7 questions & answers on itchy skin 

Although itching is not an illness but rather a symptom, when chronic, it can very quickly become unbearable on day-to-day basis. Discomfort leads to annoyance, which can make us irritable or even anxious and depressed. Not to mention stopping us from getting a good night’s sleep. Because itchiness does not stop at night, it is even quite the opposite.

Discover the answers to all your questions about itching.

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Itching is an instinctive reaction

Itching (also known as “pruritus”) is an unpleasant sensation that triggers the reflex to scratch ourselves. It can be occasional or chronic, localised or more generalised, accompanied by visible signs (red patches, skin rashes) or invisible. We refer to chronic itching when the sensation lasts for more than 6 weeks.   

All of us have experienced itching at some point without necessarily knowing what is actually happening. Basically, our skin has very sensitive receptors that capture (almost) everything. When they receive the signal that the skin is being “attacked”, they send an alert to the brain that responds to this tactile stimulation by triggering the scratch reflex

 

Itching is a very widespread problem 

It is estimated that one third of the world populationis affected by itching in its lifetime, regardless of geography and age. Everyone can be affected from babies to the elderly, even if the reasons are very different. The challenge is to discover exactly what is causing your skin to itch.

 

1Assessment of severity and burden of pruritus (2016) by Pereira MP and Ständer S.

2. What causes itchy skin?

Why is your skin itchy?

When looking for the cause of your itching, you need to remember that it is first and foremost a symptom. The origin may be linked to multiple factors including:

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Hereditary reasons for itchy skin

This is the case if you suffer from atopic dermatitis or itchy psoriasis, which are both genetic skin conditions. In atopic patients, the skin barrier is too porous, allowing allergens to get through. This is combined with a dysfunctional immune system, and the subsequent inflammation often triggers intense itching.

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Other pathologies provoking itchy skin

This is the case if you suffer from atopic dermatitis or itchy psoriasis, which are both genetic skin conditions. In atopic patients, the skin barrier is too porous, allowing allergens to get through. This is combined with a dysfunctional immune system, and the subsequent inflammation often triggers intense itching.

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Itching affecting skin that is dry or very dry

strongly to everything it comes into contact with. The result? Skin irritations appear more easily, your skin peels more often and frequently itches.

 

If you suffer from unexplained itching all over the body, it is important to identify the cause as this kind of itchiness can be symptomatic of very different conditions.

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Why does mask wearing causes itching?

Wearing a mask has become crucial nowadays, but it can lead to chronic itching:

  • Frictions attack the skin and damage the face’s skin barrier, which can trigger itching. Using a cotton mask should limit this phenomenon.
  • Prolonged and repeated mask wearing can lead to contact eczema due to bacteria proliferation. Think about changing your mask every 4 hours.
  • Some pathologies such as atopic dermatitis can be exacerbated because of mask wearing

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In addition to skin pathologies and problems, certain internal and environmental factors can cause or increase itching:

  • Stress - including the stress and anxiety linked to and generated by the itching itself
  • Sweating - shower after sport and open windows to let air circulate (especially at night)
  • Long hot showers - avoid spending more than 5-10 minutes in hot water (max. 35°C)
  • Overly aggressive cosmetics and household products - choose gentle, high-tolerance products and limit the amount of detergent when washing your clothes
  • Clothes that are tight-fitting or made from scratchy fabrics - rather than wool and synthetic fabrics, favour cotton and other soft, natural alternatives
  • Certain chemical substances - like chlorine in swimming pools
  • Environmental factors - like pollution, heat, air allergens, hard water, indoor heating and cigarette smoke
  • Sudden temperature changes - e.g. going outside from a heated interior in winter

According to a study carried out in France, 40 % of people2 say that itching is more intense when they are resting or laying down. Some conditions like eczema seem to trigger more itching at night. Hives also get worse after dark and when you wake up.

It is not very surprising that itchy skin is more frequent at night. The body and skin are subject to constant variations under the influence of our internal biological clock:

  • At night, the blood circulates to lower our body temperature and encourage us to sleep. Our skin temperature increases to evacuate this heat through transpiration, which in turn triggers itching sensations.
  • The skin is also a less effective barrier at night, making it easier for external elements to penetrate, again leading to more itching. 

It is a good idea to open the window to let air circulate in your bedroom and also keep the heating to a minimum.

 

2L. Misery and C. Taieb, “Epidémiologie du prurit en France », Ann. Dermatol. Veneorol., Vol.138, 2011
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1. Scratching damages the skin and causes a gentle pain that momentarily distracts your brain.  Researchers3 have shown that after a few seconds of relief, scratching stimulates a more intense itching sensation. 

2. What’s more, this gesture damages the cutaneous barrier, opening the door to bacteria and allergens.

3. In response skin cells send an alert to the brain.

4. This in turn intensifies the inflammation of skin that is already fragile. The result? An even stronger urge to scratch.

In extreme cases, scratching becomes a chronic unconscious behaviour that keeps the skin permanent!

 

3Dr Zhou-Feng Chen, Center study of Itch & Sensory Disorders, Washington University in Saint-Louis
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6. How to relieve itchy skin?

How can you reduce or even stop itching on an everyday basis without scratching? 

Here are 3 simple tips to help make life more comfortable.

Moisturise your skin every day, ideally twice

Hydrate your skin with a soothing moisturising product even when you aren’t experiencing any itching. An anti-itch cream will reinforce the cutaneous barrier and keep out allergens and irritants that could trigger further itching.

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Scratch yourself… safely! 

If the itching gets too much, scratch yourself with the palm of your hand (definitely not your nails), or a smooth stone or wooden wheel. Keep your nails short to reduce the risk of infection. Cold also relieves itching, so why not apply a gel ice pack? Although a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel is just as effective!

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Distract yourself by keeping your hands and/or mind busy 

When the itching starts, prepare dinner, go for a run, meditate, start sketching, get some DIY done or look after the garden. Your favourite manual activity will help you forget the itching, at least for a while.

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7. How can you adapt your routine to relieve itching? 

On a daily basis and in the long term, managing and reducing itching begins with soothing care products:

  • A gentle shower oil or gel that does not irritate the skin and respects its barrier function
  • A daily emollient moisturiser that nourishes the skin and reinforces the cutaneous barrier (ideally applied twice a day). Among the creams that help soothe itchy skin, choose the texture adapted to your preferences and local
  • If the itching is linked to a particular pathology, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a specific itchy skin treatment or medication for chronic itching.
  • An emergency anti-itch spray for instant relief that reduces the urge to scratch
  • An ultra-fresh nourishing care adapted to warm season & humid or tropical climates that immediately soothes itching and reinforce skin barrier.

Discover our complementary offer : daily cleansing & daily care products for dry, very dry to atopic skin