Common causes of itchy skin include insect bites, allergies, stress, and skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. This article outlines some of the best natural and home remedies for itching.
1. Applying menthol
Menthol is an essential oil found in plants of the mint family. It has a cooling effect and can help relieve pain and itching. A 2012 study investigated whether peppermint oil, which contains menthol, could effectively treat itchy skin in pregnant women.
Researchers divided the participants into two groups. One group received a bottle of sesame oil infused with a 0.5 percent concentration of peppermint oil. The other group received a bottle containing a combination of sesame and olive oils. Participants applied the oils to areas of itchy skin twice a day for 2 weeks. Those who used the peppermint-infused oil reported a significant reduction in itch severity compared to those who used the other product. Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before applying them to the skin.
2. Cooling the itch
The American Academy of Dermatology suggest that a good way to relieve itchy skin is to apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack to the affected area for 5–10 minutes. Cooling helps reduce inflammation that may be contributing to the itch.
Another option is to keep moisturizing creams and lotions in the refrigerator. This will ensure they have a direct cooling effect when a person applies them to the skin.
3. Wet wrap therapy
Wet wrap therapy (WWT) involves applying water-soaked fabric wraps made of gauze or surgical netting to areas of itchy skin. These wraps rehydrate and soothe skin while providing a physical barrier that protects against scratching. This treatment can be especially beneficial for children. WWT may also help the skin to absorb medications, such as topical steroids. Before applying the wraps, gently rub or pat medications on the area, and follow with a generous layer of moisturizer.
The NEA suggest the following steps for applying wet wraps:
- Moisten a section of gauze in warm water until it becomes damp.
- Wrap the gauze around the itchy area of skin.
- Wrap a dry piece of gauze over the top of the damp one.
- Carefully put on soft, cotton pajamas, taking care not to disturb the bandages.
- Leave the bandages on for several hours or overnight.
A person can use WWT for a few days to control an intense flare-up of itching. If itching does not subside, it is best to talk to a doctor or dermatologist about extending the therapy or trying an alternative treatment.
4. Colloidal oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground oatmeal that a person can dissolve in water. The resulting solution forms a protective barrier on the surface of the skin, which helps to seal in moisture. Colloidal oatmeal can help to relieve dryness and itching. Colloidal oatmeal also has known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which help to reduce skin irritation.
A small study from 2015 found that colloidal oatmeal reduced scaling, dryness, roughness, and the intensity of itching in healthy females with mild to moderate itching. Colloidal oatmeal is widely available in creams and lotions. Alternatively, a person can add the finely ground powder directly to bath water.
5. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which people have used for thousands of years as a natural wound disinfectant and antiseptic. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), apple cider vinegar may be particularly helpful in relieving an itchy scalp.
The NPF recommend diluting the vinegar in water using a 1-to-1 ratio. Apply the solution to the scalp and let it dry before rinsing it gently with lukewarm water. Vinegar can cause a burning sensation on open wounds. People with cracked and bleeding skin should avoid this treatment.
Moisturizers, such as creams and lotions, can help hydrate the outermost layer of the skin. They are often essential for managing skin conditions that cause itching and dryness. A good moisturizer will contain humectants and emollients. Humectants draw water into the skin, while emollients form a protective film over the skin’s surface, which helps lock in moisture. It is best to apply moisturizers soon after a bath or shower, while the skin is still a little damp.
The NEA provide the following tips on developing a good moisturizing routine:
- use a moisturizer with high oil content
- moisturize hands whenever they have come into contact with water
- moisturize before going to bed to help the skin stay hydrated through the night
7. Baking soda
Baking soda has antifungal properties, and research suggests it is an effective treatment for a range of fungal skin conditions, many of which can cause itching. The NEA recommend adding one-quarter of a cup of baking soda to a warm bath. An alternative option is to mix the baking soda with a little water to form a paste, which a person can apply directly onto itchy areas.
8. Avoiding irritants
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people should avoid possible irritants, as they may make itchiness worse. Possible irritants include:
Bathing and showering in hot water remove moisture from the skin, making it more prone to dryness, redness, and itching. Reducing the water temperature even by a few degrees can help.
Temperature and humidity changes
Extreme changes in temperature and humidity can dry out the skin, causing flaking and itching. A humidifier can help to maintain indoor humidity in the dry summer months. It can also help to counteract the drying effects of central heating during winter.
Fragranced skincare products
Some skincare products contain additives, such as perfumes and artificial colors, which can cause or worsen skin irritation. People with itchy or sensitive skin should use fragrance-free and dye-free skincare products.
Wool and synthetic fibers
Clothing made from wool or synthetic fibers can feel rough against the skin, causing itchiness and irritation. Some people are more sensitive than others. People with itchy skin can choose to wear loose-fitting cotton clothing whenever possible. Cotton allows the skin to breathe and prevents overheating.
Studies show that psychological stress can trigger itching. People who experience increased itchiness in times of stress may benefit from trying specific stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga and mindfulness meditation.
When to see a doctor
People can treat many cases of itching at home with an effective cleansing and moisturizing routine.
However, a person should see a doctor if they experience the following symptoms:
- itching that persists for more than 2 weeks, or flares up on a regular basis
- itching accompanied by an unusual rash, bumps, or swelling
- signs of an infection, such as inflammation or weeping sores
- itching that affects the entire body
The above symptoms could indicate an underlying health issue that requires medical attention. A doctor may also be able to recommend topical creams and medicines to relieve a person’s itching.