Oct 24, 2022 · 7 min read
Ever experienced that uncomfortable yet irresistible urge to scratch your face just for a few moments of relief from itchy skin? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Many people experience facial itchiness, and many different things can cause it. Here we'll unpack possible reasons why you may be experiencing facial itchiness and offer a few simple tips to help you curb the urge to scratch.
Pruritus (proo-RIE-tus) is the medical term used to describe itchy skin,¹ which is often (but not always!) associated with dry skin. It’s more common in older adults as the skin naturally tends to dry out over time. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and less hydrated²—more specifically, we gradually lose the natural oils in our skin. Along with aging, sun damage is also a significant factor in dry skin.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re wondering why your skin is itchy, many other things could be behind that insatiable desire to dig in and scratch.
Sometimes, pinpointing exactly why your skin is itchy is easy, like when you have poison ivy or a mosquito bite. But it’s not always so simple. That’s because itchy skin may be due to many things, like chronic skin conditions, nerve disorders, psychiatric conditions, allergic reactions, sensitivity to a specific substance, stress—the list goes on and on. People with facial hair may also experience itchiness, be it because of dry skin beneath the hair or because of the sharper edge of the hair rubbing against the skin as it grows back in after shaving. Not properly caring for facial hair (aka regularly washing it to help remove excess oil and dead skin cells) can also lead to itchy skin.
People with sensitive skin may be more prone to dry, itchy skin, especially from skincare products or environmental factors. Sensitive skin is generally more reactive to environmental triggers.³ Having sensitive skin is not the same as having allergic skin, but both can be prone to itchiness. And even if you don’t have sensitive skin, you can still experience dry, flaky, or peeling skin—and an itch that goes along with it.
Here are some common reasons that are causing your skin to itch:
Allergies are one of the most common reasons for an itchy face and scalp. They can be from the environment, skincare products, or certain foods or drinks like milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. Dust or pollen from the air can also cause allergies. Avoiding the allergen is your best bet at stopping the itch, which is why we recommend seeing an in-person medical provider to help determine what it is.
Environmental factors, like extreme heat or cold and sun exposure, can leave your skin irritated and itchy. Cold, dry, or windy weather can be particularly rough on the skin. Overexposure to the sun can cause a skin rash or sunburn, which can lead to itchy, dry skin.
Cosmetics sometimes contain ingredients your skin isn’t used to, which can lead to an irritation and itching. If you’re trying out a new product, consider doing a patch test on your inner arm to see how your skin reacts before officially incorporating it into your skincare routine.
Skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis can leave your skin itchy, but it’s important that a licensed dermatology provider properly diagnose and manage these.
Underlying health conditions such as skin cancer, diabetes, HIV, liver disease, or kidney disease can lead to itchy skin—albeit typically in extreme and advanced cases so try not to panic.⁴,⁵ If you’re experiencing a long-term itch without any visible signs of a rash or other skin marks, it’s best to see your medical provider.
Other causes that may explain why your face is itchy and bumpy include dry skin, medications, or even an insect bite.
Depending on what’s causing it in the first place, itchy skin can involve other symptoms. That’s where a little detective work comes in handy—watch out for and take note of other symptoms you experience whenever your skin begins to itch. If you need to see a dermatology provider to find relief from all the scratching, the more information you can provide, the better your chances of uncovering the cause as quickly as possible.
Here are a few symptoms that often accompany itchy skin:
Small, red spots: Rash-like symptoms often indicate an allergy or reaction to an unknown ingredient, like something found in a skincare product that’s new to your routine.
Swollen lips and/or eyes: This is more indicative of a true allergy, which can be serious. It may seem obvious, but if you ever experience trouble breathing or your lips ]become swollen, seek medical attention right away.
Watering eyes: This reaction often goes hand-in-hand with allergies or environmental factors like cold dry weather and wind.
Dry or cracked skin: Dry skin is a common symptom—and cause—of itchy skin.
Instead of scratching your skin when it itches, try these tips to help reduce it. These are especially beneficial if you have sensitive or reactive skin:
Avoid scratching. As good as it may feel while you’re doing it, scratching only provides temporary relief. It often makes conditions worse—creating an itch/scratch cycle.
Wash with warm water. Like scratching, hot showers may feel good at the time, but hot water can dry out your skin in the long run. This could also explain why your face is itchy after washing it.
Moisturize. Apply lotion or a hydrating cream to your skin after cleansing. Use moisturizers with emollients or humectants that attract and seal in moisture, like hyaluronic acid and ceramides. And don’t forget about your lips!
Choose mild, unscented soaps and cleaners. Harsh soaps and detergents are common causes of dry, itchy skin. (Harsh soaps and hot water can make for a double whammy!) Wear gloves when using cleaning products to minimize contact with household cleaners.
Use a humidifier. Upping the moisture in the air can do wonders for dry skin, especially if you live in a dry climate. It might just curb your itch, too!
Itchy skin that lasts more than six weeks (also known as chronic pruritus) can eventually affect your quality of life because it can lead to a lack of sleep, anxiety, or depression. Fortunately, there are options to help treat itchiness, depending on the underlying condition or cause. Those include:
Antihistamines: These can help temporarily reduce swelling, redness, and itchiness caused by allergic reactions. They can help relieve the itching caused by seasonal allergies like hay fever. They’re available as over-the-counter tablets, creams, eye drops, and nasal sprays. If you have a known allergy, antihistamines are a great preventative option to take just before exposure (like just before heading out for a hike during pollen season).
Corticosteroids work to reduce inflammation and ease the itchiness. They’re available as over-the-counter or prescription creams, eye drops, and nasal sprays. Make sure to follow the directions on the package, as overuse can have negative effects!
Moisturizers help hydrate the skin, which can help curb the urge to scratch. They can also help provide a barrier against environmental factors.
Cold compresses, like a cool, damp cloth, can temporarily relieve discomfort and reduce inflammation. Dip a soft cloth in an ice bath and apply it to the affected area to provide relief, or try slices of cucumber on your eyes to help relieve dryness, itchiness, and puffiness.
Remember, while these options may provide temporary relief, you should see a medical provider if your itching lasts more than a month. No matter the reason why your face is itchy and dry, there’s no substitute for professional medical attention.
Curology doesn’t treat skin allergies, but we can help create a personalized skincare routine to address skin concerns related to acne, anti-aging, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea. We help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. Plus, our products are designed by dermatology experts to be gentle and generally safe for sensitive skin.
Becoming a member is easy. Just answer a few questions, and snap a few selfies to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our licensed dermatology providers, who will create a personalized prescription formula that’s sent right to your door. You can try Curology for free for 30 days.* Just pay $4.95 (plus tax) for shipping and handling.
Pruritus (proo-RIE-tus) is the medical term used to describe itchy skin, which is often (but not always!) associated with dry skin. It’s more common in older adults as the skin naturally tends to dry out over time. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and less hydrated—more specifically, we gradually lose the natural oils in our skin. Along with aging, sun damage is also a significant factor in dry skin.
Underlying health conditions
Small, red spots
Swollen lips and/or eyes
Dry or cracked skin
Wash with warm water
Choose mild, unscented soaps and cleaners
Use a humidifier
Tivoli Y.A., et al. Pruritus.The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (July 2009).
American Academy of Dermatology. 10 Reasons your skin itches uncontrollably and how to get relief. (n.d.).
Berardesca E, et al. Sensitive skin: An overview.International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (2012, August 12).
Reamy B.V., et al. A diagnostic approach to pruritus.American Family Physician. (2011, July 15).
Moses S. Pruritus.American Family Physician. (2003, September 15).
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Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C