How to Care for Itchy and Irritated Skin

Three Parts:Making Lifestyle ChangesUsing Home RemediesSeeking Medical Treatment

Itchy and irritated skin, also known as pruritus, can be caused by a variety of conditions including dry skin, rashes, infections (bacterial, fungal), allergic reactions and numerous skin diseases, such as psoriasis and eczema.[1] Regardless of the cause, continuously scratching itchy skin only makes it worse, so learning how to care for it is important. Lifestyle changes, home remedies and medications all help to control itchy and irritated skin, although getting a proper diagnosis can make treatment more effective.

Part 1
Making Lifestyle Changes

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    Avoid scratching whenever possible. Regardless of the cause, itchy and irritated skin is never helped by scratching it — it may feel good initially, but it almost always makes the condition worse. As such, refrain from scratching your itchy skin and try some of the remedies mentioned below, which can help relieve the urge to scratch. If the urge is too irresistible, cover the itchy area of your skin with breathable clothes or light bandages.[2]
    • Keep your nails cut short, even, and smooth to avoid causing more damage to your skin when you do scratch it. Scratching can draw blood, break blisters and lead to infections.
    • Consider wearing thin cotton gloves, latex gloves or socks over your hands to prevent from scratching irritated skin.
    • Try patting or tapping the itchy area of your skin, rather than scratching it.
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    Wear smooth-textured, loose cotton clothing. In addition to covering your irritated skin from the sun and making it more difficult to scratch, loose cotton (or silk) clothing is more comfortable, softer on the skin and more breathable than artificial fibers.[3] So stick with cotton and silk clothing and avoid wearing itchy wool and man-made fabrics such as polyester that don't breath and lead to perspiration and more irritation.
    • Consider wearing loose cotton or silk robes with roomy sleeves while in your house. Then switch to light and loose bedclothes at night — flannel works well in winter months.
    • During warmer months, stick with your thin cotton or silk pajamas, and just use a sheet for covering so you don't over-heat.
    • Avoid tight fitting or clingy clothes if you have itchy and irritated skin. The more room for your skin to breathe and evaporate sweat, the better.
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    Choose mild soaps without dyes or perfumes. A variety of additives in soap, shampoo and laundry detergents can further irritate itchy and irritated skin, and in some cases, be the direct cause of your condition. As such, avoid using perfumed soap, shower gel, shampoos or deodorants — look for natural alternatives with minimal ingredients (the fewer chemicals listed in the ingredients the better) or ones that claim they are hypoallergenic.[4]
    • Rinse all the soap completely off your body so no residue remains. After washing, apply an unscented moisturizer to protect and soothe your skin.
    • Use a mild, unscented laundry detergent when washing your clothes, towels and bedding. Use the extra-rinse cycle on your washing machine to get as much detergent as possible from your clothes and bedding.
    • Dry your clothes and bedding with natural, unscented dryer sheets to help prevent skin irritation.
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    Take lukewarm baths and showers. Changing your bathing habits can also help trigger itchy and irritated skin, or soothe it if you've already developed it. In general, don't bathe too often (no more than once daily or your skin will dry out) and don't use water that's too hot or too cold — extreme temperatures can further irritate skin.[5] Hot water, in particular, can scold skin, dissolve away natural oils within skin and lead to dehydration and flakiness. Instead, bathe with lukewarm or cool water and keep your showers and baths to less than 20 minutes at the most — 10 minutes or less is ideal.
    • Adding natural oils, moisturizers or baking soda to your bath water can soothe skin and reduce itchiness.
    • Consider adding uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal (a finely ground oatmeal that's made for bathing) to your bath water for its soothing and anti-inflammatory effects.[6]
    • Buy a shower filter that filters out chemicals that can irritate your skin, such as chlorine and nitrites.
    • Once you're finished washing, dab or pat your skin dry, rather than rubbing it. Use soft, freshly washed towels and not older ones that have gotten a little crusty.
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    Reduce your stress levels. Concerns about your finances, employment, school, relationships and social life often lead to stress, which can contribute to a variety of itchy skin conditions.[7] The chemicals and hormones released within your body during times of stress can lead to rashes, blemishes and irritated skin. Reducing or managing your daily stressors promotes healthier skin and well-being. Don't be afraid to make significant life changes to avoid stressful situations.
    • Be realistic about your obligations and responsibilities. People often get stressed because they are over-committed or over-scheduled.
    • Think about reducing contact with people who bring lots of stress to your life.[8]
    • Manage your time better. If always being late causes you stress, leave for work or school a little early. Plan ahead and be realistic.
    • Use exercise to handle stress. Be active and go exercise when stressed out.
    • Talk to friends and family members about your stressful issues. Venting about your issues can help. If no one is around, write your feelings down in a journal.

Part 2
Using Home Remedies

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    Use a cold compress. Cold compresses can help relieve the itching and irritation caused by a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema.[9] Cold therapy can also reduce inflammation by causing the small surface blood vessels beneath the skin to constrict. Soak a clean, soft cloth in cold water and put it in the fridge for a few hours before wrapping it around your itchy and inflamed skin.
    • Wrap your irritated skin with the cold compress for up to 15 minutes, two to three times daily or as needed for temporary relief.
    • To make the cold compress last longer, place some crushed ice in a small plastic bag and wrap it with a soft cloth before applying it to your itchy skin.
    • Avoid soaking your irritated skin in ice — it may give you some initial relief, but it can cause shock to your blood vessels and lead to frostbite.
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    Apply aloe vera gel. Aloe vera gel is a popular herbal remedy for inflamed skin regardless of cause, but it's particularly effective for sunburn. It has a strong ability to soothe irritated itchy skin, reduce tenderness and significantly speed up the healing process.[10] Aloe vera also has antimicrobial properties, which is helpful if your skin condition is caused by a fungal or bacterial infection. Apply aloe vera gel or lotion to your itchy skin multiple times per day, especially during the first few days after you notice irritation on your skin.
    • Aloe vera contains polysaccharides that help to hydrate your skin and keep it moisturized. It also triggers collagen production, which gives skin its elasticity.
    • If you have an aloe plant in your garden, cut off a leaf and apply the thick inner gel-like juice directly to your irritated skin.
    • Alternatively, buy a bottle of pure aloe gel from your local pharmacy. For best results, place the aloe gel in the fridge and apply it once it gets cold.
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    Try some coconut oil on your skin. Not only is coconut oil a good moisturizer for the skin, but it also contains fatty acids (caprylic, capric & lauric acids) that are strong fungicides, which means they kill fungi, such as Candida and other species.[11] Thus, if your itchy and irritated skin is due to a fungal or yeast infection, apply some organic coconut oil three to five times daily for a week and see how it works.
    • The fatty acids within coconut oil kill yeast and fungus by destroying their cell walls, so it's very effective, but safe for your skin.
    • Coconut oil is also effective against bacterial skin infections and other causes of itchiness, such as eczema and psoriasis.
    • A good quality coconut oil is likely to be a solid at room temperature instead of a liquid.
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    Put thick ointments or creams on your skin. Heavy ointments such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), mineral oil, butter or vegetable shortening are recommended for badly irritated skin (such as eczema) because they hold moisture in the skin and provides a layer of protection from irritants.[12] Creams such as Eucerin and Lubriderm are thicker than most lotions and may also be helpful, but you'll have to apply them more often because they get absorbed quicker. Moisturize your skin throughout the day, particularly after bathing, so the moisture gets sealed in and the likelihood of dryness or cracking is reduced.
    • If your skin is particularly itchy and irritated, consider applying some hydrocortisone cream. Over-the-counter types (less than 1% cortisone) are helpful for quickly reducing irritation.
    • If your skin is not too badly irritated, consider lighter natural moisturizers that contain vitamins C and E, MSM, aloe vera, cucumber extract, camphor, calamine and/or calendula — all help to soothe or help repair damaged skin.
    • Take the time to massage cream or ointment into your itchy skin, especially if it's around your fingers and toes.
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    Keep your skin well hydrated. In addition to applying creams and ointments to keep moisture in your skin, drinking lots of water will also keep your skin hydrated and less likely to become itchy and irritated.[13] Focus on drinking purified water, natural juice and/or uncaffeinated sports drinks so your body and skin can rehydrate and quickly repair itself. Start with at least eight 8-oz glasses daily.
    • Avoid beverages with caffeine because it's a diuretic that stimulates urination and can lead to dehydration.
    • Caffeine-rich drinks include coffee, black and green teas, most soda pop (especially colas) and the majority of energy drinks.
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    Consider using antihistamines to reduce itchiness. Over-the-counter antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin, Alavert, and others) can help relieve itchy and inflamed skin that's characteristic of allergic reactions, psoriasis and eczema.[14] Antihistamines block the action of histamine, which is over-produced during allergic reactions and leads to swelling, redness and itchiness of the skin.
    • Reducing the amount of histamine prevents small blood vessels beneath the skin from expanding, which reduces redness and the itchy sensation.
    • Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision and confusion — so don't drive your car or operate heavy machinery while taking them.[15]

Part 3
Seeking Medical Treatment

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    Use prescription corticosteroid cream. See your doctor or dermatologist (skin specialist) and get a proper diagnosis of your skin condition. If the above-mentioned remedies don't help much, ask your doctor about prescription corticosteroid creams. Cortisone, prednisone and other corticosteroids are strong anti-inflammatories and decrease reddening of the skin, which can reduce itchiness.[16]
    • Prednisone is stronger than cortisone and often a good choice for severe sunburn, psoriasis and allergies — it decreases inflammation by reversing the size of capillaries beneath the skin and suppresses the immune system's response.
    • After applying corticosteroid cream to your itchy skin, wrap the affected area in plastic wrap because it can improve absorption and help any blisters disappear quicker.[17]
    • Side effects of corticosteroid therapy include thinning of the skin, edema (water retention), pigment changes, spider veins, stretch marks, and reduced immune system function. Chronic use can cause skin to become dry and scaly.
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    Ask your doctor about other prescription medications. Instead of using strong corticosteroid creams for your itchy skin, other prescription medications may be recommended due to less risk of side effects. For example, drugs called calcineurin inhibitors can be as effective as corticosteroid creams in some cases, especially if the itchy area isn't very large.[18] Calcineurin inhibitors come in creams and pills.
    • Examples of calcineurin inhibitors include tacrolimus 0.03% and 0.1% (Protopic) and pimecrolimus 1% (Elidel).
    • Other prescription drugs that can reduce skin itching are antidepressants, such as mirtazapine (Remeron). Side effects may include drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation, weight gain, and changes in vision.[19]
    • For unknown reasons, selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), can help reduce various types of skin itching in most people.[20]
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    Experiment with phototherapy. If all other treatments aren't effective for your itchy and irritated skin, your doctor may recommend a special therapy that combines exposure to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light with certain drugs that help make your skin more receptive to the UV radiation.[21] Phototherapy appears to work for many skin conditions, especially eczema, by increasing vitamin D production in skin and killing any microorganisms on the skin — the effects are reduced inflammation, less itchiness and faster healing.[22]
    • For treating most skin conditions, narrow band ultraviolet B (UVB) light is the most common type of phototherapy recommended by dermatologists.
    • Broadband UVB phototherapy, PUVA (Psoralen and UVA) and UVA1 are other forms of phototherapy that are sometimes used for treating eczema and other skin conditions.
    • Phototherapy avoids the UVA portion of light, which is damaging to skin and can accelerate aging and increase the risk of skin cancers.
    • Multiple sessions are usually scheduled until the itching is under control.


  • Avoid substances that can irritate your skin or might trigger an allergic reaction. These can include nickel, jewelry, perfume, cleaning products and cosmetics.
  • Avoid unnecessary sun exposure to avoid itchiness and irritation from sunburn.
  • Stay out of the sun during its peak afternoon hours, and wear sun hats, sunglasses, and a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

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Categories: Skin Care