Itching is a common and annoying problem that can occur because of many factors, like insect bites, allergic reactions, sunburns, skin infections, dry and cold weather, medications, medical conditions, and even pregnancy or aging.
When you have an itch somewhere on your body, the first reaction that you have is to scratch the area. However, this generally only provides temporary relief and can sometimes make things worse. Luckily, there are several home remedies that can help you get rid of itchy skin quickly and without causing harm.
Causes of Itchy Skin
Itchiness can have a variety of causes that range from mild and temporary insect bites to specific skin conditions (e.g. eczema or psoriasis) to more serious medical conditions, such as liver and kidney disease. The main causes of itchy skin include:
Viral and Fungal Infections: Infections like chicken pox, measles, shingles, and genital and anal herpes can cause the body to feel very itchy.
Adverse Reactions to Drugs: Skin reactions ranging from mild to severe itching are relatively common side effects of certain medications, including antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and some pain medications.
Allergic Reactions: Allergic reactions to insect bites, pollen, toxins from plants, cosmetics, personal products, and foods can cause mild to severe itching. Rashes caused by a contact dermatitis (a rash that results from skin contact with a substance or allergen) can be very itchy.
Diseases: Liver disease is often accompanied by moderate to intense pruritus. Other conditions where itchy skin appears include certain blood disorders (e.g., iron deficiency anemia, polycythemia vera, etc.), cancer (such as leukemia and lymphoma), and thyroid disease.
Parasites: Pubic and head lice are itchy infestations by tiny wingless insects called lice.
Pregnancy: Itchiness is often a “side effect” of pregnancy. The itchy areas are usually on the abdomen, breasts, thighs and arms.
Home Remedies for Itchy Skin
It’s crucial to consult with your physician if the itching lasts for several weeks to months to get the treatment you need; however, if the itch is tolerable and unaccompanied by other symptoms, you can easily treat it effectively with various home remedies.
Clay is very helpful for itching and a number of other skin issues such as acne. It particularly helps heal venomous stings and bites, like from bees, wasps and spiders. The clay helps draw the venom out of the skin, which will help relieve the pain and let the sting heal more quickly.
- Mix the clay in a bowl or cup with a bit of filtered water until it has a creamy consistency like peanut butter.
- Then, just dab the clay paste onto itchy areas, let it dry, then rinse or peel it off.
Note: Use virgin, untreated clay. Green clay (often called montmorillonite or bentonite clay) is the most powerful type.
2. Lemon Juice
Lemon contains citric acid and acetic acid, which have great antiseptic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-irritating properties.
- Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on the affected area and let dry.
- Apply some freshly squeezed lemon juice on a cotton pad and wipe over itchy skin.
- Repeat daily as needed, or until the condition improves.
3. Fresh Mint
Research suggests that bathing with water that is mixed with mint leaves and peppermint oil is beneficial for itchy skin. Mint contains anti-inflammatory and anesthetic agents that help to reduce and stop itching on the skin.
- Mint leaves that have been brewed in hot water are even more potent because the steeping helps release the mint oil in the leaves. Make sure to cool the water before you apply the steeped solution to the skin with a cloth.
- You can also apply peppermint oil directly to itchy skin with a clean cotton pad.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is an effective antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent that relieves itching, especially itching associated with dry skin.
- Just put a few drops of it onto a cotton ball or washcloth and dab it on to the affected area.
- Use raw, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
5. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera contains anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has plenty of vitamin E that is useful in the treatment of burns and helps reduce inflammation and itching.
- If you have a whole aloe plant, take a piece, cut it open, and then apply the gel over the itchy skin. Leave it to soak into your skin and sooth it.
- Alternatively, you can purchase aloe vera gel from any pharmacy or drug store. Look for all-natural aloe vera gel.
- Do not apply aloe vera gel to open wounds.
6. Coconut Oil
The driest of the dry itchy skin usually occurs on the heels, hands and elbows. An overnight spot treatment on these skin areas with coconut oil can result in much improvement by the next morning.
- Soak in a lukewarm bath until your fingers shrivel, this indicates that the skin is full hydrated.
- Pat skin dry, but leave slightly damp.
- Put a thick layer of coconut oil on heels, hands and elbows, covering the greased areas with socks, gloves and long sleeved pajama top, and go to bed.
You should have a restful itch-free night of sleep and improved skin in the morning.
Oatmeal has compounds that act as antioxidants, which help to sooth the skin and stop the irritation. It is advisable to use colloidal oatmeal, but in cases where this is not available, whole oats or unprocessed oat flour can be used, too.
You can use your food processor or coffee grinder to grind them. The effective compounds (avenanthramides) are more prevalent in the oats that have not been processed.
- Add 2 cups of unprocessed and uncooked oatmeal or oat flour to your bathing water. Keep in mind that the water should be cool to lukewarm, but not hot because this can cause more damage to the skin.
- Soak for one hour in the water daily until the itching has stopped.
- Unprocessed and uncooked oat flour can also be mixed with water to form a thick paste. The paste can be applied on the itchy skin and left on for 20-30 minutes.
8. Cold Water
Cold temperatures affect the nerves that cause itch and can sometimes cause they to slow, resulting in relief from itching. Applying cold water to itchy skin can reduce the sensation.
- Run cool tap water over the affected area. You could also place a cold washcloth on the skin until itching stops.
- A cold shower or bath can help, especially if the itch comprises a large area.
- Ice packs are a good option as well. Always wrap these in a towel or wash cloth and never apply directly to the skin.
9. Juniper Berries and Cloves
Juniper berries have great anti-inflammatory effects and they have long been used by Native Americans to get rid of itchy skin. Cloves contain eugenol, a powerful essential oil that has the ability to numb the nerve endings, and in that way reduce itching. When combined, juniper berries and cloves make an excellent home remedy for itchy skin.
- Melt 6 tablespoons of organic unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons of beeswax in separate saucepans.
- When melted, mix them well together and add 5 tablespoons of ground juniper berries and 3 tablespoons of ground cloves.
- Stir well and allow to it cool completely.
- Apply over affected areas.
10. Baking Soda
Soaking in a bath of baking soda for 30-60 minutes can make all the difference.
- Add one cup of baking soda to a tub of warm water.
- After the bath, gently pat your skin dry with a towel.
- For more localized itching you can make a paste of one part water to three parts baking soda.
Like cloves, basil contains high amounts of eugenol, a topical anesthetic.
- Place 1/2 ounce dried basil leaves in a 1-pint jar of boiling water.
- Keep it covered to prevent the escape of the aromatic eugenol from the tea and allow to cool.
- Dip a clean cloth into the tea and apply to itchy skin as often as necessary.
Thyme contains large amounts of the volatile constituent thymol, which has anesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties. It numbs the itch while reducing inflammation caused by scratching.
- Place 1/2 ounce dried thyme leaves in a 1-pint jar of boiling water.
- Cover and allow to cool.
- Strain and dip a clean cloth into the tea, then apply to affected areas.
When to See Your Doctor
Most cases of itchy skin are due at least in part to skin dryness and can be relieved even as the underlying cause takes time to be determined. However, if the itchiness is widespread, has no known cause and/or is not relieved within 2-3 days of trying the different remedies available above, make an appointment to see your doctor to determine the cause of the itching and the best course of treatment for you.
Medical diagnosis always depends on the underlying cause which can usually be determined by physical examination, a careful and complete medical history, and a variety of lab tests and imaging. In some cases, a small sample of skin may be taken in a biopsy so that the skin can be examined under a microscope.
- While scratching an itch can be very satisfying, try to avoid scratching. Scratching will only further irritate the area and could break the skin.
- Persistent itchiness can be the sign of an underlying, serious condition. Serious disorders can show explicit signs of itching, such as liver disease, anemia, kidney failure, diabetes, shingles and lupus. Because of this, it’s absolutely important to seek treatment in order to determine the cause of your itching.