Why am I so damn itchy?
February 2, 2011 6:34 PM   Subscribe

What is making me itch...

I feel like an idiot asking this question as I'm a grown adult and I guess I should know but... it's driving me nuts.

For the past week and a half or so I have been really itchy, pretty much anywhere (elbows, arms, legs, feet, stomach, neck, etc.), though it it's intermittent. It keeps me up nights and is driving me crazy.

I have inspected my bed for bugs after researching bed bugs but there is no sign of them. I even bought white sheets to make them stand out--most articles said I'd see smears of blood or shed skins and such. The sheets are pristine!

There is no evidence of bugs anywhere. All the places I itch look like regular non-itchy parts--no bite marks, scratches, or anything else.

I have not switched deodorants or laundry detergent from what I've been using for years (and am in the middle of a bottle so don't think it's a "bad batch" issue).

At work today a couple people thought I was crazy because I ran up to them with a magnifying glass and had them inspect my arm where it was really itchy to see if there was anything there. Nothing.

One person said, "You have dry skin." I said, "What do you mean, how can you tell?" He said, "Well, it's fuckin' winter. Everyone has dry skin."

To my knowledge, I have never had dry skin in my life (and have never been itchy). I always imagined if I had dry skin, it would look different... like, flakey or something.

So, how can I find out if this is just dry skin? Should I try moisturizer? Should I get a humidifier? Is one soap better than another?

If it's not dry skin, wtf is it? I slept an hour and a half last night and had to go in for a 10 hour shift. I'm terrified of going to sleep tonight for fear that I'll get crazy itchy again. (It seems the stiller I try to be, the itchier I get--lying in the bed, even with a brand new sheet, itchy in 2 minutes. And yes, I examined the mattress closely (magnifying glass)--pristine.)

Lastly, I hate goops. I hate moisturizer, sunscreen, and other things people regularly smear on their bodies. I've never put any of that stuff on my skin, ever and up until a year or two ago, rarely even used soap. I've repeatedly been told by girlfriends that I've had the softest skin they've ever felt and they never believe me when I say it's because I don't use that crap. I've heard that repeated use of these products can actually make the skin drier. If I now have dry skin and start using that gunk, will I have to then use permanently it?

Note, though I think the above sounds crazy, I don't think I'm crazy. At least not about this.

Thanks. :(
posted by dobbs to Health & Fitness (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:38 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am completely allergic to dust and dust mites, and if I don't change my bedding weekly I get insanely itchy when I go to bed. I developed allergies and eczema in my thirties, and the itching is sooooo much worse in the wintertime. Coconut oil or Shea Butter after you shower (while your skin is still wet) should help.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:39 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

If theres no flaking or rash - it could be a symptom of a medical issue.
thyroid, low iron, liver disease, Celiac disease, etc.

How else do you feel otherwise?

If you keep itching, I would suggest making an appointment with your doctor.
posted by KogeLiz at 6:42 PM on February 2, 2011

You don't mention your living situation much here, but: when was the last time you replaced your furnace filter, or had your ducts cleaned?
posted by mhoye at 6:44 PM on February 2, 2011

It really does sound like dry skin, it doesn't have to be very dry and flaking off for it to feel uncomfortable. I find that I'm the itchiest if I shower right before bed. I also use dr. bronners soap, which is awesome for dry skin, because you're right, soap is VERY drying.

Try to shower in the morning, and see what happens, or if you can, don't shower every day, and see if the itching goes away the dirtier you get.

I don't like using moisturizer or anything, so in the winter time I just time my showers as early as possible and sometimes I'll even work out after I shower before bed, to get a good sweat on and heat up my skin. This helps 1000-fold.
posted by katypickle at 6:45 PM on February 2, 2011

I get insanely itchy in the winter - to the point of staying up, waking up, scratching til I'm red - without very obvious evidence of dry skin. I don't typically have dry skin either. It's especially bad on my shins, but it may be affecting you on other parts of your skin. I mainly developed this problem when I moved to a snowy climate; it looks like you're in Toronto, so that sounds about right for this kind of problem. I use Grapeseed oil (nice and soothing, but not goopy or terribly oily) and a goat's milk moisturizer, and that helps tremendously. Then, come summer, all gone! So maybe it is dry skin related?
posted by Ms. Toad at 6:48 PM on February 2, 2011

Itching that keeps you up at night is pretty much a prototypical symptom of scabies. But scabies also usually makes a little pimply rash. People's symptoms vary, though. If it gets worse, I'd see your doctor. (Or even try and OTC scabies remedy just in case - but be aware that even after treatment, it takes about a month or six weeks for the itching to subside.)
posted by lollusc at 6:49 PM on February 2, 2011

I am in the exact same boat. I've never had serious itchy skin in my 30 years besides this winter. Have you made any significant changes in diet lately?
posted by carlh at 6:50 PM on February 2, 2011

I also never use "products," rarely use soap, and like you have beautiful skin that my friends compliment all the time. But at this point in the winter I do get dry skin -- no flakes, but a dry and itchy feeling -- and I do use lotion. Experiment until you find a brand you can stand. For me, it's some unexplainable thing where I need a lotion that's not too thick and not too thin and not too smelly. It took me a few tries before I found it. (And during other times of the year I hardly use it at all. Like, maybe once a month. So no, I don't think you're going to become addicted to the lotion and be forced to use it year-round.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:51 PM on February 2, 2011

Man up, try some goop.

Just pullin your chain. Got pets? They could be bringing in a little poison oak, etc.
posted by artdrectr at 6:52 PM on February 2, 2011

Response by poster: My bedding is changed twice a week at least, sometimes more.

Otherwise, I am fine.

I live in a large building and don't have access to the furnace and such. There's no central air or anything. Rad heating so nothing's blowing around.

I always shower in the morning, never before bed.

Meyers is the soap I use.

lollusc, I was a vegetarian for 20 years but started eating meat a year ago.

No pets.
posted by dobbs at 6:53 PM on February 2, 2011

It's winter. Try taking shorter, cooler showers -- even though it feels so nice to have it hot when it's cold outside. Hot water really does dry out your skin.

And no, moisturizing lotion will not horribly damage your skin for life and require you to keep using it forever if you use it once, I promise. Go pick up something cheap and small from the travel size section of the drugstore if you'd like to give it a go without having a big bottle around after you've gotten over this bout of dry skin. It does provide a nice fix for the itching if you can cope with the goopiness temporarily.
posted by asperity at 6:53 PM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

It might well be that soap you're using. Have you changed brands lately?

Also, you might be showering in too-hot water, which can cause itching. Are you an evening showerer, by any chance? It's explain nighttime itching.

Or in summary: Drop the soap and shower in cooler water; it might help.
posted by Andrhia at 6:54 PM on February 2, 2011

Buy some Eucerin, the kind in the tub. Smear it all over half your body before bed. See what happens. I'm betting you won't itch on that half.

I'm amazed that you're in Toronto and have never experienced dry winter skin.
posted by something something at 7:11 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I get insanely itchy when I'm tired. I come home exhausted and my skin starts crawling all over. Are you working too hard?
posted by vickyverky at 7:12 PM on February 2, 2011

Last year, for the first time, in winter my skin started getting dry. No new soaps, detergents, location, etc; maybe I'm just getting older. It's still pretty soft and looks fine, most of the time, it's just uncomfortable. When the weather warmed up last year, it went away; I expect the same this year.

I know what you mean on hating goop. I can not STAND to have stuff on me. Augh augh augh augh. But in winter my skin is intolerable, so I do what I have to. I get a thick body cream, rub it on when my skin is clean, keep rubbing for a while to try to reduce the horrible clammy gooshy feeling...then use a towel to take off anything that's still gooshy. If I do this a couple of times a day, even though I don't let the horribly gooshy stuff sit on my skin, I'm okay.

Sometimes I can distract myself from the feeling of STUFF on my SKIN by continuing to rub it in or just ignore it while I do something else, like use the exercise bike. I'll still wipe any excess off when I'm no longer distracted, but I feel like I'm letting a little more absorb that way.
posted by galadriel at 7:16 PM on February 2, 2011

nthing dry skin. not sure if these brand names are similar, but ditch your usual soap for a while and try cetaphil. it won't foam up like regular soap--get wet in the shower, step out of the stream and slather it on, then step back under to rinse.

they also make lotion--pat your skin dry (but stay in the bathroom where it's humid) and rub in a light coat of lotion. this will trap the water in your skin. hang out naked for about 15 minutes so it can sink in (have your morning coffee, dry your hair, match your socks, check your email, whatever.) you can reapply the lotion as convenient during the day if you find yourself itchy again.

if you have a really itchy patch, eucerin or aquaphor are great. (save the aquaphor for nighttime or can't-stand-it daytime emergencies because it can be sticky for a while.

also, get a humidifier for your living space.

finally, get some more cetaphil to wash your hands at work or wherever. wash them often, because if you touch your face a lot after using all that moisturizer, it can give you zits. you might want to change your pillowcase more often if you find this happening.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:18 PM on February 2, 2011

I was taking niacin, once in the morning and once at night. After a few days I started itching like mad. Everywhere. Even my face. It was maddening. Once I stopped taking the niacin it went away.
posted by brownrd at 7:19 PM on February 2, 2011

Try drinking more water. Winter dehydration is really common and one of the first signs is dry itchy skin. Moisturizer is effective for making your dry skin feel better immediately, but for preventing dry skin in the first place you need to moisturize from the inside by drinking water.
posted by platinum at 7:24 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing winter dry skin.

Try aloe vera gel (I like the one from Trader Joe's if you have that where you are) - NO GLOOP!
posted by jbenben at 7:29 PM on February 2, 2011

Unfortunately, anxiety can cause or exacerbate itching - so worrying about your itching will make you more itchy!

If it's keeping you up at night, try taking an antihistamine like Benadryl before bed - that will calm the itching and help you sleep.

There are definitely lotions and potions that aren't too goopy. I would just start trying different ones. Lubriderm isn't too thick. I personally like Jergens but it's very creamy.

Also I recommend using cortisone cream (go for cream, it's less goopy than the ointment) when you start to itch, as it will knock the itching out before it can get too crazy.
posted by radioamy at 7:53 PM on February 2, 2011

Dude, I hear you loud and clear. The same thing has happened to me over the last two years- out of the blue. I have tried everything- lotions, baby oil after the shower, benadryl and even gave fish oil capsules a shot. All of it worked for a bit but it always returned.

I have narrowed it down to either aging or something in my environment has changed. The really odd thing is this has never happened to me before last year. Also, it crops up around December and stays till about mid April. I have asked allergists, family prac docs; no one has been able to shed any light on it.

One thing that helped the most was this stuff called Udder Butter. They actually put it on cow udders to keep them from drying out.

I'm scratching my lats and thighs right now as I write this. I do wonder if there is something in the air (aside from dry air) that is causing this?

It is driving me nuts too.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:08 PM on February 2, 2011

You're not taking anything with codeine or hydrocodone in it, are you? When I had kidney stones, the high dose pills of hydrocodone made me feel like that dude from A Scanner Darkly who thought he was infested with aphids.
posted by Addlepated at 8:18 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it really warm in your apartment? Do you take really hot showers? Do you use an electric blanket? Things like that can make me insanely itchy. I also am prone to occasionally developing contact dermatitis, even when using a soap that is usually fine for me. I highly recommend Gold Bond Powder - it is great for itching.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:20 PM on February 2, 2011

Do you use a perfumed/fragranced laundry powder or fabric softener on your clothes/bedsheets?

(Many supermarket laundry powder/liquid brands are perfumed/fragranced.)

That can cause itching.

You might want to try something like

Lux Pure Soap Flakes

Earth Choice laundry liquid

Omo Sensitive Top Loader laundry detergent
Omo Front Loader Sensitive laundry detergent

and see if the itching clears up...
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 8:21 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best way to find out if it's dry skin is to moisturize it. You can try olive oil if you don't want to go out and buy moisturizer. How old are you? I never had problems with dry skin until last year (I'm in my early 30s), and now I have to moisturize every day in winter or the itching is unbearable.
posted by bassjump at 8:38 PM on February 2, 2011

very likely dry skin - you could try getting a humidifier, and see if that helps. Also, here's a technique to moisturize without glooping yourself - take a nice long hot bath that you put a couple tablespoons of bath oil in - there's lots of body oils out there that are meant for both massage and baths, you can get some nice herbally scented ones. If scent isn't your thing, just use baby oil. after soaking take a quick shower to shampoo the oil out of your hair, but don't use too much soap. Do this every 1 - 2 weeks, and you should be able to get through winter without itching. It's also a marvelous way to relax.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:51 PM on February 2, 2011

I also hate goop but suffer from itchy, dry skin. I use in-shower body lotion which is basically goop that you smear on in the shower and immediately rinse off, but magically still relieves your dry skin. It's a short enough period of goopiness that I'm willing to accept and embrace it.
posted by telegraph at 9:05 PM on February 2, 2011

Sounds like dry skin. Try taking an antihistamine tablet (but not the non-drowsy kind) tablet like Benadryl before bed, and put some cream on your skin.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:06 PM on February 2, 2011

Soap--all soap--dries the heck out of my skin. I'm less dry and itchy when I use Eucerin Calming Body Wash. Bonus: you may not need to put moisturizer on afterward, depending on how your skin feels. Eucerin doesn't smell great, but it also doesn't smell like Kiwi-Pecan Sunset or Jasmine-Coriander Breakdown or whatever. (Added fragrances make me itch, can you tell?)

Nthing that you should drink lots of water.
posted by corey flood at 9:12 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I never understood people complaining about winter dry skin until it started happening to me. It's insanely itchy, but no rash. You can use any oil in your cupboard (well, maybe not cod oil if for some reason you have that); take a dime sized amount, rub it into wet skin after your cooler, shorter, shower. Repeat all over. The water helps you use less so you are not a big greaseball, and the oil and water will emulse slightly, and that's essentially what lotion is. Olive is ideal, as is grapeseed, or peanut oil. You can also use canola or corn oil. This makes an almost immediate difference to me in cases of fiery dry skin itch. Really bad cases I need to bring out the shea butter. You can get it at Whole Foods or Trader Joes, use it the same way- lightly on wet skin.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:22 PM on February 2, 2011

I've heard that repeated use of these products can actually make the skin drier. If I now have dry skin and start using that gunk, will I have to then use permanently it?

No, that actually is crazy. But people's skin changes as they age, so you may find using humectants, emollients, and occlusives help your skin maintain it's softness. These properties can be found in very simple ingredients (like shea butter) so you don't need to go buy fancy lotions and goop.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:29 PM on February 2, 2011

You may have scabies. They live in the webbing of your fingers and toes, look for marks where the are burrowing, you can probably find images online. For me, anyway, the itching got worse at night, to the point where I could only sleep if I took a shower immediately before bed.

It's also possible that you do just have wintry dry skin. Heres what I do, as someone who also hates using moisturizer. Either a) take cold showers or b) at the end of your shower, spend 30 seconds on the cold temperature. It sounds crazy but it works.
posted by ofthestrait at 9:30 PM on February 2, 2011

I get terribly itchy, where it keeps me up all night. Sometimes certain foods or chemical scents will make me itch, sometimes it's just dry skin. Trying some lotion seems like a pretty viable solution, even though it drives you up the wall. Mr Sunny also hates goops lotion. He uses Trader Joe's moisturizing cream for extra dry skin, because it absorbs quickly and the (slight) smell fades rapidly.

What helps me is to take an allergy pill before bed. It stops the itch, and lets me sleep.
posted by annsunny at 9:41 PM on February 2, 2011

I have the same issue. Never had "dry skin" before that I know of. But the last two winters I've been really itchy. Lotion helps but I find the application process disgusting. (It does eventually get absorbed into my skin but until it does it feels gross.)

There are moisturizers designed to be put on in the shower that I find much more agreeable. Maybe you should give one a try.

I use this stuff. Not the most masculine thing in the world, granted. But it works and doesn't have a particularly strong odor or anything, and I can go on with my day itch-free.

Running a humidifier in my bedroom also makes a difference but honestly not as much as the moisturizer. YMMV, of course, but it'd be a cheap first step.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:53 PM on February 2, 2011

Every so often I get itchy for no reason I can pinpoint - I take a Zyrtec and it goes away for weeks and usually months. If I don't take a Zyrtec, the itch stays and seems like it migrates over my body. (I don't take any other allergy pills, again just a one off Zyrtec if I get a seasonal allergy day or two.)
I think that being really aware of it might be causing you to keep itching even if normally you wouldn't notice it - and if you scratch up skin that's even a little dry that damages it.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:22 AM on February 3, 2011

I started feeling itchy this winter. Think it might be perimenopause...ugh. Aveeno unscented oatmeal body wash seems to have done the trick...it's inexpensive, and you can find it in any drugstore.
posted by tully_monster at 7:36 AM on February 3, 2011

I hate to be That Guy (Gal) and do the old "get yr thyroid checked!" thing at every turn, but I gotta tell ya: I was you. Very itchy for no reason. And it turned out that it wasn't dry skin, eczema or psoriasis. I'm one of the people for whom hypothyroidism manifests as itchy skin and rashes. If my thyroid levels drop even a microscopic amount my right arm turns into Itchtown, center of Scratchyburg, USA. There's usually no rash, just itching. Then the levels go back to normal and the itching totally disappears. It's weird, and the chances of this being your problem are low, but it happens. I always just thought I had bad skin. Winter was hell. My hands were bloody from scratching the backs of my hands. Summers it was my legs, with the addition of my scalp this summer. So itchy! Turns out, no, all that goes away with thyroid meds. I didn't have any other symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, either.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:05 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am in your boat in that I hate hate hate slathering myself in lotions and stuff, but this winter I got some of Bliss Labs' Body Butter that comes in a tube, and I find myself wanting to put it on, which has never happened before. Might be worth a shot.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:53 AM on February 3, 2011

I had this happen to me a few years ago. It was driving me crazy. I use moisturizer daily, so I was pretty sure it wasn't dry skin, but I thought maybe I needed to step it up.

Actually it was fabric softener that was the problem. The regular stuff, not the unscented "free" kind. Which is what I use now, fabric softener with no colors or perfumes. It stopped the itching. When I figured out what the problem was, I went home and washed all my clothes. and haven't had a problem since.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:14 AM on February 3, 2011

I itch in the winter, and it keeps me up at night when it's bad. (I do have dry skin, and it usually just looks like skin ... the flaky stuff is just the dead skin that builds up if I don't exfoliate well.) I use a humidifier, I use moisturizer, and I've also used Benadryl. They all help! Moisturizer is the easiest, and it's the thing I'd try first. (I don't have any specific brand recommendations. I buy whatever has been most impressively packaged.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:42 AM on February 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I'll try some goop and then go from there.
posted by dobbs at 8:54 PM on February 3, 2011

You haven't said if you're getting any itching in places that clothing doesn't touch; if it's only happening where your clothes touch your skin, then I would switch to an unscented laundry detergent and softener and see if that helps. I have super-sensitive skin and I use Seventh Generation unscented laundry detergent, no softener, and that works for me.

Ordinarily, when I get itchy, I change one thing at a time and stick with that change for a while to see if it helps. Your situation sounds a bit urgent, though, so I would try everything suggested here--new laundry detergent and softener, skin goop, humidifier, whatever--and see if things improve. If so, then you can start dropping parts of your new routine one by one to see what makes the difference.

BTW, if you get a humidifier, be sure to one that's supposed to resist mold and clean it regularly, especially if you have allergies, or it'll make you feel worse.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:56 PM on February 3, 2011

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