Dry skin is common in winter, but the true source of that itch might surprise you. We discover five unexpected reasons your skin may be irritated as well as the simple solutions to stop your scratching.
Surprising itch initiator: Stress
Have late nights at work left you feeling anxious? Don’t be surprised if your skin starts to itch. “In response to stress, chemicals are released in the brain and from the nerve endings in the skin that trigger inflammation,” according to Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu. “One of these inflammatory responses is the release of histamine, which causes itching, swelling and redness in the skin,” adds Wu. Stress is also known to affect skin’s natural barrier layer: A compromised barrier leaves your skin susceptible to potential itch-inducing irritants found in the environment or products like soaps and detergents.
Cure: Once it’s been determined that stress is the cause of your itch, it’s important to work on reducing stress. Yoga, sleep, exercise or meditation can all help. Antihistamines like Benadryl and Claritin as well as topical antihistamine creams like Benadryl Itch Stick may also be used for immediate relief. If these methods can’t stop the itch, though, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out other potentially more serious health conditions.
Surprising itch initiator: Medication
“Any medication that causes an allergic rash can cause itching,” says Wu. In general, antibiotics are the most likely cause of itchy skin, with sulfa medications being top offenders.
Cure: Sometimes taking a lower dose of the irritating medication can reduce the severity or incidence of the itch. If the medication is necessary, though, ask your doctor if you can take Benadryl in addition to your prescriptions.
Surprising itch initiator: Skincare products
Harsh cleansers like deodorant soaps and antibacterial washes can strip skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry and itchy. Additionally, fragrances and colorants often found in cosmetic formulas pose a risk of allergic reaction with an accompanying itch. Many acne medications, especially those that contain benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, can also cause excessive dryness and itching.
Cure: Find the offending product or ingredients and eliminate them from your skincare routine. In addition to the above-mentioned ingredients, sulfates—a type of ingredient in body washes and shampoos that’s used to create lather—can also cause irritation and dryness.
Surprising itch initiator: Diabetes
Some medical issues that affect the nervous system—such as diabetes, shingles, multiple sclerosis and pinched nerves—can cause itching. According to Wu, these conditions cause nerve irritation, which is often perceived as itching. In the case of diabetes, any resulting scratching can lead to complications for the patient, including the possibility of infections.
Cure: Because people with diabetes are also known to suffer from dry skin, a moisturizer with anti-itch properties may offer effective itch relief. Try Lubriderm Soothing Relief Daily Lotion ($7.99, food, drug and mass retailers). Cool baths laced with uncooked or colloidal oatmeal (try Aveeno’s Soothing Bath Treatment, $6.99, www.drugstore.com) can also ease the itch. And be sure to avoid scratching as much as possible: Trim your nails, cover the itchy areas with smooth-textured cotton clothing, and try wearing gloves at night.