The irresistible urge to scratch your skin innumerable times is itching. We have all faced this problem when the weather gets dry or during the fall. The dryness of the skin causes itching. Male and female are equally affected by dry skin but is more persistent in old age. It is because the elderly have less natural skin lubricants and oils. The main reason for itching is lack of water in the epidermis or the upper layer of skin. Many environmental factors also affect the water retained in our body.
Worry not if you have been itching your skin persistently. In medical science, severe itching of the skin is known as Pruritus and is preceded by a dry skin condition called Xerosis. In this article, we will find out some of the many remedies of dry and itchy skin with their causes and how to reduce or eliminate them.
Table of Contents
What Is Dry Skin?
The outermost layer of skin or epidermis is made up of protein and fats. When there is a deficiency in protein or fats(lipids) the moisture of skin evaporates. So the skin dries making it more sensitive to skin rashes and breakdown. The dry skin is called xerosis.
Skin is the largest organ of the human body. So there can be a variety of factors influencing dryness. But the two main causes that can be broadly classified are:
1. External Cause
They are the most common and with little effort can be improved. It includes low humidity and cold temperature like in winter. Repeated use of harsh soaps, sanitizers, hand wash and extensive use of heaters. The most common factor for dry skin is the use of harsh soap. As soap contains emulsifying agents it removes the natural oils from our skin. Thus, resulting in dryness of the skin. Using soap in excess may worsen the dryness of skin.
After taking a hot shower your skin feels tight, you change to a normal shower. But the problem persists. It is because bathing does add water to your skin but evaporation of water that follows results in dryness. Your skin feels tight, is due to excessive removal of natural oil and water from your skin.
Humidity and temperature play an important role in the amount of water retained in our skin. When the air is cold and dry the moisture in our skin evaporates making it dry. At times the type of clothing can also cause itching all over the body. Wool or synthetic fibres might irritate the skin causing dryness.
2. Internal Factors
High blood pressure, cholesterol, acne, medicines might cause dryness of the skin. Internal medical conditions might even cause this problem. Hypothyroidism, psoriasis, eczema, diabetes, malnourishment are associated with skin dryness. So is stress and anxiety associated with itching?
Dry Skin Signs and Symptoms
The most prominent symptom of dry skin is itching. The most common areas are like arms, hands, abdomen, lower legs, ankles and soles. You will notice people suffering from dry skin have dry, rough, red patches on their skin. These patches are itchy. As it progresses severe cracks and fissure may occur.
The feeling of itchiness increases the dryness of skin. A vicious cycle of itch-scratch is developed. That is you feel the urge to itch, to which you scratch your skin thus increasing the itching and dryness. This cycle continues and is lessened only in the unconscious state that is sleep.
Continuous rubbing of dry skin makes it thick and leathery. At times tiny, red raised openings appear on the skin. These spots can be infected if scratched or irritated and form bumps on the skin.
Dry Skin Causes Itchiness
Yes, this is a proven fact that dry skin causes itch. When the moisture content in your skin is low due to the absence of lipids or protein, dry skin occurs. Some other causes of itchiness are:
‣ Old age
‣ Environment conditions like bathing, washing or air conditioning.
‣ Liver or kidney disease
‣ Diabetes or disorder of nervous system like multiple sclerosis
‣ The medical reaction to antibiotic or antifungal drugs.
‣ Allergic to synthetic or woollens
Do Medical Conditions Or Genetics Cause Itching?
The skin becomes dry due to ageing and because of hormonal changes. Medical conditions like malnutrition, atopic dermatitis, diabetes and hypothyroidism may cause dry skin. Even on medication for conditions like high blood pressure, acne and cholesterol-lowering medicines may cause dry skin or xerosis.
Dry skin causes atopic dermatitis. It is a special type of allergy associated with hay fever, inhalant and asthma. Family with medical history are more susceptible to it.
Treatment For Dry Skin
Dry skin is often caused due to external factors. So external application of oil and itch cream can be used to control the skin dryness. Dermatologists recommend lubricating the dry skin with emollient that is a substance that stops water from evaporating for the itching treatment.
If no external causes are found your main motive should be to prevent loss of water, hydrating your skin and stop itching. Some light moisturizing lotion for mildly dry skin are :
‣ Curel lotion
‣ Cetaphil lotion
‣ Lubriderm lotion
High moisturizing lotion that is very thick and usually does not flow even when the jar is inverted and is for severely dry skin are:
Topical steroid for itching is usually recommended in worsening of dryness like:
Oral medicines for an itch are:
Home Remedies For Dry Itchy Skin
The good old grandmother’s recipe for treating your dry skin is any day better than any medicines or steroids. They have an added advantage of no side effect. Some of the home remedies for dry skin are:
1] Essential oils
They are soothing to your skin plus the anti-inflammatory properties reduce the irritation providing the much-needed relief. Follow the proper dosage on the pack. Some of the best essential oils for reliving your itchy skin are Bay leaf oil, Chamomile oil, Clove oil, Neem oil, Geranium oil, Rosemary oil, Peppermint oil, Thyme oil.
2] Coconut oil
Coconut, nature’s gift to mankind. Use it as an oil or fruit juice it is beneficial for your dry itchy skin. Apply it for itching all over body after bathing or spot treating it to the affected area. It is a natural emollient that is saturated fatty acids occurring naturally in coconut, hydrates and smoothes your dry skin.
Coconut oil is in itself complete and you need not add or mix anything with it. Moreover, it can be used every day and even on the most sensitive area of your body. Even sunflower seed oil has the same effect and can be used as a moisturizer
3] Coldwater bath
A cold shower on a summer afternoon relieves you of the hot discomfort. The same effect can be experienced with cold water. The sensation of itchiness and coldness travel in the same nerve fibre so the cold can deaden the itch. Ice packs or cold shower are an instant remedy to your itchy skin. But hot water is not. As hot water temporarily relieves your body of any aches but the high temperature removes moisture from your body making your skin dehydrated and itchy.
4] Apple cider vinegar
Use apple cider vinegar in your bath water for itching all over the body. For localised itching apply vinegar on the spot with soft cloth or cotton ball.
5] Baking soda
Itching all over the body, soak in baking soda bath for 30-60 minutes. To a tub of lukewarm water add one cup baking soda. Localised itching make a paste with 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. After your bath, gently pat dry your skin with a clean towel.
Mix it in water or milk and honey for more benefits. Spread it on your itchy skin for cooling effect. In lukewarm bath add 2 cups of oatmeal and soak. Hot water should be avoided as it may be causes of rash, increasing the itching.
7] Milk and honey
The anti-inflammatory properties of milk remove the itch. Milk relieves your skin and is soothing to the itchy dry skin. Take milk in a bowl, dip cotton or clean washcloth into it. Apply to itchy skin patch for at least five minutes.
Honey with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties help to seal the moisture in your skin. Heat lightly 2 teaspoons of honey and apply to the affected area while still warm. Keep it for 15 minutes and then wash it off.
8] Petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly is good for healing elderly skin. It taps the moisture by covering the skin and forming a protective layer. Thus, it heals the irritated dry skin. Petroleum jelly is also called mineral oil.
This has a hydrating or cooling effect on your skin. As it is a natural humectant it draws water to your skin. Rose water combined with glycerin is best for sensitive areas of your skin like face.
10] Aloe Vera
A ‘wonder plant’ with innumerable benefits to mankind. Apply the aloe gel to the affected area. It acts as a skin hydrant by not allowing moisture to evaporate from your skin. It does not even allow impurities to enter the pores by forming a protective cover. This is one of the best home remedies for itchy skin.
A natural wax produced by a honey bee. It is a humectant, that it attracts water and keeps the skin hydrated. It forms a protective layer retaining the moisture on the skin and does not allow environmental torture. Though it forms a protective layer around your skin it does not clog or suffocate the pores of your skin. It is anti-allergic and even suitable for sensitive skin.
Beeswax is a good source of vitamin A. It helps in rejuvenating and exfoliating your skin. Beeswax has a natural fragrance of honey.
12] Internal factors
Keeping yourself hydrated is most important. The water helps to remove toxins from your body. Increase level of toxins may also cause itching. While alcohol and caffeine dehydrate and may worsen itching. Milk, on the other hand, work upon improving the protective layer of skin.
Include a generous amount of fruits in your diet. They are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Thus, removing the deficiency caused by dry skin.
14] Omega 3 and antioxidants
Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon reduces the free radicals and help you with healthy skin. Food rich in antioxidants like blueberries, carrots, peas, beans, lentils reduces the effect of toxins and help your skin to remain healthy.
How Best To Prevent Dry Itchy Skin
Apart from the above external and internal remedies for dry and itchy skin, you can also apply various preventive measures. These measures prevent worsening skin conditions.
Control bath water temperature
Try not to take hot showers to go for warm water. Hot water dehydrates your skin and may cause a skin rash. Plus the effect of soap can increase the dryness. Instead, go for mild, fragrance-free soap. Hand sanitizer should follow the same hydrating rule.
You should remember this rule after post swimming too. The chlorine water of the pool can damage your skin. So it is best to go for a shower immediately after coming out of the pool. Rinse your body with mild soap followed by moisturizing preferably by glycerin or coconut oil.
Your hand faces tremendous hardship starting from harsh laundry detergents to the environment temperature. Wearing gloves protects your hand from many household cleaners and detergents which can be harsh on your skin. Plus, try wearing gloves when it is too cold as in winter.
Keep a check on allergens and irritants. Wearing woollen clothes, spending too much time in chlorinated water or sitting by the fireplace can make your skin feel dry and itchy. At times even the clothes you are wearing may cause you itchiness. Check on and treat your skin gently.
It helps to minimize the dryness caused by the heating system in your home. As it releases water into the air which is absorbed by your itchy skin providing relief.
Wearing cotton clothes
Synthetic materials, polyester and to some even wool may cause itching. Natural fibres like cotton and linen are a most preferable choice.