water as according to Medicinenet, hot water can feel good in the moment but make your skin feel itchier later. To create your own colloidal oatmeal treatment, grind 2-3 cups of the oatmeal in a food processor or coffee grinder. Add the oatmeal to the bath as the water is filling and then enjoy this natural, soothing treatment.
Calendula oil is made by infusing marigold flowers in a carrier oil. It can be used as a treatment for psoriasis, eczema, diaper rash, acne, and improving the overall health of your skin. Thanks to its antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, calendula oil can also help reduce skin inflammation and reduce itching. If scratching has led to scarring, calendula oil can help reduce the scar’s appearance. Fortunately, calendula oil can be found in many skincare products. Just be sure to always read labels and apply a small patch test first to make sure the product has been medically reviewed and is good for your skin health.
Lastly, you can improve skin health and reduce itching with wet wrap therapy. The NEA states that wet wrap therapy can work wonders rehydrating dry skin and calming itchiness. To wet wrap, start by applying a natural moisturizer. Then wrap the area with a wet piece of clothing and finish up by covering with a dry layer. Leave the wraps on overnight or for a minimum of two hours. We recommend wet wrapping with these hypoallergenic sleeves as they are perfect for spot-treating difficult areas. All Remedywear™ clothing has been medically reviewed and awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance™.