Skin is always itchy, help me
October 15, 2021 7:12 AM   Subscribe

My skin itches constantly, at the slightest provocation. Please help.

My skin itches madly after a shower, sometimes it also activates when I change clothes.

I use a "free and clear" detergent.
I am using Method Body Wash
I use a variety of Aveeno lotions (religiously).
If I shave my legs, the itching is absolutely insane, but it will be my arms and trunk, which I never shave, that itch every time.

I showered this morning, I lotioned, I am completely dry, and I am sitting here with my forearms crawling. It's always my body, never my face.

I've used Aveeno bodywashes. I've used Cetaphil bar soap. I have turned the temperature of the water down until it feels barely above room temperature sometimes. I am at the end of my rope. What do you do about chronically itchy skin?

(One note, oatmeal baths gross me out beyond all reason, so please do not suggest that.)
posted by Medieval Maven to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to say this, and please do not be alarmed, but a family friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and her only symptom was all over, incessant itching. I had never heard of this but some conditions can cause this symptom. I would consult a doctor with this symptom now that I know this.
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:29 AM on October 15, 2021

Also, maybe allergies? I have tons...does Benadryl, oral or topical applications, help?
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2021

Does the itching abate if you take an antihistimine? This is an important piece of data.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:32 AM on October 15, 2021 [10 favorites]

Do you have any allergies? Even ones completely unrelated to the itching.
posted by mekily at 7:35 AM on October 15, 2021

I went through a period of this that was also associated with some other odd body sensations, and it wasn't until it went away after some small lifestyle changes that I realized it had to have been high blood pressure - maybe not sky-high, but high enough that I was experiencing weird circulatory events, after showering in particular.

The only big difference between what you describe and what happened to me was that along with the torso itching I did also itch on my thighs and feet, to the point that I frequently had scratch marks on my legs and would heel-scratch my feet until they started to get raw.

This was entirely different from contact dermatitis - I get that too sometimes and got it a lot when I was younger, but when it was that kind of itching there was always some kind of flush-y or hive-y visible irritation, little bumps, something that indicated a histamine reaction. The shower itching was not from products, and I also was taking barely tepid showers after a while because it was so bad, and there wasn't really anything to see (not until I started scratching).

Obviously this would be hard to prove without a home blood pressure machine, but you might try a few weeks being extra mindful of your hydration and sodium intake and make note of other tip-off symptoms like head-rush when standing from a seated or reclining position or throbbing in your legs when sitting with them crossed.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:37 AM on October 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hi, chronically itchy person here. For me it's usually my lower legs, but can be arms as well. This has been going on since 2009. I have only had the itching under any control for about a year now, but what has worked for me is:

1. Prevention: Daily second generation anthistamine (levocetirizine 5mg once daily. fexofenadine 180mg once daily also helped, but made me tired. For no reason I can discern loratadine and cetirizine had no effect.)
2. Avoidance: I realized I was allergic to oats (eating and topical). So all that colloidal oatmeal I was slathering on myself? Making it worse. (I also avoid lanolin, latex, and any level of compression on my lower legs because they're all triggers as well. I only wear 100% cotton socks with zero elastic and zero ribbing.) Never had anything that looked like hives- I would start itching from completely clear skin.
3. Pramoxine: Cerave's Itch Relief Moisturizing Lotion is the BOMB. Works quickly, usually lasts 6-8 hours.
4. Steroids. If prevention, avoidance, and pramoxine have failed, I break out the (topical, prescription) steroids. The last thing I want to do is get into an itch-scratch cycle, because it'll be months before I'm out of it.
posted by smangosbubbles at 7:41 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine went to the doc after having random skin itching and it turned out to be a fairly serious liver issue.

If over the counter measures don’t help it go away you may want to get checked out.
posted by forkisbetter at 7:48 AM on October 15, 2021

Response by poster: I have found that a Zyrtec does help usually within about 20 minutes.

I'm allergic to almonds, which I avoid religiously.

Hopefully it's not something crazy, because my interactions with the medical system in the last 2-5 years have been poor at best, and I'm pretty unmotivated by the idea a doctor would help me, to be honest. My bloodpressure is if anything, low (consistently 110-115/70-75 when it's taken at the dentist or whatever) so I doubt that is it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:51 AM on October 15, 2021

Given that you say you avoid them religiously, you've probably already double-checked that yours don't, but on the off chance you haven't, or for future readers in similar situations, it may be worth mentioning that some Aveeno lotions contain almond oil.
posted by dizziest at 8:10 AM on October 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Have a dermatologist do an allergy test. One of the common soap ingredients found in most caused irritation. (Cocamidopropyl). One prescription dupixent relived the symptoms, but has some serious side effects.
posted by brent at 8:14 AM on October 15, 2021

you may have developed an allergy to something in one of the products you're using. i had some persistent, mysterious itching on my hands which slowly increased in intensity over many months. for a while i thought it had something to do with my ipad, because it seemed to trigger in the areas where i tended to hold it. but it turned out to be the (aveda) shampoo i was using.

during those months, i had tried not using the shampoo for a few days at a time, but the itching didn't go away. i thought that ruled it out as a cause... i would never have known if i hadn't gone on an extended trip away from home without it. the itching still continued on and off for a few weeks after i stopped using the shampoo.
posted by panic at 8:21 AM on October 15, 2021

Best answer: That Method body wash lists sodium lauryl sulfate as an ingredient, a detergent which some people react badly to. Could be one of the many fragrances that all those products are loaded up with as well.
posted by flabdablet at 8:29 AM on October 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

If your problem were my problem, I'd avoid deliberately applying any product to my left forearm to find out whether the itching on that arm lessens over a couple of weeks (seriously, how grubby can a forearm get that a simple rinse wouldn't be enough?) and then reintroduce them one by one. Culprit should show up within a month or two that way.
posted by flabdablet at 8:32 AM on October 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

sometimes it also activates when I change clothes

That's consistent with the issue being fragrance-related.
posted by flabdablet at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Shampoo and/or conditioner -- if you shower without them, does the same thing happen? Conditioner, especially, "sticks" to skin and if you're allergic to anything in the conditioner, it will make you itch where it runs off of your wet hair. This is typically shoulders, the top of your chest, and your arms, but if you bend over, yep, more of the conditioner water will run down your legs and they'll get it, too.

I'm allergic to coconut (lol fml) and you may be cross-reacting to coconut because it's a common cross reaction to tree nuts. It's in everything, but conditioner is the number one offender for making me itch like hell because it's designed to not rinse off.

Also, for your skin, the Method body wash might be harsh; consider switching to something like the Nihilist soap from Paintbox Soapworks. It doesn't have coconut so in case that's part of the problem, it will help you narrow it down.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:43 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, conditioner sticks on clothes, too. It really is just the worst for skin allergies.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:44 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sorry for multicomment -- shampoo and conditioner can stick to towels as well, so try a shower without using those and then air-drying instead of using your towels.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:45 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

And if you're using dryer sheets in your laundry routine, stop.
posted by flabdablet at 8:49 AM on October 15, 2021

Shampoo and/or conditioner -- if you shower without them, does the same thing happen?

Same question, but with bells on: What happens if you take a shower without using any products at all? - just get in, stay in for as long as you usually would, and get out again? Air-dry not towel-dry. Don't apply lotion.

Do you have a water softener? They can apparently cause itching - here's an arbitrarily-chosen article from the first page of search results.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:18 AM on October 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is a new thing I take it? Is it associated with a feeling of dryness, or just itching? You could try showering in less hot water and for shorter and see if that gives any relief. That might also be useful information — if that helps, maybe it suggests something has made your skin drier lately.

I've always had weird skin, and sometimes a totally unknown change in my body chemistry or whatever will just change the amount of dryness substantially.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:19 AM on October 15, 2021

Use less stuff. Go a week with little or no lotion. Use small amounts of body wash on places with sweat glands, but nowhere else. We've evolved to have healthy skin, lotion is pleasant but not necessary, though using it so often may mean you'll have an adjustment period. You can put some cooking oil on a cloth and apply lightly if your skin is really dry. It sounds like your skin is being hyper-reactive, could be allergies, could also be other health issues.

I'm generally itchy, my skin is really reactive. I develop sensitivity to medications, recently realized Zoloft was making my skin itch/ crawl all over. Itching can be a sign that your liver is stressed, or low thyroid levels, and you should try to get a blood test with a liver panel and thyroid level, and maybe basic health blood work. (IANAD) My current experiences with doctors is sucking, they missed the cause of horrible itching, even though I said I'd recently re-started Zoloft, but I would really recommend blood tests.

webmd, webmd2, webmd3
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on October 15, 2021

Do you exfoliate at all? My skin gets itchy in the winter and if I apply skin lotion to combat the dryness, the itchiness gets worse unless I exfoliate every few days. I use a Salux towel instead of a washcloth to remove the dead skin cells.
posted by DrGail at 10:17 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding issues with sodium lauryl sulfate (and any sulfates). This was me for many years and I just put up with it. I now use a soap that's like traditional Savon Marseilles and I feel much better. I had to change ALL of my shampoos and anything I washed with.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:33 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

How often do you use Zyrtec and for how long? Just fyi, Zyrtec can sometimes cause severe rebound itching. It's not something doctors seem to recognize, but their are a huge number of first hand accounts online. This happened to me when I tried to stop Zyrtec after using it for a long period of time. It was the worst itching feeling ever, no rash, came out of nowhere.

You might also look into histamine intolerance and mast cell activation syndrome.
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:44 AM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

When a few years ago, after testing allergies and various other reasons based on my assumption my itchy skin was caused by factors from outside such as wash Powder etc, i finally went to a dermatologist because of itchy skin similar to what you describe, she ordered blood work for diabetes and thyroid and it turned out i have both.
Both conditions can cause crazy itchy and scaly skin. Treatment for diabetes and thyroid totally helped my itchy skin.
posted by 15L06 at 12:11 PM on October 15, 2021

Do you experience dermatographism? (an example video) About 6 years ago I started noticing that I was itchy all of the time, but what really alarmed me was that the comb of the hair clippers left scary red tracks on my skin. The doc told me it was urticaria (a.k.a. chronic hives), an autoimmune disorder, that I would probably never identify a specific allergen that was triggering it, and to rotate antihistamines to treat it. He also said it might go away after a year or so, which has not turned out to be true. Anyway, the antihistamines--mainly Zyrtec and Claritin--work great.

When you say showers, changing clothes, and shaving all trigger the itching, that seems to line up with urticaria.
posted by polecat at 2:29 PM on October 15, 2021

Allergies are weirdly complex and come in families.

There are more scholarly articles on it, but for example, my husband is allergic to zucchini and also some other random vegetables. He was tested and got a whole report on it.

Aveeno and Method ingredients seem like good things to look at once you've determined what might be related to almonds. It might not be as obvious as 'almond oil'.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:03 PM on October 15, 2021

I get itchy for all sorts of reasons:
- once from a vitamin D deficiency
- persistently dry skin, solved by hydration and Cerave and fish oil
- allergies, solved by switching to very clean body products, and once, it was my face moisturizer that was somehow making my arms and legs itchy

So, try everything...
posted by miscbuff at 7:45 PM on October 15, 2021

Hi, are you me? I am itchy All. The. Time. I change clothes three times on average before I find something I can wear on a given day without crying. (Packing for trips is fun!)

My allergist (affectionately) calls me "a doorjamb girl", because I'm one of those people who is always itchy and will scratch up against a doorjamb if it helps.

Like polecat mentions above, I have dermatographia. I am also allergic to a boatload of things...none of which cause a skin reaction.

Experimenting with soaps and detergents and different fabrics in your clothes can help, but definitely doesn't eliminate the problem. I have landed on a pretty solid combination of soap and shampoo and the gentlest knitwear...and I'm sitting at my dining room table right now in my softest dress itching like crazy.

Moisture helps sometimes - currently a thick body butter for me - but what I've found helps the most is, annoyingly, a two-parter of stress reduction and learning to breathe through the worst of my itchiness.

1) experiment with soaps, detergents, etc. (not all "free and clears" are created equal!)
2) see if an allergist has any suggestions, if that is an option available to you
3) moisturize (again with the experimentation though)
4) meditate
posted by okayokayigive at 7:33 AM on October 16, 2021

Oh! And I meant to add - Zyrtec rebound is absolutely a thing, as litera scripta manet mentioned - and I learned about it from my allergist, when my itching got SO MUCH WORSE in the days leading up to my last allergy test, so be gentle with yourself if you're going on/off that med.
posted by okayokayigive at 7:36 AM on October 16, 2021

IANAD, but I am on a diuretic Rx for high blood pressure which has been cited as one of the reasons for my dry skin. I.e., the Rx causes me to piss more and depending on time of year my skin is either dry, very dry and/or very dry and itchy.
posted by forthright at 2:02 PM on October 16, 2021

Best answer: That Method body wash having sodium lauryl sulfate as the first and fragrance as the fourth ingredient is not a good sign. I would stop using that immediately and switch to something gentle and fragrance free like this Vanicream Body Wash.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:13 PM on October 16, 2021

Rio Viera-Newton, who writes about beauty products for New York magazine, has had eczema since age 3 and found that moving east from California has exacerbated her itching, tingling and dryness. (I don't have eczema, but I've benefited from Rio's recommendations for dry skin on my face, which I've developed as I've gotten further into my 50s.)

Anyway here are the things that have been game changers for her:

Renew Melaleuca Intensive Skin Therapy Lotion ($38 for 20 oz.), applied as soon as she gets out of the shower or bath. (Where
she washes with J&J Cicabiafine.)

Over the lotion, apply a light layer of body oil to lock in the hydration, dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali advises; here, Rio offers five different suggestions, ranging in price from $15 to $104.

Finally, for the winter days when the Melaleuca lotion is not thick enough, Rio favors Lavido Thera-Intensive Body Cream ($45 for 8.45 oz.) and uses the Melaleuca for touching up her legs during the day.
posted by virago at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2021

Response by poster: Based on recommendations here I started with my body wash and I replaced it with Cetaphil Restoraderm Body Wash (I did get mine at Target) which still leaves me slight itchy but it's resolved with some of my Aveeno lotion or some CeraVe -- and the key thing is I'm not madly itching hours later. I tried to find the Vanicream one but it wasn't available to me locally.

So +1 to changing body soap.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:50 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Have you tried using no body soap whatsoever, instead just going over your skin with a warm wet washcloth and calling it good?

I'm a great believer in using detergents to keep my washcloths clean, not my whole self. Shampoo in the shower is for armpits, crutch and between the toes and everything else can look after itself. Even hair doesn't need shampoo to strip the skin oils out and conditioner to put them back in: a thorough daily brushing under plain warm running water works just fine.

I have lost count of the number of times I've been made miserable by some product or other that somebody sold me in order to fix some imaginary misery of their devising. Human bodies, by and large, just don't need widescale application of surfactants and lotions to stay healthy and sweet-smelling. A bit of attention paid to the creases and crevices is plenty.
posted by flabdablet at 6:14 AM on October 25, 2021

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