itchy skin

What’s causing my itchy skin?

31 Mar 2023


Has your skin gotten a little itchy recently and you’re not sure why?

The odd itch and scratch here and there isn’t something we tend to think too much about. But when you’ve got an itch that just won’t go away or if you’ve got a patch of itchy skin where you’ve never had it before, then your body could possibly be trying to tell you something.

Common itchy skin causes

There are numerous reasons why your skin could be itchy.

It may just be because it’s a bit drier than usual or that it’s getting drier with age. This tends to be the case for 65-year-olds and over, our skin becomes drier as we get older because it’s thinner and has less moisture.1 Dry skin is one of the more obvious and common causes of itchy skin. Other itchy skin causes include:2

  • Skin conditions – particularly dry itchy skin conditions, including eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, scabies, burns

  • Insect bites – caused by bed bugs, head lice and scabies3

  • Allergic reactions – to food, wool, chemicals, soaps and other chemicals that can irritate the skin and cause itching. Plants, parasites and cosmetics can also cause an allergic reaction. So too can narcotic pain medications (opioids)

  • Internal diseases - itchy skin can be a symptom of an underlying illness, such as liver disease, kidney failure, anaemia, thyroid issues and certain cancers - multiple myeloma and lymphoma

  • Psychiatric diseases – anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression can potentially cause itchy skin

  • Nerve disorders – these are conditions that impact the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes

  • Pregnancy – it’s possible for some women to develop itchy skin during pregnancy. In fact, one in ten women experience it4

  • Menopause – women may develop itchy skin post-menopause too. Both pregnancy and post-menopausal itching is mainly due to hormonal changes5

Who gets itchy skin?

Itchy skin’s incredibly common, especially if you happen to have it because your skin’s a little drier than usual, and therefore cracked and irritated.6 Babies, children, teenagers and adults of all ages - they can all develop dry skin at some point, some more often than others. The good news is, in most cases, itchy skin doesn’t tend to be a sign of anything serious and usually clears up after a couple of weeks.7

What it means if you have a rash

Sometimes, itchy skin can be accompanied by a rash, which could be a sign of:8

Fungal and bacterial infections

Such as impetigo and folliculitis.

Insect bites

E.g. bites from bedbugs, fleas and mites, which can harder to diagnose because they look like rashes.

Eczema or atopic dermatitis

Most commonly appears as scaly patches or a bumpy rash and can easily be confused with psoriasis.

Itchy skin treatments

If your skin’s not been itching for long and you’d like to try and ease it yourself, then you may want to try these simple, but effective home remedies for itchy skin:

  • Apply cold compresses (e.g. a cold flannel)

  • Take cool/lukewarm or oatmeal baths – the key here is not to have showers or baths that are too warm and could further aggravate your skin

  • Steer clear of wearing fabrics that may irritate your skin – loose cotton clothing is best as it enables skin to breathe

  • Avoid subjecting your skin to extreme heat

  • Use unperfumed products – that are less likely to react with or irritate your skin

  • Keep your skin moisturised – using suitable moisturising products9

  • Drink plenty of fluids – to keep your body moisturised from the inside out10 Aim for 2 litres of water a day if possible

  • Apply specially-formulated cream – for instance, Miaderma’s Anti-Itch Cream for Adults and for Babies. Both of these formulations contain natural Olus Oil, which is a vegetable alternative to petroleum jelly that has an emollient effect and moisture retention properties

  • Reduce your stress levels – because it is possible for stress to make the itching worse11

If you’ve tried all of the above and are still experiencing dry itchy skin…

Then you may want to consider speaking to your GP or a pharmacist about using cream for itchy skin, which is another treatment option. These creams include:12

  1. Corticosteroid creams and ointments - if your skin is itchy and red, you may be advised to apply a medicated cream or ointment to the affected areas. You may also need to cover the treated skin with damp cotton material. Moisture helps the skin absorb the medication and has a cooling effect.

  2. Other creams and ointments – other creams for itchy skin include calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel). There are also topical anaesthetics, capsaicin and doxepin, available too.

When to get help for itchy skin

At what point do you get help for itchy skin? As we mentioned above, it isn’t always an indicator of an underlying health issue, and can just be a case of having itchy skin.

But if you’ve had it for a little while, when or how do you know if you should go and see somebody about it?

According to the NHS’ guidance on itchy skin, you should see your GP about it if:13
  • It’s impacting your day-to-day life
  • Hasn’t gone away after two weeks or keeps coming back
  • Is also accompanied by a new rash, lump or swelling that you’re worried about
  • It’s all over your body

We can all get itchy skin at some point in our lives. Most of the time, it’s just a case of having itchier skin than usual and giving our skin a little bit more moisture. Sometimes, you may have had an allergic reaction or done something that may not necessarily suit your skin’s natural balance. Other times, it can be your body’s way of telling you that something else may be going on.

Itchy skin is just one of several common skin conditions. For more insight on this topic, take a look at, ‘Common skin conditions: what you need to know.’

Last updated: 31 July 2020