How to deal with chronic itching
'Don't scratch'. Is what you often hear from people who have never had to deal with chronic, soul destroying, uncontrollable itching. It is not a matter of logic.
Of course you know you shouldn't damage your skin by scratching. Yet the sensation is so uncomfortable you do anything to try and fix it. I used to constantly take antihistamines and jump in to the shower whenever I became itchy. I would smack my own skin, sit in front of a fan and apply ice packs. A few times I was so itchy I poured rubbing alcohol on my skin to numb the pain.
It was truly physical and psychological torture. The antihistamines usually worked in the moment but my skin was always hypersensitive to everything. Even when I wasn't flaring I was worried I would come into contact with something like dust, pollen, fragrances or detergents that would make me itch.
Then one day I was stung by an aggressive Australian bee. My skin became itchy and swollen. I made the realisation that there is a reason I am itching. My skin has come in contact with what it believes to be an irritant and so it wants me to remove it by itching. Inflammation occurs as part of the healing process but can be problematic if constantly so.
Itchy skin is usually the result of a contact irritant or an overreaction of the immune system. Usually due to the skin barrier being damaged, which means foreign substances can more easily enter. This puts the skins immune system in a hyperactive state.
Your skin is being irritated by something internally or externally. When your immune system is overactive, it can also overact to relatively harmless substances so they key is in balancing the immune system.
Externally, some of the top irritants include dust, grass, fragrances, nickel, personal care products, pets, detergents, deodorants, colognes and air fresheners so it is important to remove them initially. You can have a skin prick test to see what you are irritated by. Keep a track of when you become itchy. The date, time, environment you were in, what you were doing. This will help you get a better understanding of what you might be reacting to.
For example, I joined a new gym and noticed that I would often become itchy at the gym. Particularly after using a bench. I realised I was reacting to the spray that was used on the bench. I also noticed I would often become itchy after showering and learned that the shampoo going all over my body was an issue as was the laundry powder I was using.
You need to systematically cut out any potential chemical irritants and allow the skin barrier to recover. Once it is healed and the immune response is normalised it is no longer overactive. It should still itch and flare in response to a bee sting, but it shouldn't when just sitting on the grass. I am so grateful to now be able to sit on grass with my bare feet without issue!
Internally, problems tend to occur when the gut barrier is damaged through overly processed foods, sugar, alcohol and too much gluten leading to leaky gut. Once this occurs, undigested food particles can more easily enter the bloodstream causing an overreaction and inflammation. See our Hypoallergenic Diet for more information. You can also get a blood test to better understand your allergies.
If you are itchy or experiencing a flare, it is best to run the affected area under cool water or take a quick luke warm shower. This will help to remove the likely contact irritant. Pat dry and apply a thin layer of moisturiser. Allow the skin to dry completely before going outside. If you are extremely itchy you can make a paste from our clay and apply it to the affected area before washing off. Wear loose fitting cotton clothes and make sure to wash your clothes regularly in hot water using a natural detergent like our Organic Soap Berries. Keeping your nails short is also a great idea as we often scratch at night without realising.
How do you deal with the itch? Know that you can get better.