woman scratching  forearm
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Dry Skin

It’s going to get dry as you age. To keep in moisture:

  • Use a heavy cream or ointment instead of lotion. They work better and are less likely to irritate your skin.
  • Don’t wash your face more than twice a day.
  • See a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating skin. You may need medicine to get better.
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man washing hands close up
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Harsh Soap

Chemicals in soap can strip the natural oils from your skin and leave it dry, scaly, and rough. Or you could have an allergic reaction to scents or dyes. Talk do your doctor about gentle cleansers that don’t have alcohol, which can dry you out. The same rules apply to dish detergents, so give gloves a try. Not only do they look retro cool, they can prevent itchy hands.

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woman outside on cold windy day
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Dry Air

Whether it’s the climate, wintry winds, or central heating, dry air pulls moisture from your skin. To prevent the itch:

  • Use lip balm when you go outside.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Don’t cozy up to the fire -- it can dry you out.
  • Get a humidifier to return moisture to inside air.
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woman taking shower close up
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Long, Hot Showers

Are you red all over when you get out of the shower or tub? That means your water’s too warm. It can dry and irritate your skin, and even make it peel over time. If you’re wrinkled like a raisin when you come out, you’ve been in too long. You don’t have to take 30-second cold showers. But try to keep them short and lukewarm instead of long and hot. And remember, it’s OK to skip a day now and then, especially if you don’t sweat much. 

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young boy with rash in armpit
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Rashes

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, infections, allergies, or skin conditions can cause them. A small itchy red patch on your skin that passes quickly is usually nothing to worry about. But it can be more serious. Talk to your doctor about your rash if:

  • It covers your body
  • You also have a fever 
  • You have blisters or open sores
  • It’s more painful than itchy

Treatment will depend on the cause.

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mans infected hand
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Infections

Bacteria can infect your skin and cause conditions that make it itch. On the top layer of skin, it’s usually not a big deal. It gets more serious if it reaches the second and third layers. Then it’s more likely to infect your blood and organs. Antibiotics usually kill the bacteria. When they don’t, the infection can get harder to treat. Antifungal pills and lotions treat fungal infections, which usually aren’t as serious. 

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mosquito on skin close up
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Bug Bites

Mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders, and other bugs can bite you and make your skin itch. It’s usually no big deal. Smear some hydrocortisone ointment on it, or take an antihistamine pill if it’s really bad. Watch your symptoms, though. In rare cases, bugs can cause a serious illness or allergic reaction. Go to the hospital if you also have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Swollen tongue, lips, or face
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
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atopic dermatitis inside elbow
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Atopic Dermatitis

It’s the most common form of eczema. Your genes may be part of the reason you get it. Your skin gets dry and itchy in reaction to something around you like cigarette smoke, perfume, or pollen. A breakout is more likely in the crease of your elbow or anywhere else skin rubs skin. Scratching can make it red, swollen, cracked, and crusty. Avoid triggers, moisturize your skin, and try not to scratch. Medication can also help.

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contact dermatitis on face
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Contact Dermatitis

This type of eczema makes your skin react to something it touches. It could be the dye in your soap, a metal watch strap, rubber gloves, copper piping, or even poison ivy. It can happen if you’ve had no problems in the past. Your skin may be cracked, stiff, red, and swollen, with fluid-filled blisters. Your doctor will suggest medicated creams like cortisone, allergy drugs like antihistamines, or oatmeal baths to relieve itching. 

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raised hives on skin close up
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Hives

These raised reddish splotches on your skin go away within 24 hours, though new ones may continue to appear. They don’t just itch; they might sting or hurt, too. An allergic reaction -- to food, medicine, pollen, or animals -- can cause them. Infection, stress, and even the common cold may also be triggers. Antihistamines can lessen the itch. If they don’t do the trick, your doctor might give you steroids.

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psoriasis on mans ankle
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Psoriasis

Something in your genes makes skin cells grow too fast. The results can vary, from red spots to thickened, crusty patches of skin. You may even have pus-filled red bumps that come with chills and muscle aches. A rare form, erythrodermic psoriasis, looks like a bad sunburn and needs hospital treatment. But you can manage most forms with medicines and creams. Your doctor may even prescribe special lights for your skin. This treatment is called phototherapy. 

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pregnant woman scratching belly
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Pregnancy

High hormone levels in your blood may make you itchy. So can the stretched skin on your belly in later weeks. If you have eczema, it often flares up during pregnancy. It’s OK to treat with cortisone cream, but watch the amount. Talk to your doctor if you have sudden, intense itching, especially in the third trimester. It could be a sign of a serious liver condition (cholestasis).

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pills in aging hands
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Medication

A pill or lotion could make your skin itch or burn. You might get a rash, too. It may happen right away, or days or weeks after you start using it. Let your doctor know there’s a problem. He can suggest a new medication, change your dosage, or work with you to find the culprit if it isn’t easy to narrow down. Never stop taking prescription medication without telling your doctor.

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active nerve cells
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Neuropathic Itch

When nerve cells misfire, you might feel like insects are crawling on your skin. Brain tumors, spinal cord lesions, strokes, shingles, and brain diseases like multiple sclerosis could all cause this kind of itch. Normal treatment like antihistamines, pain medications, and steroids don’t work. Drugs that numb the area are best. And you might get therapy that helps you scratch less.   

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man biting nails close up
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Mental Health

Yes, worry can make you itch. Anxiety and stress can worsen atopic dermatitis. Depression can intensify the itch from psoriasis and other conditions. Constant hand-washing caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder can dry out and damage your skin. Other conditions can make it harder to stop scratching, which can make the itch worse. Talk to your doctor if you think your mental health affects your skin.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 3/14/2018 Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 14, 2018

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) thodonal / Getty Images

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SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Bug bites and stings: When to see a dermatologist,” “Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin,” “Dry Skin: Diagnosis and Treatment” “Dry Skin: Who Gets and Causes,” “Face washing 101,” ”Hives: Diagnosis And Treatment,” ”Hives: Signs & Symptoms,” “Hives: Who Gets And Causes,” “Medication for moms-to-be: Managing skin conditions in pregnancy,” “Psoriasis: Overview,” “Psoriasis: Signs And Symptoms,” ”Rash 101 in adults: When to seek treatment.”

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: “Can drinking water cure dry skin?”

Indian Journal of Dermatology: “Cleansers And Their Role In Various Dermatological Disorders.”

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: “Is a Hot Shower Bad for Your Skin?”

Medscape: 14 Rashes You Need to Know: Common Dermatologic Diseases.”

Mayo Clinic: ““Cholestasis of pregnancy: Symptoms & causes,” “Factors that influence water needs,” “Psoriasis: Diagnosis & treatment,” “Staph infections: Diagnosis & treatment,” “Staph infections: Symptoms & causes.”

Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology: “Bacterial skin and soft tissue infections in adults: A review of their epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment and site of care.”

Merck Manual: “Drug Rashes,” “Hyponatremia,” “Overview of Fungal Skin Infections.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Atopic Dermatitis: What are the Symptoms?” “Atopic Dermatitis: What is It?” “What Is Atopic Dermatitis?”

National Eczema Association: “An Overview of the Different Types of Eczema.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Dermatitis.”

National Health Service Choices: “Itching and intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.”

Harvard Medical School: “Itch and the Brain.”

Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery: “Neuropathic Itch.”

Clinical Dermatology: “Psychosomatic factors in pruritus.”

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 14, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.