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We’ve all experienced itchy skin from time to time, whether it went away with a quick scratch or persisted for a longer period of time. Skin irritation is more severe, as it can become worse and very sore without proper treatment. Here, we explore the topic further, looking into the various causes and symptoms, with advice and helpful hygiene tips, so you know how to prevent itchy skin. 

Understanding itchy skin

Itchy skin, also known as pruritus, varies from mild to severe, with the potential to affect your daily life. It may affect the whole body or specific areas of the body, depending on the root cause. 

What causes it?

Understanding the cause is important to understanding how to prevent itchy skin. This can be tricky, as it has many possible causes, including:

Heat reaction

When the skin is exposed to hot weather, then heat rash can occur, causing itchy skin. Symptoms can get worse and feel very uncomfortable, but it’s usually harmless and typically gets better after a few days. 1A

Some people, particularly those with sensitive skin, are more prone to experiencing itchy skin in reaction to heat. If you live in a hot country or are going on a vacation, then there are some things you can do to avoid skin irritation, such as wearing loose cotton clothing, taking cold baths or showers, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and sleeping in light bedding. 1B


Irritants and allergies are amongst the most common causes of skin irritation. We can be allergic to anything. Some things, like wool, chemicals, and soaps, are more likely to irritate the skin and cause a rash or itching. Certain medications, like opioids, can also cause itchy skin. 2A

Long-term skin conditions

Suffering from certain types of skin conditions can increase your risk of experiencing itchy skin. Examples include dry skin, eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis. Some are easier to treat than others and you may need to seek advice from your doctor, especially if your symptoms are particularly painful. 3A


Itching during pregnancy is very common, affecting various areas of the body. 4A

Fungal skin infections

Fungal skin infections are fairly common, caused by fungus and are easy to pass on to other people. Athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm are examples of some of the most common fungal infections that cause skin irritation. 5A

Parasites or insects

Some creepy crawlies wreak havoc with our skin. They are usually small insects or worms that burrow into the skin, looking for a place to live or lay their eggs. 6A

  • Mosquitos bite and feed on blood, injecting saliva into the skin. When the body reacts, the bite turns into a bump that can be extremely itchy. 6B

  • Lice are tiny parasitic bugs that can infest the skin. They live on the head, feeding on blood, and can cause intense itching. 6C
  • Fleas bite humans, also secreting saliva into the bloodstream. Your immune system then sends histamine to the area to fight the allergens, leaving an itchy, swollen bite. 6D
  • Scabies are microscopic insects, which burrow into the skin to lay eggs, causing a very contagious infection and itchy skin rash. 6E

Symptoms of itchy skin

The most common symptom of itchy skin is, of course, itching. This creates an unpleasant sensation that encourages a person to scratch the affected area. An itch is very hard to ignore, leading to excessive itching, which can make things worse. 3B

As well as itching, skin irritation can also cause redness, inflammation and swelling, a burning sensation, and skin that feels hot to touch. These are all very common symptoms of itchy skin, which over-the-counter medications can alleviate. However, for symptoms that get worse or persist over long periods of time, medical advice may be required; a doctor or dermatologist may be able to prescribe medication. 3C

Itchy skin treatments

Skin irritation can be treated in a number of ways. Home remedies include moisturizing, oatmeal baths, applying ice packs and cooling agents, such as calamine lotion. For severe cases, however, home remedies aren’t enough to help and you may need to seek medical advice for a different itchy skin treatment option 7A, which include:

<h3>Corticosteroid creams and ointments

For very itchy, inflamed skin, you may be prescribed a medicated cream or ointment, which can be applied to the affected area(s). You may then also be asked to cover the area with a damp cloth, which will help the skin to absorb the cream. 8A

Other creams and ointments

There are many options, including calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel), as well as topical anesthetics, such as capsaicin cream or doxepin cream. 8B

Oral medicines

In some cases, antidepressants can be used as an itchy skin treatment. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be helpful in relieving long-term itching, however, may take up to 8 to 12 weeks to do so. 8C


This form of light therapy exposes your skin to a type of light. This type of itchy skin treatment is beneficial for you if you can’t take oral medicines or have tried the creams and ointments. Multiple sessions may be required before the itchy skin has improved. 8D

Areas of the body commonly affected by itchy skin

Depending on what’s causing your itchy skin, you may experience symptoms all over the body or in specific areas. Certain areas are more prone to developing itchy skin due to a number of factors.

Itchy legs

Persistent itchy legs can be a sign of an infection, but the cause of itching is usually nothing to worry about. If you’re experiencing itchy legs, the underlying cause could be something as simple as dry skin or a shaving rash. 9A

From time to time, itchy legs can be caused by allergies to personal hygiene products or when sitting down on grass. 9B In rare cases, itchy legs may be a sign of something more sinister, such as:

  • Diabetes

Itchy skin caused by diabetes can be a sign that your glucose levels aren’t under control. Poor circulation, a common symptom of diabetes, can also cause dry skin, which can lead to discomfort and itching. 9C

  • Restless leg syndrome

This condition can cause a tingling, itchy sensation in the legs. Sufferers will experience an uncontrollable sensation to move the legs, which usually takes place when sitting or lying down. Itchy legs caused by restless leg syndrome are difficult to ignore, making it very difficult to sleep at night. 9D

Itchy neck

There are many reasons why you might experience itchy skin on the neck. 10A Most common causes include skin conditions, like dry skin or eczema – symptoms of which usually improve on their own. 10B Diabetes can also cause an itchy neck, as well as:

  • Parasitic infections

In children, an itchy neck can be a sign of head lice. If your little one is experiencing itchiness, examine the scalp carefully using a fine-toothed comb to see if head lice is causing the issue. Scabies can also cause an itchy neck. Check for the presence of burrows, a rash, and the scabies parasite itself. 10B

Itchy back

The most common cause of an itchy back is dry skin, which may feel worse in the colder months. 11A After applying moisturizer regularly, symptoms of an itchy back should improve on their own. If itchy skin on the back persists, it can be as a result of:

  • Contact dermatitis

When an itchy back doesn’t seem to be getting better, the skin can lose its normal barrier function and may become irritated by a number of things. Common irritants include sweat and personal hygiene products, such as soap and shampoo. 11B

  • Notalgia paresthetica

Typically occurring in older females, notalgia paresthetica (NP) develops on one side of the back. Symptoms include localized burning, pain, prickling and numbness, with itching that’s described as being ‘under the skin’. 11C

Itchy face

Dry skin, seasonal allergies, and contact with irritants are all common causes of an itchy face. Less commonly, an itchy face can be caused by internal infections and conditions, such as liver disease, thyroid conditions, multiple sclerosis and, rarely, skin cancer. 12A Understanding why you’re experiencing an itchy face will depend on whether your itch is accompanied by a rash or not. 12B

  • Itchy face with rash

Psoriasis, rosacea, and perioral dermatitis are all common causes of itchy skin and rashes on the face. The rash usually consists of raised red bumps and can be very itchy and uncomfortable. Sometimes, the rash may be caused by exposure to heat. 12C

  • Itchy face without rash

Without a rash, it can be difficult to know what’s causing an itchy face. Here, you’ll need to consider your other symptoms. If you’re having trouble breathing, have yellow eyes, swollen glands, and feel dehydrated, then you might need to seek medical advice. 12D

An itchy face with no rash or major symptoms can be a sign that you’re iron-deficient, having a mild allergic reaction to something new, experiencing dry skin or sensitivity to water in your bath or shower. 12E

Itchy hands

Dry skin conditions, such as eczema, are common causes of itchy hands. 13A Using a mild antibacterial soap and high-quality moisturizer is recommended to keep dry, cracked hands clean and hydrated. 

Itchy skin on the palms of the hands are very common in people with psoriasis, which is thought to be genetic, but can also be triggered by stress, cold weather, hormones, and certain infections. 13B A mild topical cream will be prescribed to treat symptoms of psoriasis. 

Itchy armpits

Your armpits come into contact with lots of irritants, from sweat and deodorant, to razors and items of clothing. 14A

<h3>Itchy chest

An itchy chest is fairly common, particularly for those who suffer with hives or heat lumps. 15A Sometimes, the skin on the chest can be itchy due to a number of different conditions, including:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis

When your immune system reacts to being touched by a triggering substance, it can cause an allergic reaction. Substances that commonly trigger an allergic reaction, include latex, cleaning agents, adhesives, essential oils, and certain medications. 15B

  • Acne vulgaris

The neck is one of the most common places for acne to occur, causing itchy skin. To prevent acne vulgaris occurring on the neck, you need to keep the area clean using gentle cleansers, avoid irritants, and talk to your doctor to understand which topical creams can be applied to relieve itchy chest symptoms. 15C

  • Shingles

Caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, shingles appears as a blistering rash, which causes an itchy chest and burning pain. If you suspect shingles, you’ll need to speak with your doctor to be prescribed appropriate treatments. 15D

Itchy feet

The feet are exposed to many different types of irritant, like allergens, bugs, and fungus – all of which can cause itchy feet. 16A They also spend long periods of time in moist, hot environments (shoes and socks), which are a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. 16B

Dermatitis, fungal infections, like athlete’s foot, and bug bites from scabies, mosquitos or bed bugs are the most common causes of itchy feet. 16C

How to prevent itchy skin

There’s no immediate cure for itchy skin, however, there are things you can do to alleviate your symptoms and prevent them from recurring. 7B Here are our top tips on how to prevent itchy skin:

Keep scratches clean

It’s very difficult to refrain from scratching, particularly for young children. Too much scratching, however, can leave you with skin irritation and infections, so try to stop scratching altogether. Keeping your scratches and fingernails clean with an antiseptic liquid is a great way to kill germs and protect yourself against infection. 7C

Apply a cold compress

If the affected area is particularly itchy, then applying a cold compress can help to calm your symptoms. This relief may reduce your itching and protect your skin from further damage. 7D

Wear comfortable clothing

Loose clothing is better, as it allows your skin to breathe. Tight clothing, on the other hand, restricts this, which can lead to itchier, more irritated skin. If you’re feeling particularly itchy, cotton is a comfortable material to wear. 7E

Protect your skin  

When you have itchy skin, it’s important to make sure it’s protected at all costs. This means covering up by wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts when out and about, applying insect repellent to stop insect bites, and wearing plenty of sunscreen to avoid sunburn. 7F

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