Itchy skin

Itchy skin is not usually a sign of anything serious. You can often treat it yourself and it should go away within 2 weeks.

How to treat itchy skin yourself

Sometimes, itching is simply caused by dry, cracked or irritated skin. You can do some simple things to help ease the itching.

These things may also help stop itchy skin returning and avoid skin damage from scratching.

Do

  • pat or tap the skin instead of scratching it
  • hold something cool on the skin – like a damp towel
  • have cool or lukewarm baths or showers
  • use unperfumed moisturiser regularly
  • keep your nails clean, short and smooth
  • wear loose cotton clothing

Don't

  • do not wear tight clothes made of wool or some synthetic fabrics
  • do not have long baths or showers – keep them to less than 20 minutes
  • do not use perfumed soaps, deodorants or moisturisers
  • do not eat spicy foods or drink alcohol and caffeine – these can make itching worse

A pharmacist can help with itchy skin

A pharmacist can recommend the best products to help with itchy skin – for example, anti-itch creams, lotions or antihistamines.

Let them know where your skin is itchy and if you have any other symptoms.

They might also be able to tell you:

  • what you can do to treat it yourself
  • if you need to see a GP

See a GP if your itchy skin:

  • is affecting your daily life
  • lasts for longer than 2 weeks or keeps coming back
  • is caused by a new rash, lump or swelling and you're worried
  • is all over your body – this could be a sign of something more serious

Treatment from a GP

Your doctor might prescribe creams, lotions or tablets depending on what's causing the itching.

They will look at your skin and ask about your symptoms.

They might ask to wipe a cotton bud over the area of itchy skin and send it for testing, or arrange a blood test. This helps to check it's not something more serious.

Your GP may refer you to hospital if you need specialist tests or treatment.

Causes of itchy skin

Itchy skin has many possible causes. If you have other symptoms (such as a rash or swelling) this might give you an idea of the cause.

But don't self-diagnose – see a GP if you're worried.

Possible causes Common examples
Skin reactions to heat or something you're allergic to allergies, hives, prickly heat
Longer-lasting skin conditions dandruff, eczema, psoriasis
Fungal skin infections thrush, ringworm, athlete's foot
Parasites or insects living on the skin scabies, head lice, pubic lice

Many women also have itchy skin during pregnancy or after the menopause. This is caused by hormonal changes and should get better over time.

In rare cases, itchy skin can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as thyroid, liver or kidney problems.

Page last reviewed: 04/07/2017
Next review due: 04/07/2020

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