It's been the itch you just can't scratch, but this guide will help you decode your skin problem so you can fix it for good.
What's with that itch? You've ruled out dry skin (if not, here's a dry skin skin-care routine), and yet your scratching just won't quit. One of these top three culprits may be to blame. Finally, mystery solved.
If your ears and face itch...
Seasonal allergies are likely the problem (possibly caused by this gross issue). "In this case, your body produces allergic antibodies in response to allergens like plant pollen or mold. High levels of these antibodies can lead to inflammation, which in turn can cause itchiness," says Kanao Otsu, M.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver. Common spots that are affected are your ears, nose, mouth, eyes, and throat, but some people may wind up scratching from head to toe.
Your best bet for relief: Combine a long-acting oral antihistamine like Allegra Allergy 24 Hour ($10, target.com) with a topical anti-itch cream, says David Bank, M.D., the founder and director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York. Use it along with a topical like Aveeno Anti-Itch Concentrated Lotion ($7, amazon.com). The antihistamine will block the production of allergic antibodies to prevent more irritation, while the moisturizer will immediately ease your skin.
If your itchiness gets worse at night...
You may have eczema (aka dermatitis), a condition that occurs when your body has an oversize immune reaction to an irritant, an allergen, or even stress, creating itch-inducing skin inflammation. Most people associate the condition with a bumpy red rash, but Bank says it's possible to experience itchiness without any visible irritation. What's more, it can be tough to determine what, if anything, is causing the reaction.
"After being exposed to something you're sensitive to, it can take three to four weeks for your immune system to act and make you feel itchy," says Bank. One clue that your problem goes beyond typical dry skin: If you tend to get itchier at night, then eczema may be to blame, says Otsu. In that case, switch to gentle, super-hydrating, fragrance-free cleansers and moisturizers (or try one of these natural remedies). Fragrance is a top trigger for flare-ups, says Bank. Try Ahava Clineral Topic Body Cleansing Foam ($21, ahava.com) and Topic Body Cream ($28, ahava.com), plus Skinfix Eczema Sheer Face Ointment ($19, cvs.com). If these remedies don't help, you may want to ask your doctor for stronger prescription options.
If you have flaky, dry patches...
You could be dealing with psoriasis, a genetic disorder (which Kim K. has too, FYI) that causes your body to produce skin cells at a faster-than-normal rate; the cells build up into red, flaky patches that itch and may also burn or tingle. Other telltale symptoms include occasional joint stiffness and brittle fingernails. You may find relief with a hydrocortisone cream, like CeraVe Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream ($7, walgreens.com) says Bank. You can also spend a few minutes a day letting the affected area soak up some sun; Bank says that the UV rays can have an anti-inflammatory effect that "turns down" the activity of the immune cells. Otherwise, make an appointment with your dermatologist: You may need a prescription psoriasis medication. (Having an itch down there? We've got you covered. Here's your guide to itchy lady parts and the reason your butt is itchy, too.)