If youre constantly scratching at itchy skin, priority No. 1 is finding something (anything!) that will make it stop. To do that, its essential to cater your treatment to the reason why youre itching in the first place, explains Melanie Grossman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
After all, if you load up on an antihistamine like Benadryl but dont get rid of whats triggering your itch (think: dry skin or insect bites), no number of pink pills will fully relieve your need to scratch.
Sometimes, finding out whats at the bottom of an itch requires the professional insight of a dermatologist. Other times, you can figure it out on your own. Then, get sweet relief with one of these effective, proven treatments for itchy skin.
For dry, itchy skin from cold weather, hormonal fluctuations (blame pregnancy, menopause, or aging), diabetes, and other conditions, a daily moisturizing routine can help rehydrate your skin and, in turn, soothe your itchiness. Opt for a fragrance-free moisturizer, such as EltaMDs Intense Moisturizer or CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, suggests Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entire Dermatology in New York City.
For an added cooling effect, which helps calm itch-inducing inflammation, try keeping some moisturizer in your fridge before slathering it on, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Heres an easy itch treatment: 10 to 15 minutes of quality time with an ice pack, suggests Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. Rather than scratching bug bites like theres no tomorrowand dialing up the unpleasant reaction as a resulttry pressing an ice cube to them for quick (albeit, short-lasting) relief, adds Dr. Grossman.
Got itchy skin from insect bites, sunburn, or not-so-nice plants such as poison ivy or oak? Over-the-counter lotions, creams, and gels that contain plant-based herbal remedies such as menthol, calamine, and aloe vera can help reduce inflammation and soothe the skin, says Alix J. Charles, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the AAD.
Ever take oatmeal baths as a kid? Research shows colloidal oatmeala finely-ground type of oatmealcan help lower the intensity of itchy skin as it tamps down inflammation, per a 2015 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. Soak it up in the tub, apply it to itchy patches in paste-form, or lather it on in a moisturizing lotion or cream.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment with 100% Colloidal Oatmeal
Cortizone-10 Anti-Itch Ointment
Allegra Adult 12 Hour Allergy Relief
To spot-treat itchy skin, try over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream, suggests Dr. Charles, which will work to reduce redness and swelling in addition to itching. If youre dealing with an itchy area youre not so keen to touch or rub, you can also use a hydrocortisone spray, per the Mayo Clinic.
When your bodys immune system alarm bells go off, that can result in a release of itch- and rash-inducing compounds called histamines. Thats where antihistamines come in, which prevent these pesky substances from wreaking havoc on your cells. Take Allegra or Zyrtec to clear up hives and itchiness alike, suggests Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin.
If youre facing a fast-spreading rash or antihistamines arent making a dent in your symptoms, head for the doc ASAP. It could be a sign of a serious allergic reaction.
If your itch is *really* bad (think: worst poison ivy of your life, extensive hives, or a flare-up from a skin condition like eczema), dermatologists might choose to prescribe stronger treatments, including steroid cream or pills, explains Dr. Grossman. If youve tried a handful of home remedies and theyre not doing the trick, head to your doctor who can help ID next steps.
Again, a super-relentless itch might call for an additional expert treatment, including an injectable medication, says Dr. Grossman. This in-office procedure can help dial down the itch from issues such as contact dermatitis (what happens when your skin has rubbed up against an irritating substance such as poison ivy or a chemical) or a severe case of a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.
Keep in mind, though, this treatment can trigger whats known as the rebound effect (meaning symptoms can worsen when treatment is discontinued), so its best to ask your dermatologist about this and any other side effects to consider, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA).
If youve been feeling overwhelmed, andeven worsenow you have a concerningly itchy skin, your mental health could be suffering. While rare, sometimes itchiness can be triggered by the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine inside your body, as a result of a high-stress situation, anxiety, or depression. Sometimes psychiatric medications, including antidepressants can help soothe your itch, so make an appointment with your physician if you think this may be the case, suggests Dr. Charles.
If youve recently had surgery or youre recovering from an injury, pain medications such as opioids (among others) can cause *big-time* itching as a side effect, says Dr. Grossman. Sound familiar? Adjusting your dose or adding on an anti-itch medication can bring relief.
An in-office procedure called phototherapy (also known as light therapy) can help alleviate itching from inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. The most common type, narrow band phototherapy, helps reduce itchiness and inflammation by exposing your skin to an increasing amount of a certain wavelength of UV radiation, per the NEA. An impressive 70% of people with eczema get better after receiving this treatment.
If youve tried a handful of home remedies and your persistent itch remains, an underlying condition such as diabetes, kidney or liver disease, infections including Hepatitis B or C, HIV, thyroid problems, or complications of pregnancy, among other issues could be to blame, says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. Its true that day-to-day itch triggers including dry skin and bug bites are *far* more common, but youre best off visiting your doctor or dermatologist to confirm proper treatment.
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