Why is your skin so itchy? And the best ways to treat it
We all experience itchy skin from time to time, but if an itch goes on for a while, it could signal an underlying problem. And, whatever the cause, itching and scratching can turn into a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. So, what are the possible causes, and how can you soothe your itch once and for all?
Why do we get itchy skin?
Like most skin concerns, there isn’t one single cause, but instead, a whole bunch of possibilities and contributing factors. Itchy skin can be caused by dryness or irritation, but it may also be a sign of a medical condition such as eczema or diabetes or an allergy to something. Many women also have itchy skin during pregnancy or after the menopause, which is caused by hormonal changes, which should improve over time or with hormone intervention.
Itchy skin is also common during winter when central heating is high. But the skin can also dry out if it lacks natural oils. These oils form a barrier that stops water in the skin from evaporating, keeping the skin supple. And there are plenty of things that can strip the oils away, from taking hot showers or using harsh soaps to swimming in a chlorinated pool.
Is it pregnancy?
As many as one in four women will develop an itch during pregnancy. It’s usually caused by hormonal changes or by the skin stretching over the growing bump and disappears once the baby arrives. But itching is also the main symptom of a potentially serious liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). This affects around 5,500 pregnant women in the UK each year and requires specialist treatment, so do speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Is it an allergy?
Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance, such as food, dust mites or pollen. Symptoms often include an intense itch, sometimes accompanied by a rash, or raised red and white patches, known as hives.
Is it a long-term skin condition?
Two of the most likely culprits here are atopic eczema and psoriasis. Atopic eczema usually causes small patches of intensely itchy, dry, and inflamed skin. Psoriasis, which causes your body to overproduce skin cells, also appears in patches but can burn or sting too, and skin will be thicker, scalier, and more inflamed.
Is it the menopause?
Many women experience itchy skin during menopause. During this time, your body produces much less oestrogen, resulting in lower production of collagen and natural oils. This can cause excessive dryness, which in turn leads to itching.
Is your skin dry or dehydrated?
If your skin is deprived of moisture, it may begin to feel itchy. Using products that help repair the skin barrier function can improve things over time. However, for dry skin, make sure your routine focuses on hydration and improving the skin’s barrier function. Look for humectants – any ingredient that works to hydrate and ‘pull’ water to the skin – such as glycerine, hyaluronic acid and even aloe vera. Then include lipid-based ingredients that will lock in moisture, such as ceramides and fatty acids.
Treating dry, itchy skin
For soothing itchy skin, make sure your skin stays as hydrated as possible. Avoid tight clothing made of wool or synthetic fabrics and have warm (not hot) baths and showers. Avoid perfumed soaps, deodorants and moisturisers, and moisturise after showering while your skin is still damp. Spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine can make itching worse, so try avoiding them for a while to see if the itchiness improves. Taking a high dose omega-3 supplement is also extremely useful and helps the skin barrier to become stronger from the inside out.
To some extent, the treatment will depend on the cause, and your practitioner may want to take blood tests or to refer you to a specialist for testing. Mild steroid creams or ointments can help soothe red, itchy, inflamed skin. Antihistamine tablets may help if there’s an allergic reaction involved. And, as mentioned above, if your skin is dry, emollient moisturisers cover the skin with a protective layer to lock in moisture.
If you’re menopausal, taking cool baths, holding something cool against your skin, such as a damp flannel, wearing loose cotton clothing, and keeping your bedroom cool at night can all be helpful. Balancing hormones with HRT can also help relieve these symptoms.
As well as medication, long-term skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can be treated with LED light therapy, reducing inflammation and accelerating the body’s natural healing process.
If you’re concerned about itchy skin and want to understand the available options, click here to enquire.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.