Back itching can get pretty irritating and uncomfortable, can’t it?
It can’t hurt to scratch it since it doesn’t really get a lot of exposure in the first place, right?
Not so fast. Scratching oftentimes worsens the problem.
Today, we’ll take a look at the primary causes of back itching and a few remedies to help deal with the itching.
But again, first thing’s first – do NOT scratch it.
As with just about everything else, understanding the root cause of the problem is the key to solving it.
Let’s go over more appropriate remedies for itching and say goodbye to itching today!
1.5 causes of back itching
Back itching can be classified into roughly 5 categories below:
1. Itching caused by a breakdown of the skin’s protective function
2. Itching caused external irritants or allergies
3. Itching caused by fleas and lice
4. Itching caused by stress
5. Itching caused by disease
You can think no. 1 for that itch you are just dying to scratch most of the time, but sometimes other causes can come into play as well.
It’s time to suspect other causes for the itching if the skin care tips in section 2 don’t help.
1-1. Itching caused by a breakdown of the skin’s protective function
A breakdown of the skin’s protective function means refers to the formation of gaps on the stratum corneum, skin’s outermost keratin layer.
Normally, keratin cells form neat rows that in turn form the protective keratin layer that protects the skin from external irritants and prevents the evaporation of moisture.
However, lack of moisture and sebum in the inner layers of the skin can upset the turnover and replenishment rate of the outer keratin cells, resulting in the formation of gaps. This leads to a deterioration of the keratin layer’s protective function, making the skin more susceptible to external irritants.
These external irritants in turn, lead to itching.
Possible factors that weaken the skin’s protective function include:
* Dry skin due to improper skin care
* Low sebum due to excessive skin care
* Nutritional deficiencies due to weight loss
* Decreased metabolism due to aging, lack of sebum
* UV damage in the summer
* Poor circulation and decreased metabolism due to cold temperatures
Back itching during the winter months for example, is caused by the breakdown of the skin’s protective barrier due to the above-mentioned factors. This in turn causes a vicious cycle where the skin’s natural moisture is further dried out by the ambient air, leading to even more moisture lost from the keratin layer.
We recommend the skin care tips introduced in section 2 as these should help maintain the skin’s natural barrier against external irritants.
1-2. Itching caused external irritants or allergies
Aside from a breakdown of the skin’s barrier, other potential causes of back itching include (1)contact dermatitis, (2)hives, (3)atopic dermatitis, or (4)shingles.
There are two types of contact dermatitis:
One is called “irritant contact dermatitis”, caused by an adverse reaction to strong irritants such as shampoo, bath soap, etc., and the other is called “allergic contact dermatitis,” caused by an allergic reaction to certain metals, plants and animals.
Hives can be caused by fatigue, stress, cold, heat, mechanical irritation, and allergies. Hives can recur every so often.
Likewise, caution is suggested against atopic dermatitis as it can occur suddenly and acutely, even in people who have had no previous onset of it.
Shingles meanwhile, are a virus-borne.
In all of these cases, it is important to receive the appropriate method of treatment depending on the cause of itching, so do not hesitate to visit a hospital for blood testing and other diagnostic tests.
Visit a hospital or see a medical professional if itching persists despite taking measures to relieve dryness and improve moisture retention.
1-3. Itching caused by fleas and lice
Another angle to consider is fleas and lice, particularly if you keep pets at home.
Don’t just slap on some anti-insect cream! Consider a holistic approach such as a careful
and thorough cleaning of your home and clothes.
1-4. Itching caused by stress
Autonomic nerve problems can cause stress-induced dermatitis.
Problems in the autonomic nerve system reduce immunity and make the body more susceptible to irritants and itching.
If you are suffering from stress-induced dermatitis, you may be prescribed antidepressants on top of your dermatitis medication.
Again, a holistic approach that involves relieving stress is a better alternative to overdependence on medicinal treatment.
1-5. Itching caused by disease
If anti-itching cream isn’t helping and lice/fleas are a remote possibility, you may be experiencing symptoms of a disease such as diabetes or chronic renal failure.
If you suspect this to be the case, see a medical professional immediately for a diagnosis.
2. 3 ways to deal with back itching
So what’s the best way to deal with back itching? Also, isn’t it normal to unconsciously scratch your back when you are sleeping?
Scratching is definitely not the way to go. Scratching is counter-productive and only scratches and hurts the skin.
So what’s the best way to relieve the itching then?
Here are 3 ways to deal with the itching:
1. Do your skin care
2. Use anti-itching cream
3. Visit the hospital
Perform a skin care on yourself to get rid of light and mild itching.
However, see a dermatologist or visit the pharmacy for anti-itching medication if you experience intense itching, or if the itching is accompanied by eczema or rashes.
Visit a hospital if it appears that the itching is not something that can be self-medicated at home, as it may be caused by a viral infection or allergic reaction that requires urgent medical attention.
Let’s explain each of these options in detail.
2-1. Do your skin care
If you experience seasonal itching such as in winter, chances are the itching may simply be caused by irritated, dry skin due to the deterioration of the skin’s natural protective barrier.
Incorporate skin care into your daily routine.
Your first priority is to moisturize your skin and retain this moisture.
At the same time, make a conscious effort to prevent dryness and reduce irritation.
Let’s go over a few helpful skin care tips that help preventing itching.
(1) Moisturize your skin
You can go ahead and slather on some moisturizing cream right now as you read it, but here are some other daily tips to consider:
* Use moisturizing cream
Use body cream or lotion that emphasizes its moisturizing properties.
Remember that dry skin is prone to irritation, so use a mild cream.
Lotion is a good alternative if the sticky texture of cream isn’t up your alley.
The best time to use cream or lotion is right after a bath.
Ask a family member for help or purchase a product to help slather hard-to-reach places on your back.
The area between the shoulder bones may be the hardest-to-reach place if you are applying the lotion by yourself. You can use your fingers or the back of your hand to reach behind and dab the lotion or cream on these inaccessible spots.
* Use mild soap/body soap with moisturizing ingredients
This is your best bet if you can’t be bothered to use cream or lotion.
Replace your soap/body soap with one that has moisturizing ingredients.
Choose a mild replacement that does not contain irritants.
Remember the itching means your skin’s protective barrier has already weakened, so give your skin a break.
Take note that products that contain synthetic surfactants may indeed have excellent cleaning power, but are also powerful skin irritants.
Thorough rinsing is also important.
Remember that shampoo or soap residue left on the skin’s surface can cause irritation and itching.
Make it a point to rinse well.
* Use bath salts or bath additives with moisturizing ingredients
Bath salts are recommended as they’re perfect for places that cream can’t reach.
As with soaps, choose mild bath salts that have moisturizing ingredients.
* A type of moisturizing body lotion that can be dissolved in bath water is also available.
You may want to consider this type of lotion if you feel that traditional lotions are too much work.
(2) Preventing dry skin
Here are three tips to prevent dry skin and avoid wasting all that precious moisturizer:
* Avoid excessively hot baths or showers
Watch the temperature of your bath or shower water as excessively hot water can erode the sebum that protects the skin’s surface.
The ideal water temperature is 40°C.
The skin on your back in particular, already has relatively less sebaceous glands than the rest of your body, making it even more vulnerable to drying.
* Avoid brisk scrubbing
The skin is more delicate than you think. Wash it with care and avoid brisk and forceful scrubbing to avoid scratching and wounding it.
When drying off with a towel, do not rub. Use a patting motion to remove excess water instead.
* Pat-dry with a towel immediately after bathing
When water evaporates from your skin, moisture from your skin also evaporates with it. To prevent this, gently pat and dry your skin with a towel right after finishing your bath.
Remember to frequently dry off sweat with a towel as the same thing also happens when you sweat.
(3) Prevent irritation
Aside from direct skin care tips above, there is also one other point you also need to watch out for:
* Rinse your laundry thoroughly
Residual laundry detergent can become an irritant if it makes contact with your skin. Make it a point to thoroughly rinse your laundry to prevent this.
2-2. Use anti-itching cream
See a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment if you are experiencing intense itching, or if rashes, spots, or eczema occur.
Timely treatment is key as intense itching can lead to equally intense scratching, causing scars to form.
If you cannot find the time to go to a hospital, visit a pharmacy for anti-itch medication.
Consult with your pharmacist for suggestions on creams or lotions with antipruritic ingredients that help soothe itching.
Examples of antipruritic ingredients include lidocaine, diphenhydramine and crotamiton.
Consider a sprayable solution for hard-to-reach areas like the back.
Some antipruritic drugs may include steroid ingredients to help reduce inflammation.
Although steroids can be effective in reducing inflammation, they are not for use by pregnant women. Long-term use must also be avoided.
Make sure to check with your pharmacist when purchasing your medication.
2-3. Visit the hospital
Visit a hospital if the itching does not improve after self-medication, particularly if there is intense redness or inflammation.
In some cases your symptoms may fade depending on the timing of your visit to the hospital.
Document the itching, location, and intensity of the itching prior to your hospital visit so your doctor can use this information for diagnosis.
In some cases, the itching may persist even after dermatological treatment.
This may be indicative of a more serious illness, such as diabetes.
See a medical professional immediately for a diagnosis if you suspect this to be the case.
The main cause of back itching is a deterioration of the skin’s protective barrier, causing irritation.
But fret not! You can say goodbye to itching by incorporating the skin care tips in section 2-1 into your daily routine and maintain healthy skin.
Watching what you eat to help promote a healthy metabolism is also recommended.
Vitamin A, collagen, and Vitamin C are great for promoting the function of the sebaceous glands and prevent dry skin.
This article is updated as of April 20th, 2016.
No two individuals are alike. Please note that your results and experiences may vary.