Causes of Itchy Skin

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
September 04, 2018

Rashes and insect bites are easy to see. But what are the causes of itchy skin all over? A moisturizer will likely help, but you may need to see a doctor.

There are many causes of itchy skin. You might see insect bites or rashes in specific spots. Other times you feel itchy over wide areas without any visible cause in the skin.


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Are you pregnant?

Up to 40 percent of pregnant women develop itches. The skin over your expanding abdomen often itches. In rare cases, pregnant women develop a temporary but itchy liver problem, cholestasis. Tell your doctor.

Could you be short of iron?

Anemia sometimes causes itching — a blood test will tell you.

Have you been checked for thyroid issues?

Itching can be caused by an under- or over-active thyroid. You might also be especially reactive to cold or heat, or notice changes in your weight or voice.

Are you under stress?

Some people scratch themselves out of anxiety, and that can irritate your skin and prompt you to scratch more.

Do you have dry skin?

This is the most common reason for all-over itching. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that people with dry skin limit showers and baths to 10 minutes and use warm or cold water — not very hot. Don’t use deodorant soaps or any skin care product that contains alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acid. When showering, limit how much soap you use — you don’t need to see a lather.

Blot your skin dry and then quickly apply a cream moisturizer (rather than a lotion). Look for one that contains an oil, such as olive oil or jojoba oil. AAD also recommends shea butter, mineral oil, and petroleum jelly.

You may need to wear cotton or silk under any clothing that feels scratchy. Choose laundry detergents labeled hypoallergenic.

Shave after you shower with a cream or gel, and shave in the direction the hair is growing with a sharp blade. Dull blades irritate the skin.

Especially in heated rooms in the winter, keep dry air moist with a humidifier. You might put bowls of water on radiators and cook on the stovetop rather than in the oven.

Notice triggers. Some people feel itchy after sitting by the fireplace or spending time in chlorinated or chemically-treated water, which both can dry the skin.

Is it serious?

Some causes of itchy skin are serious. You’ll usually have other symptoms as well that can help you judge if you need to see a doctor. Key questions include:

  • Do you have trouble breathing?
  • Have you lost weight unintentionally?
  • Do you feel lumps under your skin?
  • Are you peeing less often?
  • Do you itch more after exposure to water or in humid air?
  • Is there a yellow tinge in your skin or eyes?
  • Are you peeing more often, tired, and often hungry?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, see a doctor quickly.

If you can’t breathe easily, itchiness may be part of a severe allergic reaction that needs treatment.

Unexplained weight loss and lumps under your skin alongside itching can be signs of Hodgkin’s disease or other cancers.

If you are urinating less and have fatigue or nausea, you may have chronic kidney disease.

Itching after exposure to water can be a sign of a blood disease.

Itching can also be a symptom of liver disease. Yellowness is another clue, but isn’t always present.

Itching is often the first sign of type 2 diabetes in the elderly, especially if they also are obese. Frequent urination, fatigue, and hunger are other signs.


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March 25, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN