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The reasons why your skin is so itchy

From simple dryness to inflammatory conditions, we reveal why skin gets itchy and what you can do about it

We all get itchy skin from time to time, which can range from just being plain annoying to driving you mad.

Itchy skin can have a variety of causes, from everyday rashes and allergies to changes in the weather, although it can occasionally be a symptom of something more serious. Work out why you’re itching, and you can get the right treatment to soothe it and stop it from coming back.

Rule out medical issues

Itchy skin can be a sign of common inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, or a chronic medical condition such as diabetes. If you have persistent itching it’s worth making an appointment with your doctor to rule out any of these. Certain prescription medications can also be to blame, as can the hormonal changes experienced in pregnancy and menopause.

Is it an allergy?

We’re all familiar with the annoying, intense itching due to insect bites which are usually easy to identify. However, other causes can be more difficult to pinpoint. Allergies are more common in sensitive skin and can be from a single ingredient or from overzealous use of strong products, so try to figure out which is causing the problem. Fortunately, allergies will usually resolve on their own given time, although if itching and rashes persist and you’re unable to figure out why you should speak to your doctor.

Is it your lifestyle?

Itchy skin is usually no more than an irritation over something more concerning, and that drive-you-up-the-wall itchy sensation can usually be temporarily eased by applying the right products. Dry skin is often to blame and this tends to get worse after a bath or shower. Rough fabrics such as wool, irritating soaps and detergents are also likely culprits. Weather too is a big reason why many of us itch, particularly during the colder months due to the drying effects of central heating and cold winds.

Is your skin dry or dehydrated?

It might sound a bit strange, but just because your skin appears dry doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dry skin type. Your skin might just be dehydrated which means that only the upper layers of skin have a low moisture content. If the dryness you’re experiencing is not a common occurrence, then using products that help repair the skin barrier function can improve things over time [you could link to my EV feature on skin barrier?]. However, for skin that is often dry, make sure your routine is focussed on hydration and improving the skin's barrier function.

How to treat dry skin

Gently does it basically. Simple, pared back products are the way to go. Look for humectants – any ingredient that works to hydrate and ‘pull’ water to the skin – such as glycerine, hyaluronic acid and even aloe vera. Then include other ingredients that will lock in moisture, such as ceramides and fatty acids. A  broad-spectrum UV sunscreen should also be lavishly applied every day.

Things to avoid

Yes, this is a tough ask, but scratching can injure the skin leading to infections and making the condition worse. Whatever the cause of your itchy skin, it’s a sign that your skin isn’t balanced and along with using simple skincare you should avoid actives such as retinol, vitamin C, glycolic and salicylic acid. All but the gentlest of exfoliants should be avoided, or try gently rubbing a damp flannel over skin to dislodge dead skin flakes.

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