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Dermatologist's General Tips to Relieve Skin Itch

This page was updated on Tue, Oct 15, 2019

In my dermatology practice, I'm often asked by patients, 

Why does my skin itch?

There are many causes of skin itching, but the most common reasons that I see in my dermatology practice are,

  • dry skin,
  • eczema (there are different causes of eczema),
  • notalgia paresthetica and brachioradial pruritus (a localized itching area of skin, often on the back or forearm, due to spinal nerve root impingement).

Dermatologist's 3 tips for the best way to soothe itching skin.

No matter why your skin itches, cooling the itching skin, and moisturizing it well, can help relieve some of the itching:

  • Use cool showers or cool soaks (tap or refrigerated water used as a skin compress on a soaked towel) to cool skin.
  • Use only hypoallergenic and gentle skin soaps and cleansers on itchy skin. Options inlcude my Naturally Best Bar Soap  and VaniCream Cleansing Bar. 
  • Immediately after toweling skin dry apply a hypoallergenic and deeply hydrating moisturizer. 
  • If you have just one location of skin that is itching, an ice pack can sometimes provide relief. 

What is the best skin cream to stop skin from itching?

Hydrating hypoallergenic moisturizers help relieve skin itch from many causes. That's because dry, dead skin cells are like little feathers tickling you. As fabric or a breeze moves the dry scale, it tickles your skin. Also, dry skin itches too.

Use moisturizers with rich hypoallergenic oils. I like botanical oils best because they are rich in antioxidants and naturally anti-inflammatory compounds. Be sure the product is hypoallergenic though, since I commonly see allergic skin rashes from products a patient has tried for the relief of itch. My top choices are my Natural Lotion or Natural Butter.

You can cool your moisturizer in the fridge so that it goes on your skin with a soothing cool temperature. That help relieve itch too.

Should you use anti-itch creams?

Avoid products with anti-itch ingredients because these can cause skin allergic rashes. Common anti-itch ingredients that can do this include benzocaine and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Pramoxine is typically well tolerated. Hydrocortisone is too, but this ingredient can cause permanent skin thinning, damage eyes and will make some forms of itching worse, such as skin fungal reactions. I don't recommend it.  

Why is it bad to use hot water on itchy skin?

Hot water increases skin circulation (which is why skin turns red), bringing in more inflammatory mediators to fuel the skin itch. Hot water may seem to relieve itch temporarily while it runs over your itchy skin, but your itch will be worse when you stop. Try to limit skin exposure to cool water until your itch has gone away.

Should you exfoliate itchy skin?

If your skin has no obvious rash at the site of itch, you may benefit from exfoliation. This helps to remove dry dead cells that can cause itching. My Ultra-Fast Body Smoothing Triple Action Kit has the perfect combination of physical and chemical exfoliation to polish skin and help relieve some forms of itch such as notalgia paresthetica and brachioradial pruritus. It's what I use on my notalgia paresthetica and my dryness-prone skin. This kit is not appropriate for sensitive skin such as in a skin fold or skin with an active rash.

Why does sun make skin itch more?

Sun can trigger the itch in notalgia paresthetica and brachioradial pruritus. We don't know why. Sun protection is an important part of controlling itch in these two conditions. 

Please note, that if skin itching is not easily relieved with the gentle and hydrating skin care I described above, it's advisable to see your doctor for a specific diagnosis - there are many other causes of itchy skin, and the best treatments always starts with an accurate diagnosis.