Scratching an eczema itch might feel pretty satisfying for the time being, but that scratch will make eczema symptoms—including the urge to itch—increasingly worse. An itch leads to a scratch, a scratch leads to a rash, and a rash leads to a stronger itch. Hello, vicious cycle.
A crucial key to disrupting this frustrating itch-scratch cycle is avoiding the itch altogether. Easier said than done, of course. Luckily, certain lifestyle tweaks can make that itch much easier to resist. Here’s what dermatologist Suzanne Friedler, MD, of the Mount Sinai Hospital and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, recommends to her patients with eczema.
Keep nails short and clean. Not only are nails abrasive on the skin when you scratch, but they can harbor yucky bacteria that can easily infect dry, cracked skin, a common symptom of eczema.
Use a cold compress and a rich moisturizer. Got an irresistible sensation to itch? The cold compress might disrupt that need to itch by distracting the skin with the cold stimulus. Following it up with a cream or ointment will lock in hydration after contact with the moisture from the compress.
Take lukewarm showers. As nice as a stream of hot water feels after a long, cold January day, those steamy showers can pull out the natural oils from your skin, says Dr. Friedler.
Create a distraction for your hands. “Scratching can often become a bad habit,” says Dr. Friedler, “rather than a response without realizing it.” To prevent or break this habit, figure out when you’re most likely to scratch, and find a distraction like coloring, knitting, stress balls, or fidget spinners.
Choose creams and ointments instead of lotion. These will do a better job creating a barrier on the skin to lock in moisture. Here’s more information about choosing the right moisturizer for eczema.
Try an oatmeal bath. Add colloidal oatmeal (you can buy packets at the drugstore) to lukewarm water, and limit yourself to 10 to 15 minutes in the tub. Gently pat dry afterward, and apply a moisturizer while the skin is still damp, within three minutes. Find more tips for showering or bathing with eczema here.
If your eczema itch is severe and the above tips aren’t helping, your eczema might be undertreated. See a dermatologist to ensure your treatment plan is right for you. And don’t miss the most common skin care mistakes that make eczema worse.