Why is my skin itchy?

Dermatology Clinical Lead at Bupa UK
30 July 2019

We all get slight itches every now and then, and most of the time it’s nothing to worry about. But if your skin is constantly itchy it can have a severe impact on your quality of life. You might be wondering what’s causing the problem, and what you can do about it. In this blog, I’ll explore some of the most common reasons behind itchy skin and what you might be able to do about them.

You might assume that itchy skin means you have a skin condition. But, there are other things that can make your skin itchy too. To try and work out what might be causing the problem, it helps to look at the bigger picture. Think about any other symptoms you may be experiencing as these may offer a clue as to what’s behind it.

Itchy hands

Skin conditions

There are many skin conditions that can cause itching. These include:


If you do have a skin condition, the itching will probably be accompanied by a rash. Exactly what this rash looks like can vary. For example, a chickenpox rash is very distinctive – starting with small, red spots that turn into blisters, and then scabs. Whereas an urticarial (hives) rash has small, red or white raised areas that appear very quickly, followed by blotchy skin.

Image showing chickenpox blisters
Chickenpox blisters

If your itchy skin is accompanied by a rash, make an appointment to see your GP. They’ll be able to tell you if you have a skin condition or refer you for further tests to find out.

Dryness

Another major reason your skin might itch is if it’s too dry. You may notice a fine, white scale on the surface of your skin, or a ‘crazy paving’-like appearance, especially on the legs (asteatotic eczema).

Your skin can dry out if:

  • the weather is cold and dry
  • you bathe frequently and use soap
  • you spend a lot of time in air-conditioned environments
  • you’ve been on a long-haul flight

If dry skin is your problem, you should be able to manage this yourself. Some of the following changes to your washing routine may help:

  • If you take a shower more than once a day, try and cut down on these.
  • If you take long baths, try and spend less time in the bath.
  • Use cool or lukewarm water to wash, rather than hot water.
  • Avoid soap, perfumed products and bubble bath. Instead, go for mild, alcohol-free products.
  • Pat yourself dry with a towel, rather than vigorously drying.

There are other steps that could also help to reduce the dryness of your skin:

  • Moisturise your skin frequently. Unperfumed ointments are better than creams.
  • Avoid clothes with fibres that will rub against your skin. The main culprits are wool and synthetics.
  • Keep your indoor environment cool to relieve the itch, but not too cold. Consider using a humidifier rather than an air-conditioner.
  • Stay hydrated – most people need to drink around six to eight glasses of fluid per day.

Illnesses

If you don’t have a rash and your skin doesn’t appear to be dry, the itching could be caused by an internal illness. These include:

  • Anaemia – often caused by a lack of iron in your diet. The most common symptom of anaemia is tiredness. Pernicious anaemia – a condition caused by too little vitamin B12 in the body – is also associated with itching.
  • Some liver problems, such as jaundice. This is noticeable by the skin turning a yellow-ish colour.
  • Kidney disease. Although for most people this doesn’t have any symptoms, if they do appear, they commonly include itching.
  • Hormone problems. For example, an overactive thyroid can cause skin itching, which may appear alongside things like fever, breathlessness, and hyperactivity. Underactive thyroid can cause itch as well.
  • Low vitamin D levels can also be associated with itching.

If you suspect that your itchy skin is because of a non-skin-related illness, or are experiencing other symptoms as well, you should make an appointment to see your GP.

Other causes

Women may develop itchy skin when they’re in the later stages of pregnancy or going through the menopause. There are also certain drugs – such as statins and ACE inhibitors – that can cause itchy skin as a side-effect. If you’ve just started a medicine and have got itchy skin, speak to a pharmacist or your GP.



If you’re having problems with your skin, you can visit a dermatologist even if you don’t have Bupa health insurance. Discover more about our dermatology services.

Dr Stephanie Munn
Dermatology Clinical Lead at Bupa UK

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