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Breaking the itch-scratch cycle

Breaking the itch-scratch-itch cycle

Our focus in this section is on what’s often called the ‘itch-scratch-itch cycle’. While scratching may feel like a relief at the time, it only leads to greater irritation of the skin, which in turn makes you want to scratch again. This can result in breaking the skin and subsequent soreness, leaving your skin susceptible to infection.

Try one or more of these practical tips to help break the cycle:

Keep cool

Keep an ice pack in the freezer, ideally the gel variety, for those times when itching is at its worst. Creating a cold compress with an ice pack wrapped in a clean tea towel and applying this to areas that are itchy and red can reduce the inflammation and soothe the itch.

Keep your emollient with you

If you feel the urge to scratch, reach for your emollient. Putting on an emollient will not only help minimise the itching sensation, but will also help restore moisture to the skin’s surface and provide a welcome distraction from the itching. Don’t forget to gently apply the emollient using downward strokes, following the direction of hair growth as excessive rubbing can irritate the skin further.

Keep your fingernails short

Give them a regular trim to make it more difficult to scratch your skin. If you prefer your nails long, you could try wearing gloves when your skin is urging you to scratch, especially at night, as itching can be sub-conscious during sleep.

Press and tap

When you get the urge to scratch your skin, in addition to applying emollient, try gently pressing or tapping the skin, until the impulse has passed. As an alternative, try clenching your fists or squeezing a ball to take your mind off the sensation – you may be surprised at how quickly it goes away.

 

Breaking the itch-scratch cycle

Remember that regular use of an emollient will help repair and protect dry skin, reducing the likelihood of an itch developing.

“The urge to scratch is a very powerful one; itch can be due to an eczema flare but in chronic times can also become a habit, so people with dry skin need to learn to try and avoid scratching. Breaking this habit will give your skin time to recover and prevent further skin damage and itching sensations.” Julie Van Onselen, Independent Dermatology Nurse

“I found these tips helped a lot. Especially the one about keeping your emollient with you for when your skin starts to feel itchy. Whenever I get the urge to scratch now, I apply my cream instead. That’s made a big difference for me.” Nikki Spencer

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