Itchy skin is annoying and uncomfortable. And dermatologists say it gets worse as we age. But there are ways to soothe and protect our skin, even in the dry winter months. However, you need to stifle the urge to scratch since it only makes itchiness worse.
“Dermatologists start to see an uptick in the presentation of itchy skin around age 50,” says Dr. Daniel Butler, director of the aging skin and geriatric dermatology clinic at the University of California San Francisco, according to Consumer Reports. Chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema, which typically require medical attention, may be the source of the problem. Allergies can also cause itchy skin reactions, such as hives, but often there is no clear reason for the itchiness.
Scratching the itch is a no-no, say experts who warn this only triggers more inflammation. The reason behind age-related itchiness may be due to changes in your immune system that can trigger systemic inflammation. The nerves in your skin may also become more sensitive with age and tell your brain your skin is itching even when there’s no stimuli that’s causing the skin to itch, says Butler.
Older skin becomes thinner and the skin barrier which helps keep irritants at bay becomes compromised, says Consumer Reports. In winter, dry indoor and outdoor air can make skin more prone to irritation and itchiness.
Prevention can play a key role in reducing skin irritation and itchiness.
“The best way to soothe itchy skin is to moisturize and get gentle sunlight,” says Dr. Kenneth Beer, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatology surgeon from West Palm Beach, Fl. “This is particularly true if you are taking medication to lower cholesterol. During the winter months, the humidity drops, and the skin dries out, which can exacerbate itchiness. This can be reversed by using moisturizers and changing to a less drying cleanser such as the Rosehip Refresh Cleanser.”
Look for soap-free body washes, says CNN, and keep skin well moisturized with products that include shea butter, hyaluronic acid, or lanolin.
“You need a thick cream that comes out of a tub, not a thin lotion from a pump bottle,” says Butler. Lotions are less moisturizing and contain alcohol to help them dry faster after application. Also, choose a fragrance-free moisturizer to minimize skin irritation. Moisturize several times a day and leave skin slightly damp after bathing or showering so that the cream helps seal the moisture into your skin.
The best treatment for itchy skin is often an over-the-counter cream with hydrocortisone, a mild steroid that can be used two times a day for two weeks. If hydrocortisone doesn’t help, Butler suggests trying an anti-itch cream with pramoxine hydrochloride. If your itchiness is allergy-related you can try oral antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec).
If your itchiness becomes chronic and lasts more than six weeks or if it interferes with your sleep and other activities, see your doctor or dermatologist. They may be able to prescribe a more powerful topical medication to stop the itching.
“Don’t minimize it just because it’s a common thing,” says Butler. Another reason to seek medical help is that itching can be a sign of systemic conditions such as kidney disease or anemia. According to CNN, your skin is a window to the inside of the body, and the itching may be a symptom of something more than skin deep.
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