Tips to cope with itching

It is tempting to scratch an itch, but try to avoid this. There are different ways to soothe and manage itching.  

Washing and drying:

  • Limit the number of baths you take, use lukewarm water and very little or no soap.
  • Don't spend too long in the water and no more than 20 minutes.
  • Instead of soap, use a moisturising liquid (emollient), such as aqueous cream, Oilatum or Diprobase, prescribed by your doctor or nurse.
  • Pat your skin dry with a towel rather than rubbing.
  • Dry the skin thoroughly after bathing. This reduces the chance of chaffing and fungal infection.

Creams, lotions and moisturisers:

  • Avoid perfumed, scented and lanolin-based lotions and moisurisers as these can dry the skin and cause more itching.
  • Use odourless and colourless moisturiser, such as epaderm and hydromol, which you can get from the chemist. Apply 4 times a day.
  • Moisturise your skin straight after you bathe. Apply the moisturiser in the same direction as your hair grows.

What to wear:

  • Wear cotton and linen, rather than wool or man-made materials, which can irritate the skin.
  • Keep your bedclothes light.

Other tips:

  • Use an electric razor rather than wet shaving.
  • Drink plenty, preferably water (2-to-3 litres a day).
  • Keep your nails short to reduce the risk of scratching your skin.
  • Avoid highly-perfumed washing products for washing and bedding.
  • Try to keep an even, cool temperature in your room, as getting hot can make itching worse.

Instead of scratching, try the following:

  • gently pinch an area of skin close to the itch
  • rub, tap or press the area
  • put a cool pack on the skin
  • gently apply more moisturiser

When to contact your doctor or nurse

Contact your doctor or nurse if you:

  • notice the itching gets worse
  • see the itchy area getting more red and sore
  • see any pus coming from the skin or it smells
  • are unable to sleep because of the itching
  • 100 Questions and Answers About Cancer Symptoms and Cancer Treatment Side Effects
    J F Kelvin and L Tyson
    Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2010
    ISBN 1449610676

  • Using emollients to restore and maintain skin integrity.
    P Watkins, 2008
    Nursing Standard.22, 41, 51-57.

  • European guideline on chronic pruritus.
    E Weisshaar and others, 2012
    Acta Dermato Venerologica. 92 (5): 565-81

Last reviewed: 
18 Feb 2019

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