What to Do When Your Skin Itches
Your skin is the
largest organ of your body. It accounts for 15
percent of your total body weight. So exactly how
much is that? Your body is covered with enough skin
to cover the floor of your bathroom - and if you
don't mop and dust regularly, it might be doing just
that! It's been estimated that 90 percent of all
household dust is dead skin cells. -
That might sound
pretty disgusting until you realize that shedding
dead skin cells is what healthy bodies do. You won't
lose too many cells and become skinless. New cells
move out to take the place of shed dead cells. When
the cells move to the outside layer, they die and
harden. That's normal too. The outside layer of your
skin is made up of dead skin cells. Because the
cells are dead, they easily rub off on your clothing
and bed sheets, when you towel dry, and when you
All this talk of dead
skin cells might make you itch. As you go throughout
your day you probably experience at least one itch
or two. Some itching is helpful. If an ant is
crawling up your bare leg, you'll eventually sense
it in the form of an itch. It's a built in warning
system saying get this potentially harmful substance
off of me. So you scratch away the ant if you're not
looking, or brush it off if you do.
The medical word for
itching is pruritus - defined as an unpleasant
sensation on your skin that makes you want to rub or
scratch the spot for relief. Itching can be mild or
so severe that some people lose sleep, become
depressed, or damage nerve endings by excessive
The limited research
suggests that itching is a neurological response
caused by any number of things:
- Allergy (such as
dust or certain foods)
- Cancer (such as
a cancerous mole or Hodgkin's disease)
- Chronic disease
(such as kidney or liver disease, AIDS)
- Dry skin (common
among the elderly)
- Drug reaction
(such as to histamines)
imbalance (such as thyroid)
- Skin disease
(such as dermatitis or chicken pox)
- Multi vitamin
conditions (such as pinched nerves)
infestation (such as scabies or lice)
What to Do
If your itching is
distracting, annoying, frequent, or severe you
should contact your health care team or a
dermatologist to determine the cause. This type of
itching generally has an underlying cause that
requires medical treatment to eliminate or at least
lessen the itching.
For mild itching - as
well as in conjunction with medical treatment - you
can implement the following ways to relieve itching.
- Gently rub the
itchy area. Scratching with your fingernails
will only make you itch more and could damage
your nerves and skin.
- Moisturize with
a mild or medicated lotion. Some people find
warm olive or mineral oil to be soothing.
- Bathe in warm -
not hot - water.
- Use a mild soap
only on odoriferous areas, and then completely
rinse. Avoid the use of soap if you can.
- Pat, don't rub,
- Wear lightweight
- Choose natural
fibers such as cotton. Some people find wool
itchy and irritating.
- Turn the
thermostat down. Cooler environments lessen
- If the itch is
caused by poison ivy or other oozy, blistery
conditions, try taking a cool oatmeal bath and
applying calamine lotion.
Itching can be
annoying or even debilitating, but it is treatable.
- 1. Pruritus,
National Cancer Institute, 2003. Available
Accessed March 3, 2003.
- 2. Pruritus,
American Academy of Dermatology, 2002. Available
Accessed March 5, 2003.