Some of the most thoughtless habits we have can be the most destructive to our skin. Take, for example, scratching. It’s one of those actions you barely consider as you’re doing it. You skin itches; you scratch it. You could do it without even realizing it’s happened. There are numerous reasons for itching, including dermatitis, bug bites, dry skin, liver disease, and many, many others. Itching could also be innocuous, caused by a tag on your shirt irritating your skin. Regardless, it’s a fascinating phenomenon that you might not have considered, and it’s certainly something that has an effect on your skin — especially if you do too much scratching.
Scratching skin can relieve an itch, but it can also cause one as well. This is referred to as the itch-scratch cycle. When you scratch your skin too much, you can destabilize mast cells, a kind of immune cell. These release histamine, which, in turn, can cause you to feel itchy. So, while scratching can help stop an itch, too much scratching can actually worsen it (Trends in Neuroscience). [Read More: The Five Bad Habits that Ruin Your Skin] Scratching continuously can cause the tearing of skin that can lead to infection if it’s done to an extreme degree. Over a long time, it can also lead to the skin thickening and darkening. As you can see, this cycle can be detrimental and it’s best to avoid having to scratch the itch altogether. Fortunately there are some things that can be done (Medline Plus). First and foremost, if your itching is particularly bad or seems to be happening without reasons, see your doctor. It could be the sign of an underlying condition.
Be sure to keep skin moisturized, particularly in the winter, with something like CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($14.97, amazon.com). If you do feel itchy, bathe in lukewarm water and consider using a product like Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment ($6.96, amazon.com).
Or take an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl ($8.88 for two, amazon.com) to subdue the histamine reaction. Try a cool compress on the affected area. Wear loose fitting clothing. Distract yourself from the itch so that you aren’t tempted to keep scratching.
Itching and scratching appears to have evolutionary roots and while we don’t understand everything about it, we do know that it has more to do with your brain than anything else. Over the years, science has uncovered that itching is not related to pain and that it has it’s own pathways in the body. Science has also discovered that scratching relieves itching by essentially quieting the neurons that fire and cause feelings of itchiness. Scratching only relieves itching when it’s done in moderation, and it definitely won’t help certain conditions, as it can exacerbate them by causing the release of histamine, worsening the itch. It’s best to find another solution instead of scratching your skin until you get trapped in a terrible cycle!