This post is part of our Home Remedy Handbook, a tour of the landscape of home remedies from the iffy to the doctor-approved. Read more here.
Whether your itchy skin is from allergies, eczema, or just plain dryness, there are often plenty of ways you can relieve the itch at home. If you’re not sure why you’re itching, the first step is to figure that out. Some itchy rashes are contagious, and others can be a sign of a more serious conditions. But once you’ve gotten your diagnosis, the itch may still be there, tormenting you. Here are some things to try at home.
Keep your skin moisturized
Dry skin can feel itchy even without medical conditions being present. And if you do have a skin condition that leaves you prone to itching, dry skin can make the itching worse.
So one of the first-line home remedies that dermatologists will suggest is simply to stay moisturized. An alcohol-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer is what the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends for daytime use. At night, they say, consider a petroleum or lubricant cream. Plain ol’ Vaseline fits the bill.
Keeping the air in your home humid may also help, so consider a humidifier if the air is dry. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water also won’t hurt. After you shower, gently pat your skin dry and apply your moisturizer.
Avoid skin irritants
While your skin is itchy, you’ll want to avoid things that can irritate it and prolong the itching. That’s why plain, hypoallergenic moisturizers are recommended. Fragrances and fancy active ingredients can sometimes cause more irritation than they cure. (Speaking from experience here: No matter how many people tell you lanolin is soothing, you might just be allergic to lanolin.)
Even regular bathing can irritate your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends limiting baths and showers to 10 minutes, and using lukewarm water, not hot. The AAFP suggests getting a mild, unscented, hypoallergenic soap, and only washing your whole body with it twice a week. (You can wash your armpits and groin daily, they say, but the rest can wait.)
Clothing can also irritate your skin, so consider wearing loose-fitting cotton clothing and avoiding wool and synthetics. Silk is easy on the skin, too, if you can get it.
Try an oatmeal bath
Oatmeal baths can soothe the skin. The AAD says they can be especially soothing for raw or weeping skin, like sunburns, chicken pox, and poison ivy. The kind of oatmeal you want is colloidal oatmeal, which just means it’s been very finely ground and will readily absorb water. You can buy colloidal oatmeal products, including sachets to sprinkle in the bath, or oatmeal-based lotions.
DermNet says that about a cup of colloidal oatmeal (ground up in a food processor) is usually enough for a regular size bathtub. Use lukewarm water, since hot water can be irritating.
Instead of soaking your whole body in the oatmeal, you can apply the oats to a specific area of your body by making a pouch of oatmeal out of an old pantyhose leg. Get the oatmeal wet, and squeeze it out onto the area of skin you are trying to treat.
Stay cool and comfortable
Extreme temperatures can exacerbate itching and can make dry skin even drier, so bundle up when you go out in the cold, and try not to spend too much time in the heat. Wash your hands in cool water instead of hot, as much as possible.
Sweat can also irritate dry or itchy skin, so make sure to change out of sweaty clothes as soon as you can. This is another good time to take a rinse-off shower (soap only as needed) and apply a moisturizer soon after.
Scratching your itchy rash can make it worse, but if you can’t avoid scratching entirely, the AAFP recommends that you relieve the itch by rubbing with the palms of your hands instead of scratching with your fingernails. Keeping your fingernails short and clean will reduce the damage you can do with an inadvertent scratch.
And finally, for a little treat, consider storing your moisturizer in the fridge. Even though your body heat will warm up the moisturizer once it’s on your skin, that initial application will feel soothingly cool.