My Back Itches - but I live alone.
June 21, 2022 3:28 PM   Subscribe

My back has been itching fiercely lately. I have a back scratcher - one of those bamboo tiny monkey hand things from the dollar store - and I love it, but it isn't enough. I live alone with no family members or very close friends nearby so there is nobody who can scratch my back or apply lotion. What do I do?

I went to a dermatologist for a general skin cancer check recently; she was dismissive and uninterested, so it probably isn't a horrible back disease. It does feel like there are a lot of little bumps on my back, but they feel much more like pimples than bug bites. I have in the past had a sebaceous cyst on my back which manifests as a bad itch, but it has been removed. Well, removed three times; it might be back again but this, while similar, seems more widespread.

What do I do? Is this the sort of thing a spa might help with? What do I ask for? I have never been to a spa or had any kind of massage or in general done any bodywork. Do I need to? Can I get a sort of back facial? I'm going nuts and I wish there was someone at home who could just scrape my whole back down then put some kind of cortisone or whatever cream on it, but, sigh, there is not. Is there a magic thing I can use in the shower to reach my back that might help? I tried a shower brush but it didn't really reach. I have somewhat limited mobility in my shoulders which does not help.

Could it be allergies? It's been slowly getting worse for months. I have not recently changed detergent; I use natural detergents that are free of dyes and perfumes. I do use Mrs. Meyers dryer sheets. I have pollen allergies. I also have dogs but the dogs are treated for fleas and not allowed on the bed. Also, I have always had dogs and never had an issue like this before. Thank you for all your help!
posted by mygothlaundry to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The metal extending back scratchers are MUCH better than the bamboo ones.

I don't have a particular recommendation on lotion, but I think one of these products would probably be quite helpful, in particular this long flexible thing. You could even have one dedicated for lotioning. The longer it is, the better, given your limited mobility.
posted by hydra77 at 3:35 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This itch spray is easy to apply yourself and will give you instant relief.

My husband got me a metal extending backscratcher sorta as a joke, but it’s become an indispensable part of my life!
posted by cakelite at 3:41 PM on June 21, 2022

Best answer: 1. This cactus backscratcher (which also comes in other form factors, apparently, depending on your wont) is so far superior to any of the cheap back scratchers I've used it's not even funny.

2. I also recommend a lotion applicator (no experience here, but this one has good reviews) and some general lotion (love this Eucerin stuff)

3. If it doesn't improve, please go back to a doctor, either just your GP or the dermatologist again and explain that this is a Real Problem.
posted by brainmouse at 3:48 PM on June 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Long Salux/Japanese exfoliating washcloth for scrubbing (if that works with your limited shoulder mobility.) Lotion applicators like Body Buddy may work for putting lotion on--I have never personally used one but a company I used to work for sold them and I believe my boss had tested and liked them.

All that said, I find that sometimes overenthusiastic exfoliating makes itching worse, and if I can stand it, backing off on soap/scrubbing/very hot water helps.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:50 PM on June 21, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: For use in the shower. Wet back; wet nylon cloth; soap up cloth; hold each end and scrub back in sweeping motion. Rinse.
Salux Nylon Japanese Beauty Skin Bath Wash Cloth/Towel
Salux Super Hard Nylon Japanese Beauty Skin Bath Wash Cloth/towel
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:52 PM on June 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: These large exfoliating wash towels are great for back scratching. They're flexible and you can use them without another set of hands to scratch your back, flank, low back, butt, and high back. I use them in the shower (wet) to get rid of dead skin, but also dry when I'm just itchy.
posted by KneeHiSocks at 3:52 PM on June 21, 2022

Best answer: I have one of these super long nylon exfoliating washcloths that I use all over but mostly for my itchy back! Every couple days I lather it up, then go to town scrubbing. I try to do a few different angles to really get all the spots between my shoulder blades. Thoroughly drying my back after my shower (including keeping my long wet hair off of it) helps, plus trying to slap whatever lotion I can back there, too.

On preview: Yeah, the Salux rules!!
posted by moonbeam at 3:55 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A good spa might help. The thing you want is akasuri. They scrub the living hell out of you until all of the dead, dry skin comes off. On preview, this is precisely the opposite of what needs more cowbell experiences, but works for me. I feel great afterwards, even as a generally very itchy person. And, yes to salux.
posted by Gotanda at 3:56 PM on June 21, 2022

Best answer: Oversized, curved handle back-scratcher
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:57 PM on June 21, 2022

Honestly my back is getting itchy just from all this Salux talk - it’s like excited for tonight’s scrub sesh.
posted by moonbeam at 3:59 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

One thing that makes a big difference for me is really cleaning the back with soap; I use a washcloth folded so that I can grasp one end at the top of my back and one end with a hand at the bottom of my back (yes it is awkward). I put a decent amount of soap on the cloth, on the side that will be against my back, and wash thoroughly. After rinsing, I can feel with my fingers that the skin is cleaner.

Don't do this too often, or it will make your back very dry and irritate it in a new way.

Of course you could use a soapy loofah or sponge on a stick.

Since you mentioned bumps, it may be that you could clean your back with soap occasionally with really good effect.

After I do this, my back stops itching for a while.
posted by amtho at 3:59 PM on June 21, 2022

Best answer: I use this lotion applicator. I have some shoulder issues that affect range of motion and I don't have any problem using it. I use some Glad Press'n Seal wrap to wrap the head of it and put the lotion on that, and then toss the wrap afterwards, to save on cleanup of the applicator. Eucerin is a good suggestion, though I use a lotion that has some Urea in it. I would also ditch the dryer sheets (they really don't do much anyway). Make sure the soap you use on your skin is unscented/hypoallergenic, not just the laundry detergent.

Note about exfoliating (and scratching) - some people find exfoliating helpful but it makes my skin go crazy and it gets infinitely worse, ditto for too much scratching. Being gentle with my skin and using lotion regularly (especially after showering) is the only thing that helps me.
posted by gudrun at 4:00 PM on June 21, 2022

Also: I would _definitely_ prioritize _prevention_ of itching over scratching. If you focus only on scratching, 1) it will never end; 2) you could end up with more infection-type events; 3) you could be ignoring a real issue.
posted by amtho at 4:01 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh also - I usually just use my Dr Bronner’s soap with the Salux, but if I’m extra itchy or breaking out, I’ll throw a little of my Cerave foaming face wash on the cloth.

Nthing losing the dryer sheets, and if you have long hair and use any styling/leave-in hair products, maybe take a skeptical look at those? Irritating ingredients could make their way down to your back that way, too.
posted by moonbeam at 4:08 PM on June 21, 2022

Best answer: I use this lotion applicator. I like the roller, and that it doesn't absorb lotion like the sponge-type ones do. Easy to use; easy to clean.
posted by Dolley at 4:39 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Fungal acne (Pityrosporium/Malassezia folliculitis) might be a valuable diagnosis to rule in or out. It feels like small, very uniform pimples but unlike acne it is very frequently itchy. If that's what's going on, you may respond to OTC antifungal creams or dandruff shampoo with ketoconazole, pyrithione zinc, or selenium sulfide - or an actually good derm may be able to prescribe something more effective.
posted by fountainofdoubt at 5:10 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

After my girlfriend is asleep and unavailable for emergency scritches I've been known to rub my back against a doorway like Baloo the bear.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:27 PM on June 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

I find a back brush uniquely better at gently scratching a back than any typical back scratchers.
posted by Bunglegirl at 6:49 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

When I can't tell if something is allergy or sickness I pop a benadryl. I think you might get some serious relief taking one.
posted by fritley at 9:46 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You may want to consider that you have notalgia paraesthetica. Because of the bumps (pimple like).

Previously on AskMe.
posted by mephisjo at 10:21 PM on June 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Any number of youtube videos touch on how to apply self tanning products to your back by yourself. The same approach would work for any kind of lotion.

If you do have skin impurities on your back you can buy body spray with salicylic acid. Paula's Choice has one but I expect there are others. The spray bottle makes it very easy to apply on your own.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:16 AM on June 22, 2022

What soap are you using? I think a gentle soap with no sulfates and no perfume might be in order until things calm down. I use Dr Bronners, diluted. Most body washes are straight to itchville for me.

Similarly, is the part of your back affected somewhere shampoo might be running? If so a sulfate and perfume free shampoo might actually help too.

Scritches from caring humans are the best, but when not available I’ve used a hairbrush before.
posted by nat at 12:52 AM on June 22, 2022

If possible, have your kidney function checked.
posted by lulu68 at 1:41 AM on June 22, 2022

if you have a pair of tights (nylons?pantyhose?) shove a sponge or flannel down them, apply lotion to the bulge, throw it behind your back and pull from side to side like a feather boa.
posted by runincircles at 2:47 AM on June 22, 2022

Do you have a bathtub? If you do, soak in it. Add epsom salts, oatmeal.

Are any other parts of your body affected, parts that you can reach more easily?

Do you sleep on your back?

If it's just on your back and you sleep on your back it's something in your bed or bedding.

New allergies can happen at any age.

Hope you get relief soon.
posted by mareli at 5:02 AM on June 22, 2022

Best answer: I have weird back itching, too. My dermatologist told me my problem isn't dermatological at all and is, instead,
caused by spinal compression on nerves. I have found that wearing clothing that moves a lot and brushes against my back makes the itching worse - don't know why. Some psychological tricks that have really helped me are:
1) Thoroughly washing my back whenever I shower (this apparently tricks my head into thinking I've washed away the itch).
2) Not letting myself think about it or worry about it (this has been amazingly, surprisingly effective).
Hope this helps!
posted by SageTrail at 6:56 AM on June 22, 2022

Best answer: Once, in the throes of a terrible sunburn and the same situation, I resorted to laying out overlapping plastic cling film, lotioning that up, and then just flopping down on it. Not pretty, but it works.

Also: door jambs.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 7:42 AM on June 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My skin gets itchy when it’s dry. I also use one of those Salux cloths to exfoliate and get some of the dry skin off, so lotion/oil can sink in better. I find the easiest and best thing for my dry skin is body oil applied immediately after the shower to damp skin - plus it spreads really easily. I use a lotion application to get it all over my back, let it sink in for a moment, then gently towel off any excess.
posted by maleficent at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This has been a great help and I am going to order a lot of these suggested items as well as ditching the dryer sheets. It is so nice to know I am not the only member of the single itchy back club.

I do wish I had a better dermatologist, but, sigh, there is one practice in town and my two experiences there have been utterly terrible. However based on my admittedly limited exposure they seem to have 100% staff turnover every year so next year's visit (my insurance will cover one per year) may be better.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Simple spatula pancake turner and Cerave - body cream to start then, once the itching is under control, you can switch to the lotion.
posted by susandennis at 4:59 PM on June 23, 2022

I might price out a dermatology consult outside my insurance. Maybe teledermatology?

Could you possibly take some pictures of your back (might take several attempts)? And send them to an online, remote dermatologist.

Is the itch evenly distributed? Or worse in some spots that overs? If evenly distributed, that points to a more systemic cause, such as food allergy, laundry allergy, etc. If it's not even, that points possibly to a fungal cause, such as ringworm.
posted by at at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2022

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