Has this ever happened to you or one of your clients? You’re in an important meeting or on your way somewhere that’s stressing you out and suddenly you can’t stop scratching a particular patch of skin? No matter how you try, the itch just gets worse until you’re bright red and drawing blood. What’s with this sudden nervous itch?
Doctors call it pruritus, and define it as an unpleasant sensation in the skin that provokes the urge to scratch. It can be localized—centered in one area—or generalized, where you feel itchy all over. It usually lasts for just a short time, but in some cases it can become chronic, to where you’re battling itch for weeks or longer.The itch varies in intensity, too. Usually it’s just mildly annoying, but for some people, it can be so severe that it causes a disabling condition. It all depends on what’s causing the itch in the first place.
If your itch is more than nerves, it can actually be one of these six triggers:
1. Your Skin is Dry
“This is by far the most common reason for itchy skin, and it tends to get worse in the winter, when the cold air draws more moisture out of the skin," says Pamela Friedman, CEO of CV Skinlabs. “If you start to feel itchy just as the weather turns colder, take it as a warning that your skin needs attention right away. If you don’t step up your skin care immediately, you’ll end up with rough, flaky patches later on—perhaps even cracking and bleeding.”
- What to do: First, if you’re not using a gentle cleanser, get one. Regular soap is very drying. Choose a body wash that is moisturizing as well as cleansing. Then find a moisturizer that will penetrate into the skin and truly moisturize it. Most over-the-counter products are filled with petrolatum and silicones that provide only a temporary coating over the skin. Look for a product that is full of natural, moisturizing oils, like CV Skinlabs' Body Repair Lotion which is full of natural oils and triglycerides that help reverse dry skin, as well as oat extract to help soothe the itch. If your face is itching, try CV Skinlabs' Calming Moisture, which also has calming oat extract and natural moisturizing oils.
2. You Have Eczema or Dermatitis
If you have eczema, you know that it can cause itching. Though the condition often develops in childhood, sometimes it comes on later in life. If you notice dry patches of rough, inflamed skin, with blisters that cause itching and bleeding, you could have eczema. As always, check with your dermatologist, and if your an esthetician, be sure to refer your clients to a dermatologist for any skin conditions that seem out of your scope. It's better to be safe than sorry!
Dermatitis, which translates to “skin inflammation,” is a similar condition to eczema. Eczema is a type of dermatitis, as the skin is inflamed, but it’s also frequently itchy. Dermatitis is rarely itchy. The two terms are frequently used interchangeably, however. Inflammatory skin conditions like these can be caused by a number of things, including allergies, genetics, and defects in the skin barrier. Flare-ups may be triggered by a variety of elements in the environment.
- What to do: First, try to figure out what’s causing the flare-ups. Things that can worsen inflammatory skin conditions include soaps, detergents, dust, pollen, stress, and sweat. Once you identify your triggers, do your best to avoid them. Next, calm the inflammation. Try soaking in a bath with ground oatmeal, apply cool compresses to the skin, and use anti-itch products recommended by a professional. Finally, keep skin hydrated. Invest in a moisturizer that's proven to work on sensitive skin and locks in moisture.
3. You Have Psoriasis
If you experience red patches of skin covered with thick, silvery scales, or dry skin that cracks and bleeds along with itching, burning, or soreness, you may have psoriasis. This skin condition causes skin cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin, forming those scales and patches that are often itchy and sometimes painful. The condition is believed to be caused by a malfunctioning immune system. Certain triggers can cause flare-ups, including stress, smoking, a vitamin D deficiency, infections, and injuries to the skin.
- What to do: First, be sure to see a dermatologist, who can help you better manage the disease long-term. A dermatologist can also provide creams and ointments that can help. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, and consider light therapy, which uses artificial light to help reduce flare-ups. Exfoliate your skin regularly to help slough off those dead skin cells, and moisturize with a quality moisturizer to keep the skin as healthy as possible. Remind your clients that regularly seeing both their esthetician and their doctor can make having psoriasis completely manageable.
4. You’re Experiencing an Allergic Reaction
Anytime you come into contact with something you’re allergic to, your body releases histamines, which can cause itchy eyes, sneezing, and yes, itchy skin and hives. Hives are raised skin bumps caused by inflammation. The reaction could be to anything—pollen, pet dander, a particular food or medication, jewelry (particularly if it’s made of nickel), a soap or detergent, a fiber material in your clothing, a type of plant, or even a period of exercise. If you take an antihistamine and the hives calm down, you know that it was an allergic reaction causing your skin to itch.
- What to do: Discover your triggers. Knowing what you’re allergic to can help you avoid experiencing more hives and itch in the future. Then look at the products you’re using, and start choosing fragrance-free not only in your skin care products, but your clothing detergents, makeup, and household cleansers. Incorporate some anti-inflammatory products into your skincare routine to help keep your skin calm on a regular basis, in addition to eating more anti-inflammatory foods.
5. You’ve Suffered A Bug Bite
There are a lot of little critters out there that can bite you and cause your skin to itch. Mosquitoes, spiders, bed bugs, wasps and hornets, fleas, lice, and ticks can all leave behind skin that is inflamed and itchy. If you happen to suffer an allergic reaction too, your skin may swell up or you may develop hives, too. Keep in mind that some bug bites can be serious—if yours doesn’t heal within a few days, check with your doctor just to be safe.
- What to do: First, try to avoid bug bites in the first place by wearing protective clothing when you go outside, using bug repellant, and keeping your home well vacuumed and dusted. Once you get a bug bite, apply an ice pack to help tame the inflammation, and then try an over-the-counter anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone. If you think you’re having an allergic reaction to the bite, take an antihistamine right away. If you’re having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention. If you experience body aches, fever, or a rash afterwards, see your doctor. To stop the itch, try an oatmeal paste, a baking soda paste, or apple cider vinegar.
6. You May Have an Internal Disease
In rare cases, an itch can be a sign of an internal disease. Diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems, leukemia, and other conditions can lead to itchy skin. Some nerve conditions, including multiple sclerosis and shingles can also cause itchy skin.
- What to do: If you notice that you or your clients' skin itches on a chronic basis and is lasting for longer than three months, and isn't responding to any home remedies, be sure to see your doctor to rule out any serious conditions.
More likely than not, itching skin is not a serious issue, just an inconvenience. As long as both you and your clients keep an eye on the symptoms, look to identify a cause, and try the aforementioned home and professional remedies, you'll find relief in no time.