Itching From Dry Skin

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on February 29, 2024
4 min read

Got dry, itchy skin? Quench it properly and you could prevent the itch.

If you have dry skin, you should moisturize daily. Do it right after you shower, bathe, or wash your hands, while your skin is still damp. If you can tolerate the greasy feeling, choose a moisturizer that is thick, heavy, and gooey. Skin care experts say ointments (called emollients), such as petroleum jelly, are best. They help seal the skin and prevent water loss. But their greasy feel may be a turn-off for some people.

Creams are the next best bet.

Lotions are not quite as effective but often feel far better than creams and ointments on your skin. These products are mainly water-based, and the water quickly evaporates when applied to the skin.

The moisturizer should be free of dyes, fragrances, and other possible irritants. Make sure the label says the product is hypoallergenic. This means the moisturizer is less likely to cause an allergic reaction, which can make you itch more.

If a skin cream or ointment isn't handy, check your kitchen cupboard for a quick fix. Cooking oils and shortening can work just as well as commercial moisturizers and are likely to be less expensive. They are, though, messy.

Frequent hand washing can often lead to dry skin. Place a tube of hand moisturizer (ointment or cream) next to the sink so it is within reach each time you wash your 

Bathing or showering too often strips the natural oils from your skin, causing it to become dry. Hot water also robs your skin of moisture. If you have dry skin, try these tips:

  • Use cool or lukewarm water only while showering or bathing.
  • Limit showers to 10 minutes maximum.
  • Do not bathe more than once a day.
  • Add baby oil or oatmeal soaks to your bath to help relieve itching. If you use oil, be extremely careful to avoid slipping when you get out of the tub. (Don't forget, you still need to use moisturizer when you are finished bathing.)
  • Gently pat yourself dry with a towel and avoid vigorous rubbing.
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom when you sleep.

Deodorant bath soaps can leave you smelling great, but their ingredients actually strip moisture from your skin. That can trigger your urge to itch. It's best to limit using such soaps to body areas prone to odor, such as the armpits, feet, and groin area.

For other parts of your body, choose a mild cleanser. If you are prone to dry skin, unscented bath soaps or those labeled "for sensitive skin" are the best choices for lathering up in the bath or shower. Fragrant soaps and body washes can also lead to dry skin and itchiness. Some people develop dry, itchy skin when they come in contact with certain perfumes or dyes found in these soaps, detergents, and many other products. If you avoid such irritants, you can often prevent skin discomfort. That goes for laundry detergent too. Avoid perfumed or scented detergents and fabric softeners. Detergent names or labels often contain the word "free" to indicate they do not contain perfumes or dyes.

While you can't relieve dry, itchy, skin with any certain food, a healthy eating pattern helps support healthy skin. Some foods have anti-inflammatory qualities, which may benefit people with inflammatory skin conditions that cause dryness and itchiness. They include:

  • Leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
  • Brightly colored fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and oranges
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts like walnuts and almonds
  • Flaxseed and flax oil
  • Olive oil
  • Oily fish like tuna and salmon

Choose whole grains instead of refined ones, and minimize added sugar. 

  • Do not use cleansing toners, colognes, body mists and splashes, aftershaves, or similar products that contain alcohol. Alcohol dries out skin.
  • Avoid coarse, scratchy, or rough fabrics, such as wool, which can make skin feel itchy. Choose softer fabrics, like 100% cotton or silk. Keep this in mind when choosing bedding as well.
  • Dry air and low-humidity can pull water from your skin. Running a humidifier in your home, particularly when you have the heat on, can restore moisture to the air. Aim for a humidity level of about 45% to 55%.

If dry skin has left you with small, itchy areas on your body, an over-the-counter anti-itch cream or ointment containing 1% hydrocortisone may offer some relief. Hydrocortisone is a type of steroid medicine that helps reduce itching, redness, and swelling.

If you have extreme itchiness, see a doctor. You may need a prescription for a stronger type of hydrocortisone or other steroid. Your doctor may refer to these products as topical corticosteroids. Topical means you put it on your skin.

If your dry, itchy skin does not get better within two weeks, call your doctor or other health care provider. In some cases, dry skin and itching can be due to an allergic reaction or a skin disorder such as eczema or psoriasis, which may require specific treatments. Severe itching can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition, including liver disease and cancer. That's not likely, but it's something that your doctor would check out.

Don't scratch your itchy skin. Scratching can cause your skin to become infected. Signs of infection include redness, tenderness, swelling, and pus. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. You may need antibiotics.