Make my legs stop itching Oh God please
January 18, 2009 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Why are my legs--especially calves--itching all the time? I know it's winter, so things are dry, but I moisturize religiously and it happens during the summer too. I've tried Bag Balm, Eucerin, body butters, shea butter, aloe, hydrocortisone, exfoliating, not exfoliating, Cetaphil, jojoba oil, cold showers, not using soap on them, not shaving, and not using stuff with cetyl alcohol in it. This has been going on for years now, getting steadily worse each year, and a dermatologist a while ago just told me to put on lotion. What next?

Also, it doesn't look like eczema, and there's no flakiness or anything, just terrible, terrible itching.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (32 answers total)
Best answer: Do you drink enough water?
posted by Brian B. at 8:45 AM on January 18, 2009

Is it something in your environment you're allergic to? I'm assuming you've also tried vaseline.
posted by cashman at 8:48 AM on January 18, 2009

Any chance of an allergy? I have some food allergies, and while I haven't ever gone into anaphylaxis I will itch in specific areas (not whole body) after eating those things.
posted by dilettante at 8:49 AM on January 18, 2009

Have you tried changing the kind of laundry detergent you're using? Health stores have non-perfumed neutral kinds like the stuff from the Ecover brand.
Perhaps also your washing machine (facility, whatever) has various rinse cycles - choose the longest available one.
'Cause that's the soap you are actually using on them...

Otherwise, after long summers in shorts (hah. Try that in Sweden), or after a long walk, I usually have some itch on my legs, which I attribute to hairs breaking off, more friction and enhanced surface circulation.
posted by Namlit at 8:57 AM on January 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

This happens to me in winter too, all over my body but my legs are the worst - the best solution I've found is avoiding hot showers and moisturizing after every shower while skin is still damp with an organic moisturizer that contains menthol or peppermint oil (soothes the skin, I'm not sure why). I also recommend fish oil supplements.

Oh, and are you wearing cotton socks/hose? Synthetic fabric against my skin in winter can be really irritating.
posted by susanvance at 9:04 AM on January 18, 2009

I suffer from this too, especially in the winter when I’m running. My doctor told me to take an antihistamine and it helps. Check out the Wikipedia article on Cholinergic urticaria.

Cholinergic urticaria is a subcategory of physical urticaria (aka hives) that is a skin rash brought on by a hypersensitive reaction to body heat. Symptoms follow any stimulus to sweat such as exercise (sometimes called exercise-induced urticaria), heat from the sun (which could also indicate solar urticaria), saunas, hot showers (reaction to water can also indicate water urticaria), spicy foods which may cause an increase in body temperature or even stress due to blushing or anger. Some people only have symptoms during the winter months where their body temperature rises when it is unacclimatized to heat. Consistently exercising to break a sweat before the onset of cold weather, and through the winter months may reduce the symptoms greatly.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 9:17 AM on January 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

A few thoughts:

1) Have you been tested for yeast and fungal problems? Selenium sulfide-containing shampoo (e.g. Selsun Blue) shuts down all sorts of nasties like tinea, candida, malassezia pachydermatis, you name it. It couldn't hurt to use it as a bodywash for the next couple of weeks.

2) Do you swim a lot in open water? If so, Google "cercarial dermatitis" and "schistosome dermatitis"-- if not, nevermind because it's quite the looney long shot.

3) Can you think of any time it itches less? Like if you skip a shower and leave it alone for a day, or after you work up a sweat? Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 9:18 AM on January 18, 2009

Some medications can cause itching. Maybe you are taking something where that is a side-effect.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:27 AM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: I don't think it's allergies, including detergent allergies. I use a non-allergenic form of detergent and the itch has stayed with all forms of diet and nutrition changes over the years. I actually don't really wear socks or hose, and when they are they're ankle-size so I don't think that's it. I do take fish oil. I've tried vaseline, I moisturize on wet skin. I haven't swum in open water in over a year, and I'm pretty sure it's not a fungal issue as a year ago I took a powerful anti-fungal for a month for another issue and the itching continued.

I almost certainly do not drink enough water however, and I'll try that. Tracking the itchiness is also a good idea.
posted by Anonymous at 9:28 AM on January 18, 2009

Try Sarna. It's a lotion my gf uses. She has the same thing.
posted by Zambrano at 9:31 AM on January 18, 2009

try putting ice on it when it acts up and do not scratch it ever
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 9:31 AM on January 18, 2009

Well first, I think you need to find a better dermatologist. Your profile doesn't say where you live - if you tell us where you're located maybe a MeFite can give you a recommendation?

When I was having a chronic itch problem that my regular doc couldn't find the cause of, my derm took the approach that it wasn't about the cause anymore, it was about stopping the itch cycle. She put me on anti-anxiety meds and anti-histamine and gave me some steroid cream and also this fabulous lotion (rx but available in generic) called Hylira. That helped everything to calm down.
posted by radioamy at 9:33 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmmm... you just said you don't think it's allergies, but I'll throw in my 2 cents anyway. I've had itching with no rashes or sores on my legs and arms for extended periods of time. Moisturizing religiously didn't help. It went away when I moved, then it came back this winter. I cleaned up some mold (dark, spotty stuff growing on windowsills and cold corners of the apartment) and the itching went away in a few days. There was also mold in the bathroom at my old place. If you see any mold in your house, clean it up with Clorox or something. Anti-histamines may help in the meantime.
posted by bread-eater at 9:36 AM on January 18, 2009

I used to have this something awful in winter, and tracked it to two things: towels and trousers. I noticed mine was bad in the morning after showers, and changing my towels every day helped massively with that.

I also noted that it was a lot better with clean trousers and jeans on -- if I'd worn them for a few days, it got worse. (My theory was that it's from all the salt and slush on the roads, getting into the clothes and rubbing itself on the skin.)
posted by bonaldi at 10:01 AM on January 18, 2009

I've developed sensitivities to almost every type of cream, shampoo, soap, makeup, etc., that's out there. The only cream I can use on my legs, and not get insane itching, is Palmer's coco-butter. It smells like chocolate and makes me think of cake after I put it on but it works. Works really, really well. Also, I used to wax my legs, whatever is in that wax is the Itch-Bringer! I had to stop because I just couldn't take it anymore. Good luck, I know how infuriating itchy legs can be.
posted by LunaticFringe at 10:05 AM on January 18, 2009

I've found that the problem with scratching is that I break my skin open and end up with scabs. Using a hairbrush to scratch what itches is much more satisfying, and doesn't make me bleed.

In extreme cases I use OTC 1% hydrocortisone cream, when nothing else will do.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:09 AM on January 18, 2009

opiates (from poppy tea to Percocet to smack) cause very bad itching, it's what they do
posted by matteo at 10:26 AM on January 18, 2009

See if it's fungal by applying some Canesten ointment for a week. Sometimes, when our trying to keep an itchy area of your body clean, it doesn't get dried out properly after washing and fungus can be pretty hard to get rid of completely.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:36 AM on January 18, 2009

I have the same thing. It's because I'm dehydrated. Drink more water and try flax oil (makes your hair shiny too!)
posted by sadtomato at 10:43 AM on January 18, 2009

For me it's my shins, especially in winter. It can get so bad that the skin cracks on it's own, and the lotion burns when I put it on.

In winter it's worse because of 1) hard water, 2) long hot showers when I'm trying to get warm in the morning, and 3) no shorts, and sometimes I'm wearing long underwear under my clothes. (Incidentally, I have itching and to a lesser degree any place the clothes rub the skin)

I gave a homemade body scrub as a gift one year and saved some for myself and it's worked wonders. The original recipe called for pure vitamin E oil and a vanilla bean, but I fake it with Almond oil (it was on sale) and vanilla extract.

Basically it's dark brown sugar, with enough oil in it to make it moist, mixed in with a half teaspoon of vanilla extract.

It doesn't take very much at a time to rub it wherever you need it in the shower. The sugar granules do some exfoliating then melt, and when you rinse, there's enough oil left over to keep the skin moisturized.

I still use lotion on getting out of the shower (my skin is very very dry, even drinking enough water). If I miss a few days of the scrub, though, I do feel it.

Also check out the fungal and mold angle - I did have that problem on the back of my knee which turned into a bleeding disaster before I got it under control.
posted by lysdexic at 10:51 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hear you! It's called "cold weather eczema" or similar over here, but I didn't get much googling for that term, maybe somone else knows what it's called? (Köldeksem).

The tips I have seen googling for that term include colostrum tablets and mixing lanolin and vit-e into a salve.

Then there's also cold-allergy, here's a wiki page in english. That should help you look further.

My own advice is, don't shave your legs, if needed trim just. Wear some sort of light legwarmers under your jeans (you probably are getting it only on your calves from cold air blowing up the leg of your jeans) or longer socks, or cut off the bottom of a pair of skiing underwear or similar. Also, after your shower, before drying yourself, rub in babyoil and then just let it be, dry the rest of yourself.

Good luck, it does indeed suck!
posted by Iteki at 10:55 AM on January 18, 2009

Forgot to add, if you are more towards the eczema end of things, light therapy can help, and if you are more toward the hives end of things, an antihistamine tablet can help.
posted by Iteki at 11:10 AM on January 18, 2009

Have you tried Yu-be? Three of my relatives who suffer winter dry skin and cracking something fierce swear by it, and they swear by very little in general. (Google shop of course for best price- it can cost significantly, but need not.)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:14 AM on January 18, 2009

Intractable itching can be a consequence of gall bladder/liver problems.
posted by jamjam at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2009

I had a similar issue. Someone suggested upping my water intake. I did. It worked. IANADermotologist, but it's a quick, painless, and free option that might be worth exploring.
posted by cachondeo45 at 11:54 AM on January 18, 2009

I've suffered through this on my shins, calves and thighs. It's gotten better since I took a lot of steps to ask myself questions about my routines, the products I use and my home environment. Maybe some of these questions/steps to take will be of use to you!

1. Do you use "free and clear" or "green" laundry detergent? If not, try this. Also consider trying a fabric softener with less (or no) fragrance, or switching brands. And if you're using fabric softener on your towels/washcloths, I'd suggest you stop doing so.

2. One thing that makes my legs itch in the winter is exposure to road salt and chemical de-icer, which splashes up inside my wide pant legs. That plus dry weather often starts a cycle of itching that creates, through scratching, tons of tiny abrasions and/or scabs. As those heal, they itch more, and thus the cycle is perpetuated, sometimes for months. As someone mentioned above, scratching with a back brush or hairbrush can help you relieve the urge to scratch without damaging the skin (and trapping bacteria) quite as much as your nails would. Also: Cut your fingernails and toenails short, so you can't scratch hard in your sleep.

3. How often do you clean your tub/shower? During times when I didn't clean my shower often enough, I almost inevitably got some sort of wouldn't-go-away itchiness on my legs when they came into contact with the porcelain of the tub or even (sometimes) when they got water splashed up on them from the bottom of the shower. I experienced a persistent, uncontrollable itching on my shins for weeks after kneeling on the edge of my long-unwashed tub to clean it one time, for instance. My guess is that I got some sort of bacterial infection that way; that may be what you're experiencing.

4. I used to also get rashes from shaving my shins/calves—every time I did, my legs would soon start to itch, no matter what product or combination of products I used. My guess is that the razor was getting bacteria on it whenever it would get knocked on the floor by my roommate, which would cause a mild infection when skin was broken slightly as I shaved. That would start the itching, and then, when the hair grew back in, it would cause ingrown-hair itchiness to boot. Now that I no longer shave my shins/calves, I don't experience either type of itchiness very much. So you should check to see first if your razor is being kept in a place where water sits and doesn't drain and/or gets knocked to the shower floor and/or is potentially being exposed to bacteria or fungus some other way. And consider stopping shaving for several months to see how your shins/calves feel once all the hair has grown in and stopped breaking through the skin. (When I do want smooth legs now, I use Nair.) Also, how often do you change your razor blades?

5. What do you wash with and dry off with? If you use a washcloth or loofah, that could also be harboring bacteria or fungus, which would then be reintroduced every time you wash. If you do use one of those, I'd suggest trying one of those plastic, disposable scrubby things instead—they dry off much more quickly, so bacteria and fungus can't get as good of a foothold there, and they also help exfoliate dead skin that may be harboring sources of infection. Also, if you're in a situation where you're reusing your towels and/or your towels aren't getting hot enough when you wash them and/or your towels are going a long time sitting in the hamper, you can experience fungal and bacterial problems from that.

6. Are you wearing breathable, cotton pants? Wearing synthetics can trap a lot of sweat, even if you're not exercising or doing any strenuous activity, and that can be the cause of a lot of itching. My doctor suggested I stop wearing synthetic pants as much as possible, and it definitely seems to have helped. (Oh, and if you're wearing long pajama pants to bed, stop that, too.)

7. Do you own a pair of calf-high boots? From what you said earlier in the thread, I'm guessing not, but I've definitely experienced shin/calf itching after wearing them for several days at a time and/or wearing them again after a long time off, so I figured I'd mention it.

8. How often do you wash your sheets/bedspread? My boyfriend's doctor recommended that he wash his sheets once a week to prevent infection and allergies. Also, some sources say you're better off not making your bed in the morning, as a tightly made bed traps moisture that can promote dust mites, bacteria and fungus.

Anyway, changing my habits on a number of these things has made a big difference, even when lotions and hydrocortisone and antibiotic ointment and repeated, occasionally month-long courses of antifungals (for an unrelated condition) did not. So maybe checking them out can help you.
posted by limeonaire at 1:06 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now that it's mentioned, I'd second allergy related things. Mine come on in the beginning of December and damn if my legs didn't go flaky, scratchy, and sometimes even a shower hurts... but since allergies got to the point of taking meds... much better. I never thought to put the two together.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2009

I get itchy legs after bathing, and for me it depends on the water. Like, I got it at this one hotel in a certain city but then not again since. Or at a friend's cabin, etc.

Have you always lived at the same place since this started? It could be the quality of your water.
posted by Penelope at 2:10 PM on January 18, 2009

I had itchy, dry lizard-skin from HELL, especially on my legs. Sesame Body Butter from The Body Shop helped somewhat. What really helped was diagnosing and treating my hypothyroidism. I still need heavy body lotion, but I don't itch like a mofo anymore.

Among many other symptoms, hypothyroidism can cause dry skin and severe itching.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:18 PM on January 18, 2009

I get this in winter too on my legs, even in the mild sub-tropical winters of Queensland. And also get it after exercising. Makes my scalp itch like crazy, like nits crazy.

A combination of water, antihistamines and Shea Butter from the Body Shop (but I'm sure any shea butter will do). I cannot recommend the Shea butter enough.

Also, my doctor recommended not having extra-hot showers, because the heat exacerbates the dry skin. This may work for you, but I refuse to give up my near-boiling-point showers. The shea butter will fix that.
posted by chronic sublime at 5:27 PM on January 18, 2009

I had the same problem but always assumed it was due to cold winters and later found out that I had an underactive thyroid. Dry, cracked, itchy skin is one symptom. There are lot more symptoms (e.g., extreme fatigue, inability to concentrate/remember, intolerance to cold, difficulty losing weight, etc.), but that's a possibility.

A doctor would need to test you for it.
posted by dannon205 at 11:09 PM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: After a week, I've determined that religiously drinking water (while continuing to apply lotion) has halted the problem entirely. This was not the answer I expected to work, but it did, hot damn!
posted by Anonymous at 8:09 PM on January 25, 2009

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