Treating itching 

The treatment for itching will largely depend on the cause.

Read more about some of the causes of itching.

However, there are some things you can try – and treatments your GP or pharmacist can offer – that may help relieve an itch and reduce the risk of skin damage caused by scratching.

General tips

  • keep your nails clean, short and smooth
  • try patting or tapping the itchy area, rather than scratching it
  • wear cotton gloves at night to prevent damage from scratching in your sleep
  • hold a cold compress, such as damp flannel, over the affected area to cool it down
  • avoid spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine, as these can affect the blood flow in your skin and make itching worse


  • use cool or lukewarm water, rather than hot water
  • keep baths to less than 20 minutes
  • try to reduce how often you have a bath or shower if possible
  • avoid using perfumed soap, shower gel or deodorants – unperfumed substitutes are often available from pharmacists
  • use unperfumed moisturising lotions and emollients after bathing or showering to help prevent your skin becoming too dry
  • dab or pat your skin dry, rather than rubbing it

Clothing and fabrics

  • avoid clothes that irritate your skin, such as wool and some man-made fabrics
  • wear cotton or silk whenever possible
  • avoid tight-fitting clothes
  • use mild laundry detergent that is less likely to irritate your skin
  • use cool, light, loose bedclothes


Some lotions, creams and medications available over the counter from pharmacies or on a prescription from your GP can help reduce itchiness.

Common treatments recommended include:

  • an oily moisturiser or emollient if your skin is dry or flaky
  • creams containing menthol to cool your skin or anti-itch ingredients such as crotamiton
  • mild steroid cream (usually for only a few days) for small, inflamed areas – hydrocortisone cream is available from pharmacies over the counter, or your GP can prescribe a steroid cream for you
  • antihistamine tablets to help control allergic reactions – check with your pharmacist or GP before using these because they are not suitable for everyone

Some antihistamine tablets can make you feel drowsy. This may be helpful if taken at night to help you sleep, but it's important not to drive, use power tools or operate heavy machinery after taking them.

If you have itching in hairy areas such as your scalp, lotions are available specifically for these areas, so you don't have to use sticky creams.

There are also some more powerful medications, such as antidepressants, which may be recommended if the above treatments don't help and your itch is particularly long-lasting.

Page last reviewed: 11/11/2014

Next review due: 11/11/2016