If your arm itches, you scratch it — plain and simple. But it’s not so plain or simple if you’re one of the 31.6 million people in the United States with eczema. Eczema is an umbrella term used to categorize conditions that cause skin inflammation, itchy skin, and irritation. While there are several types of eczema, the most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is triggered by an overactive immune system that prompts your skin barrier to become itchy and dry. The unbearable itching sensation caused by atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and other skin conditions leaves you with no other recourse than to scratch the itch. But when you do, you embark on a vicious cycle called the itch-scratch cycle.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to prevent and stop the itch-scratch cycle. Let’s take a closer look at the itch-scratch cycle and what you can do to break the itch-scratch cycle.
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What Is the Itch Scratch Cycle?
The itch-scratch cycle, also known as the "itch cycle," is a reflexive response that occurs when the skin is irritated or inflamed, leading to the sensation of itchiness. The cycle begins when an irritant or allergen triggers the release of histamine, a chemical mediator that causes itching and swelling in the affected area.
The sensation of itchiness prompts you to scratch the affected area. While you may immediately feel temporary relief, scratching releases more histamine and other inflammatory mediators, perpetuating the cycle of itching and scratching.
Repeated Scratching Can Cause Skin Damage
Repeated scratching can cause skin damage and breakage, such as abrasions or lacerations. If the scratching continues, it can lead to secondary bacterial or fungal infections. In some cases, chronic itching and scratching can also lead to changes in the skin, such as thickening and discoloration.
What Skin Conditions Cause the Itch-Scratch Rash Cycle?
Many different skin conditions can trigger the itch-scratch cycle. Some of the most common skin conditions that can cause this cycle include:
- The atopic dermatitis itch-scratch cycle
- Eczema itch-scratch cycle
- Psoriasis itch-scratch cycle
- Contact dermatitis itch-scratch cycle
- Seborrheic dermatitis itch-scratch cycle
- Xerosis or dry skin itch-scratch cycle
In addition to these conditions, there are a number of internal diseases, nerve disorders, and allergic reactions that can take you down the cycle of itching and scratching.
9 Ways to Break the Itch Scratch Cycle for Good
Breaking the itch-scratch cycle involves treating the underlying cause of the itching and avoiding triggers that can cause further irritation. Here are some strategies we have found to be effective with our daughter. While these strategies are geared toward atopic dermatitis and eczema itch-scratch cycle, they can work for any itch-scratch cycle, including psoriasis.
1. Break the Cycle & Don’t Scratch Your Skin
As the inspiration for Butter by Q, our four-year-old daughter with eczema, Ella, often asks, “Why does scratching feel so good if it’s so bad?” Without an acceptable answer for an inquisitive and observant little girl, we tell her to gently rub or pat the area instead of scratching with her fingernails.
2. Keep Your Nails Short to Prevent Itching and Skin Damage
Because our daughter is 4, we know she may not be able to resist the urge to scratch. Heck, most adults can't. Because of this, we keep her nails short. Short nails are much less likely to break the skin if she does scratch.
3. Wear Gloves to Stop the Eczema Itch-Scratch Cycle at Night
For some reason, Ella always seemed to scratch more at night, which made it worse. To remedy this problem, we moisturized her before she went to bed. And if she had an active eczema rash, we would put gloves on her after she was asleep to prevent scratching.
4. Know Your Eczema Triggers to Break the Eczema Itch-Scratch Cycle
If you suffer from eczema, it’s important to know your triggers. By understanding your triggers, you’ll be better suited to avoid them. Common eczema triggers include:
- Certain foods
- Artificial fragrances and perfumes
- Air fresheners
- Cleaning products
- Laundry detergents
It’s best to work with a healthcare professional to learn which triggers could be causing your eczema itch-scratch cycle.
5. Keep Your Skin Moisturized to Prevent Itch-Scratch Cycle
We can’t express how important it is for those with atopic dermatitis and eczema to moisturize their skin. Whenever your skin is dry, it can exacerbate the itching and make the itch-scratch cycle worse. Because you have dermatitis or sensitive skin, you should be especially cautious of chemical additives commonly used in synthetic skincare products. Consider switching to natural, plant-based skincare and cosmetic solutions.
No matter the moisturizer, you should apply it to damp skin or as soon as you get out of the shower. Doing so can lock in the moisture from the water, leaving your skin feeling fresh and moisturized for hours.
6. Use a Cool Compress to Alleviate the Itch
If you have an active rash, it can take a herculean effort —not to scratch. Fortunately, you don’t need the strength of Sampson, you only need an ice pack or a cool compress. Whenever the itch strikes, grab some ice or a cold compress and apply it to the impacted areas. The cold temperature can block the itch and help you break the itch-scratch cycle. The ice can also help soothe your skin and reduce inflammation.
7. Watch Your Stress Levels
Did you know that stress and anxiety can exacerbate your eczema symptoms, introducing another cycle? Eczema flare-ups cause more stress and anxiety, which can trigger even more flare-ups. This is because your body produces more cortisol — the stress hormone—whenever you are under pressure or stressed. The overproduction of cortisol can cause your skin to become abnormally oily and trigger an eczema flare-up. Consider implementing the following stress-reducing practices into your daily routine:
- Get sufficient sleep
- Practice yoga
- And do whatever it takes to keep your stress at bay
All four activities can keep you healthy mentally and physically and lower your stress levels.
8. Consider Using an Antihistamine
In some instances, an oral antihistamine can help. Oral antihistamines may block the itch sensation if it’s caused by the release of histamine. While antihistamines are not a cure for eczema, they may help relieve the itchiness and break the itch-scratch cycle.
9. Don’t Just Moisturize Your Skin — Nourish It
When choosing a moisturizer, look for one loaded with nutrients, vitamins, and natural additives that can reduce inflammation, like Butter by Q’s Eczema Balm. As an all-natural skin care product created for our infant daughter’s eczema, our Eczema Balm includes no artificial ingredients, chemicals, or perfumes. Instead, it’s full of skin-nourishing and enriching nutrients that double as a natural remedy for eczema:
- Shea butter: Shea butter works like a powerful emollient, helping to soften and smooth dry skin. With anti-inflammatory properties, shea butter contains linoleic acid that can significantly reduce eczema symptoms.
- Mango butter: Like shea butter, mango butter is rich in compounds that reduce skin inflammation, promote healthy skin reproduction, and have anti-microbial properties, which can help those suffering from eczema.
- Rosehip oil: As the gold standard of oils, rosehip oil includes key essential compounds that can help with dermatitis and eczema — essential fatty acids Omega 3, Omega 6, and vitamin A.
- Jojoba oil: According to the National Eczema Association, jojoba oil has been studied and shows promising results for eczema. This premium oil doubles as a humectant while offering healing and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Avocado oil: Because of its dynamic anti-inflammatory properties, avocado oil can be effective for anyone who has eczema, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis.
- Apricot oil: Apricot kernel oil helps expedite the healing of wounds, protects the skin against bacteria and toxins, and lightens unwanted blemishes. Rich in Vitamin E and fatty acids, apricot kernel oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can help rejuvenate your skin.
- Lavender: When properly diluted, lavender can be a powerful combatant against eczema and atopic dermatitis. It features beta-caryophyllene, which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Contact Butter by Q for All-Natural Eczema Balm to Break the Scratch-Itch Cycle
Breaking the itch-scratch cycle is a multi-faceted approach and may take time. But with proper treatment and care, it’s possible to manage the itch and promote healthy skin. To help our daughter, we’ve developed a safe, nutrient-rich, all-natural Eczema Balm.
Our Eczema Balm is made with the best and safest ingredients — because that’s what our daughter deserves. When used regularly, our Eczema Balm can help alleviate your itch, reduce inflammation, restore your skin barrier, and moisturize your skin.
Want to learn more? Check out our Eczema Balm.