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Skin Health

Itchy Skin? Dermatologists Share Tips for Relief

Everyone gets an itch once in a while. Usually it only lasts for a short time and is often caused by annoyances like a mosquito bite or scratchy fabric. However, if an itch lasts for more than six weeks, say dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, it is considered a chronic itch and is more likely to disrupt your life.

“There are many reasons for itchy skin,” said board-certified dermatologist Hassan Galadari, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “It could be the result of a skin condition, such as eczema, shingles, hives or psoriasis, or it could be a sign of a contagious disease, like scabies or ringworm.”

To help soothe itchy skin, Dr. Galadari recommends the following tips:

  1. Apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack to the skin that itches. Do this for about five to 10 minutes or until the itch subsides.
  2. Take an oatmeal bath. This can be very soothing, especially for blisters or oozing skin due to chickenpox, hives, poison ivy or sunburn.
  3. Moisturize your skin. Always choose a moisturizer free of additives, fragrances and perfumes.
  4. Apply topical anesthetics that contain pramoxine. 
  5. Apply cooling agents, such as menthol or calamine. You could also place your moisturizer in the refrigerator to help achieve this cooling effect.

“While treating your skin, try to avoid scratching, as this will further irritate your skin and could increase your risk for a skin infection,” said Dr. Galadari. “It’s also a good idea to take steps to help prevent your skin from itching.”

To help prevent itching, Dr. Galadari recommends the following tips:

  1. Bathe with lukewarm – not hot – water. Try to limit your bath or shower to just 10 minutes.
  2. Always use “fragrance-free” lotions, soaps and detergents to minimize irritation. Be wary of products labeled “unscented,” as they might still have chemicals that can irritate your skin.
  3. As directed by your dermatologist, apply medications before moisturizing. Then, apply your moisturizer to all areas of your skin, including areas treated with medication.
  4. Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothes. Wool and other rough-feeling fabrics can irritate your skin, causing intense itching.
  5. Avoid extreme temperature changes. Maintain a relatively cool, neutral humidity environment in your house. Use a humidifier during winter if you are prone to dry skin and eczema.
  6. Reduce stress, as stress can make your itch worse.

“If your itch does not go away with home treatment, see a board-certified dermatologist,” said Dr. Galadari. “Some people have more than one reason to scratch, and a dermatologist can work with you to find the cause and relieve your itching.”

These tips are demonstrated in “How to relieve itchy skin,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the AAD website and YouTube channel each month.

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 18,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).