Why does my skin itch and what are the triggers?

Why does my skin itch and what are the triggers?

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We take a look at the triggers and life stages that can lead to itchy skin.

Dry, itchy skin is a common problem. In fact, itchy skin can develop at any time of life and can be caused by a range of issues. Julie Van Onselen, a Dermatology Nurse Specialist and consultant, explores the different triggers of itchy skin, how to manage the itch-scratch cycle, and why Balneum dry skin and itch relief Cream is a great option for individuals who want healthy, hydrated skin.

Your genetics matter

Itchy, flaky skin occurs in babies right through to the elderly. In children, particularly, the causes of dry, itchy skin can be largely genetic. Symptoms, such as atopic eczema, may often make their first appears in early childhood. It affects up to 20% of children and generally presents itself in the first year of life.

Julie Van Onselen explains that itchy skin conditions, such as eczema, can vary in their severity. “A rare genetic itchy skin condition, called ichthyosis, affects 1 in 250-1000 people, and may also present itself in childhood”, she explains. Of course, not every individual will experience eczema. Itchy skin can present itself in many forms, including psoriasis, although she points out that this is more likely to occur in later teenage years or as adults.

Genetics has a large role to play in when, how, and the extent to which itchy skin occurs. For individuals who are genetically predisposed to itchy skin, triggers can be a lot more difficult to avoid and the task of managing flare-ups becomes even more important. Keeping the skin moisturised and hydrated is the first step to managing the itch.

Hormonal changes influence your skin

“Hormones have a big effect on skin at any age,” confirms Julie Van Onselen. Women, in particular, may notice changes in how their skin looks and feels, especially during periods of life changes.

Itchy skin in pregnancy is quite common, affecting almost a quarter of pregnant women. Not only does the skin stretch, but hormone changes can allow itchy skin to thrive. For women who experience dry, itchy skin beforehand, pregnancy can heighten symptoms. Pregnant women who experience itchy skin should wash with an emollient soap-substitutes that will moisturise and relieve the skin.

Julie Van Onselen also discusses the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. “Lower oestrogen can cause the skin to dry out. It may be that it’s just the lower legs that become drier.” She also goes on to explain that “menopause can be a point in a woman’s life when she may find that she has to change her skin care regime to one that involves using a heavier emollient”.

Your skin responds to its surroundings

Genetic and hormonal causes of itchy skin can be hard to control. It’s all about managing the symptoms and using an emollient therapy that will keep your skin hydrated, healthy, and happy. However, people who experience itchy skin — whether that’s at certain times of the year, or on a day-to-day basis — can make extra efforts to eliminate triggers in their environment.

Julie Van Onselen highlights the real extent of environmental triggers and their variety can cause different flares of symptoms in different individuals. “There are lots of different triggers,” she says, “and some are quite universal. Soaps and detergents are one example. But the seasons are also another. A lot of people’s skin is worse in the winter, as central heating goes on, the heat goes up, and skin dries out”.

Other environmental triggers can include:

  • House mites
  • Different types of pollen, such as grass or tree pollen.
  • Specific flowers.
  • Scented body washes and lotions.
  • Sweating too much.

Chemical triggers in the environment can also occur, but they are very individual. “Household chemicals, cleaning products, things at work, paint and oils and anything people may touch may irritate the skin and cause itchy skin conditions to flare,” she highlights.

How to manage the itch-scratch cycle

Dry skin can cause the itch-scratch cycle. What causes it to continue, and make the skin worse, is your skin’s basic physiology. “If you itch you scratch, and as soon as you scratch you excite all the cytokines and itch receptors under the skin, encouraging you to scratch more. So the scratching sets off the itching and the cycle begins as your skin starts to flare.”

Emollients and creams, such as Balneum dry skin and itch relief Cream, are necessary to break this cycle as they reduce the itching, which stops people scratching, which in turn allows the skin to heal.

“The idea of an emollient is that as soon as the skin gets itchy the emollient will soothe the skin and reduce the itch. Reducing the itch will minimise the urge to scratch, breaking up the itch-scratch cycle for a period of time.”

Getting the right treatment

Balneum dry skin and itch relief Cream, as well as the shampoo, is now available in Boots pharmacies. People with dry, itchy skin can try this emollient without a prescription, benefitting from a more holistic routine that will help to break the itch-scratch cycle.

Balneum includes a 5% urea formulation with lauromacrogol, which helps to restore the natural skin barrier function and reduce the itching associated with dry skin. Balneum products keep the skin moisturised, hydrated, and healthy.

Julie Van Onselen takes some time to explain that emollients are the cornerstone of treatment for people with dry skin, and even people with eczema who need to use topical steroids to control flare-ups, should still be using emollients every day to improve the skin.

“There is an adage in dermatology that if you make the smallest changes to the skin, like using a moisturiser correctly and using it every day, then you can make quite big gains in actually controlling skin conditions. So, there is quite a lot to be gained from speaking to a pharmacist.”

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