Why Scratching an Itch is a Bad Idea

We’ve all had the itchies at some point or another.  Perhaps a nasty mosquito took out his frustration on you.  Maybe your bitterly cold winter ski trip over-dried your skin.  Possibly you have the chickenpox.  Or you might have a chronic condition that causes incessant itchiness, such as eczema.  However you got your itchies, there’s one thing you should know: scratching only makes it worse!

You may feel compelled to scratch an itch, as if you have no choice in the world but to do so.  In fact, your body does temporarily feel better when you scratch.  But it’s the long term effects that will cause you a lot of trouble.  Itching and scratching is referred to as the “itch/scratch cycle” because it is a revolving door. 

First you feel an itch so you scratch it.  Scratching is actually painful as you are irritating the nerves on your skin.  Scratching replaces the sensation of the itch temporarily and the brain releases the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin to help you cope with the pain.  When you get that “ahhh, that’s the spot” kind of soothing relief, it’s serotonin at play.  Unfortunately, serotonin intensifies the itching sensation after the pain of the scratch has worn off.  And thus you have the repetitive itch/scratch cycle. 

The way this process was discovered was through a study done on mice out of Washington University’s School of Medicine.  The team worked with two groups of mice:  One of genetically engineered mice that could not produce serotonin and the other was normal mice with serotonin inhibited.  In both groups, when stimulated with an itch, the mice showed little signs of the urge to scratch.  The conclusion, without serotonin, there is really no need to scratch.

While we can’t prohibit serotonin like these researchers did on mice, we can try to use this as a clear reason why we should not scratch an itch.  It will only make it worse.  Sometimes scratching can lead to bleeding, scarring or other skin problems.  And scratching can be addictive – so much so that it can lead to psychological issues or may be a result of mental or emotional imbalance. 

Even without disrupting serotonin, we can try to remedy the underlying reason for the itch.  If it’s a bug-bite or rash, we may need topical ointment.  For dry skin including a variety of chronic dry skin conditions, a deep moisturizer is in order, like ours here at Natura Veda.  Our line of skin care products are each designed to retain the natural moisture and oils of the skin, add to skin’s hydration and deliver vital nutrients to skin to encourage water retention.  Our moisturizing creams are formulated for daytime and nighttime use in addition to our ultra-hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum for extra moisture. 

The Bottom Line:  Stop itching and start moisturizing! 

Erin Stieglitz
Erin Stieglitz