Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay)
Itching can occur as a simple allergic reaction or as a symptom of some underlying disease. Along with medicines, natural remedies help bring the itching under control faster. Here are a few natural home remedies for itching.
Home Remedies for Pruritus or itching –
Cold applications – Cold and itch sensations travel along the same nerve fibres. Use of cold can ‘jam the circuits’ and reduce itching sensation. Applying cool water on the affected skin can bring instant relief from itchiness. Methods of applying the cold include:
- Cool water – either by running tap water over the affected area or placing a cold clean (sterile) wash cloth on the skin
- Cool showers
- Cool bath – products containing colloidal oatmeal can be used as an itch relief bath
- Rub an ice cube wrapped in a cloth over the affected area
- Apply a cold compress or cloth wet with cool water to the affected area
- Hold a cold glass of water to the itchy area
- Hold some ice pops out of freezer against the itchy areas
- Ice packs
The drop in temperature slows the production of blood cells in that area and also numbs the nerves. Itching almost immediately comes down. Cold is better than heat because rather than dispersing the histamine proteins it just causes the body to produce less.
Read related: Diet And Ayurvedic medicines For Itching
Hot water – shower provides temporary relief but will increase itching later, therefore hot applications or hot water shower is not recommended in pruritus
Heat – Various methods of heat therapy can alleviate itching. Heat causes the dispersal of histamines and reduces itching. Heat can be applied using warm cloth, hot coffee mug, running warm tap water, hot water shower or bath or hair dryer. But the problem with heat is that after some time, the histamine production will restart and itching will come back.
Baking Soda: It is also called as sodium bicarbonate. It is a good remedy for all types of itches and irritations. It is a natural acid neutralizer. It has soothing and anti-inflammatory effects, reduces skin rashes and calms itches caused by allergies, insect bites, sunburn, shingles and chicken pox. It also alleviates symptoms of chapped skin. It restores skin’s natural pH balance, leaves the skin clean, soft and supple.
For local itching: Mix baking soda with water in the ratio of 2:1 and prepare a creamy paste. Spread it over the affected part. Don’t apply it on broken skin.
For generalized or full body pruritus: Add 1 cup of baking soda to your bath water. Immerse the whole body for ½ to 1 hour (tub bath). After getting out of the tub, dry your skin naturally, don’t use a towel.
Oatmeal – Natural colloidal oatmeal contains powerful anti-itching (or anti-pruritic) and soothing compounds such as silicon, beta-glucan and its avenanthramides. Oatmeal paste or bath works as moisturizer for dry skin. It has anti-inflammatory properties.
Read related: Pruritus (Kandu) : Ayurvedic Treatment Principles
Avenanthramides – are a key compound of oatmeal as they are responsible for its anti-irritating effects. They have the ability to calm and heal inflamed, dry and itchy skin and are also antioxidants. Less processed oats contain more quantity of avenanthramides. Make sure to use unprocessed oat flour always. Alternatively you can buy whole oats and grind them into flour. Rolled oats and instant oatmeal are also good, but slightly less effective.
For generalized or full body itch: Add 1-2 cups of plain, uncooked oat flower to your bath water and soak for 1 hour. Dip yourself in the oat soaked water and feel your itches coming down. You may also add a few spoons of baking soda to enhance soothing effect of tub bath.
Localized itch or itching restricted to lesser areas: mix oat flower with enough water to obtain a thick paste. Apply it on the affected area, cover with a cloth to prevent it from falling off and let stay for 2—30 minutes.
Oatmeal is usually used in expensive lotions and face washes. The fats in oatmeal help moisturize the skin while the proteins create a thin barrier that protects it from outside forces.
Read related: Itching And Pruritus: Ayurvedic Understanding
Vinegar – especially apple cider vinegar is a natural antiseptic. It is one of the good remedies to destroy harmful and irritating bacteria and get relief from itching. Vinegar consists of acetic acid that can regularize skin’s natural acidity and eliminate the micro-organisms responsible for skin itching and irritation.
Vinegar is used in many topical treatments intended to reduce dryness, acne, rashes and itching. Its antiseptic properties are useful in stopping the regeneration of bad bacteria. Thus vinegar helps in preventing further infections of the affected area.
ACV is one of the best antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents that relieve itching associated with dry skin example, sunburns, dandruff etc.
Pour some vinegar on a cotton pad and wipe it over itching skin. Do this once or twice daily for few weeks.
Add 1-3 cups of vinegar to your bathwater and soak yourself in the tub for 30-40 minutes and experience your itching come down. Later pat dry your skin and apply a light moisturizer. Do it daily.
Read related: Itching, Pruritus: Causes, Mechanism, Diagnosis, Treatment, Research
Vitamin B –
Stress, anxiety and excessive nervousness many times either cause or trigger itchiness or other kinds of skin irritations. If stress is a cause of your itching (or for triggering episodes of pruritus) then external applications will not work. Avoid too much stress and learn to control your nervousness. Sit down, breathe deeply and relax when in stress. Prepare a calming tea or inhale a relaxing essential oil.
If you are not getting enough vitamin B, start taking it. Vitamin B has positive and beneficial effects on the nervous system and also on the skin. By calming the nerves, Vitamin B soothes the nerve irritation and comes down itching. Vitamin B deficiency may often manifest in itchy and flaky skin, irritable nerves and insomnia.
Salt scrub and neem oil – For persistent acne, scrub your face with coarse salt (antiseptic) and few drops of neem oil (antifungal). Rinse your face. Then apply a mask of plain yoghurt for 10-15 minutes. The lactic acid in yoghurt is a natural exfoliant that gives skin a glow, clears acne and fades discolorations and fine lines.
Aspirin for Itching associated with mosquito bite – Crush a low-dose aspirin, add an ounce of water to dissolve and then apply. It is an anti-inflammatory and should reduce the redness from bites or stings, pimples and ingrown hairs because it contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in acne medicines.
Olive oil – apply olive oil to soothe eczema and psoriasis flare-ups. Rub 1 teaspoon per square inch. The oil creates a seal and doesn’t allow the skin to dry out. Olive oil is the basis of many moisturizers. When used singly it is devoid of chemical irritants. For serious cases of itching, cover oil applied skin with plastic wrap overnight.
Honey – Honey has antibacterial properties apart from being enriched with many nutrients like potassium, zinc and calcium. It is a natural antibiotic. It is used to treat burns as well as dry skin and chapped lips. You can apply a dab of honey to your bug bites for fast itch relief.
Yoghurt – It contains live cultures of good bacteria such as lactobacillus, acidophilus and streptococcus thermophilus, promotes growth of good bacteria in the body when consumed daily. It is good to heal and prevent skin infections, good for itching skin.
Red and orange foods – such as sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and red bell peppers are not only great sources of Vitamin C and other antioxidants, but these nutrients may also to help protect skin from sun damage and prevent skin cancer.
Cauliflower – is a good food for dry skin and conditions like dandruff. It contains biotin, a vitamin that has been shown to promote health of skin and nails, specifically by helping to control dandruff and thicken nails to prevent them from splitting.
Lemon – Lemon contains citric acid and acetic acids. They have great antiseptic, anaesthetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-irritating properties. It also contains rich vitamin C and bleaching properties which helps in relieving itching. The volatile oil in lemon has ability to numb sensations.
Extract the juice from 1-2 fresh lemons. Apply the juice on the itch skin using a cotton ball dipped in this juice. Let it dry on its own. After some time, wash the area with lukewarm water. Repeat twice daily and do it till the condition improves. Don’t do it on sensitive skin.
Juniper Berries and Cloves – When these 2 are used together, they make an excellent home remedy for itchy skin. Juniper berries have great anti-inflammatory properties. Cloves contain powerful essential oil which helps in creating numbness of the nerve endings, as a result reduces itching sensations.
Melt approximately 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a sauce pan. In another sauce pan, melt 2 tablespoons of bee wax. Add melted butter to the melted beeswax and stir well. Stir in 5 tablespoons of ground juniper berries and 3 tablespoons of ground cloves. Allow the mixture to cool. Apply the mixture on affected skin and leave it overnight. In the morning, take a cool shower or bath. Does this process daily until symptoms come down
Aloe Vera – It contains excellent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It also contains vitamin E that helps to keep the skin moisturized. This helps in reducing pruritus and soothes the skin. When rubbed over the itchy spot, it helps reduce the skin irritation in that area and provides quick relief from itching.
Extract the gel from one Aloe vera leaf. Apply it on the itchy area. Leave it for 15 minutes and then rinse it with lukewarm water. Alternatively, add 1 tablespoon of Aloe vera and 2 tablespoons of green clay and make a paste. Apply the paste on the affected area and allow it to dry. Later rinse it off with lukewarm water.
Basil – Basil contains high amount of eugenol, a potent essential oil and topical anaesthetic. It also contains camphor and thymol which are useful in combating itching.
To 2 cups of boiling water, add 1 tablespoon of dried basil leaves. Cover the vessel for few minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and then apply it on the affected area using a cotton cloth. Repeat the process as and when needed.
Alternatively crush few leaves of basil. Rub them on the itchy skin. Allow it to dry for some time. Later rinse it with lukewarm water.
Prepare a tea boiling a few leaves in water in a covered utensil. Dip a cotton ball or cloth into the tea and apply it to the itchy skin.
Thyme – Thyme contains good amounts of thymol, which has anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic properties. Thymol causes numbness of nerve fibres and also reduces inflammation caused by excessive scratching.
Add 1 tablespoon of dried thyme leaves to 2 cups of boiling water, cover the vessel with a lid and allow it to cool. After it gets cool, strain or filter the solution. Dip a sterile cloth in the solution and apply it over the itching skin. Dandelion root can be added to this rinse.
Peppermint oil – Peppermint oil has analgesic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties which help in relieving itching caused by dermatitis, scabies or stress.
Coconut oil – can be directly applied on dry and itching skin. In generalized itch affecting the whole body after having a tub bath in lukewarm water, pat yourself dry and apply coconut oil all over the body.
Petroleum Jelly – is not only good for itching skin but also useful for sensitive skin. It has soothing action on the skin. It also reduces skin irritation. It is safe and inexpensive. American Academy of Dermatology recommends it as a dry skin soother for all areas of the body, including your lips to hands to your feet.
Clay – is helpful for itching, acne and other skin diseases. It helps to heal venomous stings and bites from bees, wasps and spiders etc. It helps to draw the venom out of the skin, relieves pain and promotes healing. Green clay (montmorillonite or betonite clay) is the most useful one.
Mix the clay in a bowl or cup with a bit of filtered water until it gets a creamy consistency. Paste the clay over the itchy areas. Once it gets dry, rinse it off.
Clay Pack: spread the clay evenly on a piece of clean porous fabric like wool, muslin or cotton. Then place the clay covered cloth over the irritated area. The clay should touch the skin. Wrap it with a bandaging cloth or plastic wrap. Keep it for 3-4 hours or until the clay gets hard and dry. Remove the pack later.
Clay and Apple Cider Vinegar – Both are individually good for itching skin and when they combine they fortify the results and soothing effect. Instead of using water to make clay paste, you can use vinegar.
Peppermint leaves – highly effective for bug bites and itching. It provides cooling sensation which will give relief from itching.
Crush the leaves of mint and rub them directly on the skin. You can even freeze the crushed leaves into ice cubes. You can use these cubes to rub against itching or as ice packs. This will add to the effect and bring down inflammation and swelling. Make sure to use clean and filtered water for making ice cubes.
Mint tea rinse – Mint contains significant amounts of menthol, which has anaesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties when applied topically. Mint also contains high amounts of anti-inflammatory rosmarinic acid. To make a mint tea rinse, place 1 ounce dried mint leaves in 1 pint boiling water. Cover and allow it to cool. Strain, dip a clean cloth in the tea and apply on the itchy area when necessary.
Fruit Peels – Rubbing a banana peel or watermelon rind over the bug bites and other itches is useful.
Gloves – Wear gloves when you are using harsh household cleaners and dish detergents which are proven skin irritants. Cover your dry skin with non-latex rubber gloves to keep them soft.
Post-swim shower and moisture – Chlorine in the swimming pool water causes dry and itchy skin. Once you come out of the pool, rinse off with chemical free water and mild soap. Then apply moisturizer that has glycerine. Glycerine will help your skin hold on to moisture efficiently and prevents further dryness.
Fish and flaxseed oil – contain essential fatty acids (EFA’s) which help to keep your skin hydrated by protecting it from the damaging effect of the environment. Thus they are good for dry skin. They can be your diet inclusions.
Mite-free zone – Mites are common household skin irritants living and breathing in most homes. A study published in ‘Journal of Investigative Dermatology’ reported that exposure to microscopic dust mites promotes inflammation and skin irritation. To prevent mite related itching or pruritus, regularly vacuum floors and carpets. Wash your bedding in water that is 130 degrees F or hotter at least once in a week.
Hand sanitizer – Use hydrating hand sanitizers instead of the regular alcohol-based sanitizers which can cause drying effect on your hands.
Mud – Applying mud gives instant relief from sunburn and bug bites and the irritation and itch associated with it. It is a natural skin care product.
Alcohol – Isopropyl alcohol, a common household rubbing alcohol which comes as a 90% solution can be used on a bug bite. It will help clean the bite and dull the itch. Use a cotton swab or ball to apply the alcohol to the bite. You can also use alcohol wipes instead.
X Marks – By using your fingernails to press an X directly onto the bite, you can push the histamines away from the irritated spot. This can reduce the itch for a while.
Slap your itch – The mind seems to register only one kind of pain at a time. Slap your itchy area. The itching will cease as the brain processes the slap you just gave yourself. It will give temporary relief, you can try until you have a better option.
Do not scratch – Though the scratch can relieve your itch for time being but it can be worsening when you stop scratching. Therefore have a control on your mind and just hang on for a few minutes when the itch is on and deviate your mind into some other activity. The itch reflex will go away.
Can itch be prevented?
Itching can be prevented only to the extent that the underlying causes of itching can be prevented. Examples are given below:
- Use (careful) of sunscreen products can prevent itching associated with sunburn,
- Keeping well hydrated and using moisturizers can prevent itch associated with dry skin
- Preventive measures and safe sex practise can help in preventing sexually transmitted diseases
- Preventive measures also can be taken against ticks or bug bites or lice infestations
- Prompt treatment and keeping under control the chronic diseases like diabetes etc will help in preventing the itching caused due to those diseases
- Itching associated with serious conditions like cancers, chronic liver and kidney diseases cannot be prevented.
Measures to prevent itching:
Practice good skin hygiene to keep the skin healthy.
Bathing too much or too often (showering) removes natural oils from your skin and make it dry. Hot water also depletes the moisture of your skin. Use only cool or lukewarm water for bathing or showering.
Limit your showers to 10 minutes or less. Don’t bath more than once a day, i.e. no frequent showers. Make sure to take showers only when you are dirty or feel sweaty.
Add baby oil or oatmeal soaks to your bath. This relieves itching. Use moisturizer once you finish your bath.
Avoid washing with soap during every bath. When soap is needed, use a gentle, non-drying product, use soap only on the underarms, groin and feet, rinse immediately afterwards, don’t take prolonged bath or showers
Gently at your skin until it is dry (with a dry and clean towel) after having taken a bath or shower. Avoid vigorous rubbing. Apply a moisturizer right away.
Apply moisturizers several times a day. Use moisturizer on your hands especially if you must wear gloves often and also if the air in the region you live is dry.
Use humidifier if the air inside your home is dry
Use sunscreen to protect your skin when you are outside
Use lipstick or lip balm for lip protection
Make sure that the skin between your fingers and toes doesn’t get too dry or cracked.
Take prompt care of rashes or fungal infections like athlete’s foot. If they don’t clear up with non-prescription medicines, see your doctor to prevent more serious skin problems.
External applications (skin protection) –
Moisturizers: If you have dry skin, make sure to moisturize it daily. If you can tolerate greasy things, choose a moisturizer that is thick, heavy and greasy. Moisturizer should be free of dyes, fragrances and other irritants. Make sure to read ‘This product is hypoallergenic’ on the label.
Emollients: Ointments called as emollients (example, petroleum jelly) are best in business. They seal the skin and prevent loss of water.
Creams: Creams are the next best things.
Lotions: Lotions might not give long standing protection. Being water based, the water in lotions evaporates quickly when applied to the skin.
Frequent hand washing may lead to dry skin. Each time you wash your hand, make sure to apply a hand moisturizer (ointment or cream)
To help prevent itching caused by sweat, try to use antiperspirants (deodorants) for the underarms and baking soda or talcum powder for the feet and the rest of the body.
If someone is ill with an ailment like chicken pox or measles, try to avoid them while they are sick.
Try to determine if the itching is caused by certain foods or medications. If this is the case, then avoiding these foods and medications will keep away the itch.
Consult Dr Raghuram