Treatments for itchy skin

The treatment for itching will largely depend on the cause.

Treatments may be available to help relieve an itch and reduce the risk of skin damage caused by scratching. You should ask your GP or pharmacist about what's most suitable for you.


Some lotions, creams and medications can help reduce itchiness. These are available over the counter from pharmacies or on a prescription from your GP.

Common treatments recommended include:

  • an oily moisturiser or emollient if your skin is dry or flaky
  • creams containing menthol to cool your skin or anti-itch ingredients such as crotamiton
  • mild steroid cream (usually for only a few days) for small, inflamed areas – hydrocortisone cream is available from pharmacies over the counter, or your GP can prescribe a steroid cream for you
  • antihistamine tablets to help control allergic reactions – check with your pharmacist or GP before using these because they are not suitable for everyone

Some antihistamine tablets can make you feel drowsy. This may be helpful if taken at night to help you sleep. After taking them, it's important that you do not to drive, use power tools or operate heavy machinery.

If you have itching in hairy areas such as your scalp, lotions are available specifically for these areas. This means that you don't have to use sticky creams.

There are also some more powerful medications, like antidepressants, which may be recommended if the above treatments don't help and your itch is particularly long-lasting.

Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:

Your itching:

  • is severe
  • lasts for a long time
  • keeps coming back
  • is associated with other symptoms – like redness and swelling or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • covers your entire body itches and there's no obvious cause for this

What will happen at your GP appointment

Many cases of itching will get better over a short period of time.

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms. For example, if you have noticed whether anything makes your itch worse, or if your itch comes and goes. They will also examine your skin to look for any visible symptoms.

In some cases, they may take a skin scraping or a swab so it can be tested to help identify the cause of your itching. A blood test may also be carried out to look for underlying problems, such as thyroid or kidney disease.

Depending on what is found to be causing your itch, you may be referred to a hospital specialist for a further assessment and specific treatment.

How to reduce itching

If you experience troublesome itching, there are some things you can do that may help relieve it and prevent damage caused by scratching.

General tips


  • keep your nails clean, short and smooth
  • try patting or tapping the itchy area, rather than scratching it
  • wear cotton gloves at night to prevent damage from scratching in your sleep
  • hold a cold compress, like damp flannel, over the affected area to cool it down
  • avoid spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine, as these can affect the blood flow in your skin and make itching worse



  • use cool or lukewarm water, rather than hot water
  • keep baths to less than 20 minutes
  • try to reduce how often you have a bath or shower if possible
  • avoid using perfumed soap, shower gel or deodorants – unperfumed substitutes are often available from pharmacists
  • use unperfumed moisturising lotions and emollients after bathing or showering to help prevent your skin becoming too dry
  • dab or pat your skin dry, rather than rubbing it

Clothing and fabrics


  • avoid clothes that irritate your skin, like wool and some man-made fabrics
  • wear cotton or silk whenever possible
  • avoid tight-fitting clothes
  • use mild laundry detergent that is less likely to irritate your skin
  • use cool, light, loose bedclothes
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Source: NHS 24

Last updated:
08 February 2023