Are you struggling with irritated skin? Learn what causes the irritation, how to treat it, and what you can do to prevent it in the first place.

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Irritated Skin: Causes, Treatment, And Prevention

07/09/20238 min read

If you’re struggling with irritated skin, you know just how uncomfortable and annoying it can be. But, we’ve got some good news. You don’t have to suffer anymore!

In this article, we discuss some of the most common causes of irritated skin and how to treat it when you’ve got it. We also discuss what you can do to prevent irritated skin in the first place.

Table Of Contents

Causes Of Irritated Skin

Woman shielding her face from the sun

1) Sun Exposure

Spending too much time in the sun? That may be the cause of your irritated skin.

Because of the increasing intensity of sunlight (the UV index) in many areas, even with minimal exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, your skin can become red, swollen, and uncomfortable.

So, while you may not be spending long amounts of time outdoors in direct sunlight, you may be spending time near windows (e.g., in your car or in your office) and unknowingly subjecting your skin to indirect sunlight.

Thankfully, you don’t have to spend your days in a darkened room to minimize the effects of UVA and UVB rays. Later on in this article, we’ll discuss several easy ways to protect yourself from the sun and prevent irritated skin.

2) Household Products

Certain chemicals can sometimes result in damage to sensitive areas of skin, like on your hands, wrists, elbows, and knees.

Unfortunately, these chemicals appear in many common household items that you might use every day, such as:

As we’ll discuss later, avoiding household products that contain harsh chemicals can help heal your irritated skin.

3) Hot Water

We all love a hot shower or bath after a hard day’s work. But the temperature of the water could be doing your skin more harm than good.

With prolonged or repeated exposure, hot water can remove sebum from the surface of your skin and weaken your skin barrier to the point that dryness, irritation, and even cracks may develop.

Combine hot water with the harmful chemicals in your soap and you’ve got a real recipe for damaged skin.

As you’ll discover in a bit, simply reducing the water temperature of your shower or bath can have profoundly beneficial effects on your skin’s look and feel.

4) Intense Emotions

Man suffering from stress

You might not know this, but intense emotions like stress and anger can often lead to physical ailments such as dry, irritated skin.

These physical ailments — called psychosomatic disorders — aren’t just limited to the skin. They can range from minor issues like acne breakouts and tight shoulders to major issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.

So, if you think stress or anger might be causing your irritated skin, it’s a good idea to find ways to reduce these feelings before they lead to more serious problems.

5) Friction From Clothing

Rough or stiff clothing may literally rub you the wrong way and cause irritated skin to erupt when and where you least expect it.

This is especially true if you’re working outside in the summer months or if you’re moving around a lot while wearing the rough or stiff clothing.

When the clothes move back and forth over your skin, they have a tendency to remove the topmost layer of cells and create heat in those areas (like rubbing sandpaper on a piece of wood).

After a while, that can lead to irritation, dryness, and even bleeding if the friction goes on long enough.

6) Skin Conditions

Some conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, can also cause irritated skin on many parts of your body.

While you might not be able to get rid of these conditions completely, you may be able to reduce the irritation they cause with products specifically designed to restore balance and help promote clear skin.

Treatment Of Irritated Skin

Woman drinking water

1) Drink Plenty Of Water

Hydrate your skin from the inside out by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Make it a goal to consume at least eight 8-ounce cups of water between the time you get up in the morning and the time you go to bed at night.

Not sure how to fit that much water into your diet? Try this simple schedule:

  • Drink two cups of water when you first wake up
  • Drink at least one cup of water between breakfast and lunch
  • Drink two cups of water with lunch
  • Drink at least one cup between lunch and dinner
  • Drink two cups of water with dinner

Drinking at least 64 ounces of water every day may help reduce the symptoms of irritated skin and keep your body running smoothly all day long.

2) Run A Humidifier

Dry air can suck the moisture right out of your skin and cause dry patches (that can later become irritated) on more sensitive areas of your body.

To counteract the effects of a dry environment, run a humidifier in your living space to add moisture to the air. Try to maintain a humidity level of 50% or less.

3) Take An Oatmeal Bath

Woman relaxing in an oatmeal bath to treat irritated skin

Want another simple way to treat irritated skin? Take an oatmeal bath.

Grind up whatever oatmeal you have in your cupboard and add it to a tub of lukewarm water (around 97 degrees Fahrenheit). Be sure to keep your soak short (15 to 20 minutes) so you don’t cause more dryness and irritation.

4) Apply A Hydrating Product

If you’re suffering from irritated skin, applying a hydrating product is a must. Make it your goal to apply such products at least twice a day; more if you can manage it.

And, read the label to make sure the product doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals that could prevent the irritation from healing.

5) Wash With Lukewarm Water

To reduce the itching and redness of irritated skin, do your best to always wash with lukewarm water. This applies to any time a part of your body will get wet — washing dishes, washing your face, shaving, etc.

If high temperatures are a must (washing dishes, for example), wear gloves to minimize contact with the hot water.

Prevention Of Irritated Skin

Woman applying sunscreen to prevent irritated skin

1) Protect Your Skin From The Sun

If you want to prevent irritated skin from becoming a regular occurrence, protect your skin from the sun by applying a layer of sunscreen before you leave the house.

Even if you spend the majority of your time indoors, it is still beneficial to wear sunscreen to prevent indirect UVA and UVB exposure.

For even more protection, consider wearing long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat and maybe even carrying an umbrella to keep the majority of the rays at bay.

And, if possible, do your best to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day (typically from noon to around 4:00 p.m.), when the sun is most intense.

2) Get Rid Of Harsh Chemicals

If you suspect that harsh chemicals might be the cause of your irritated skin, read the labels on any products that come in contact with your skin and do your best to avoid potentially harmful ingredients, such as heavy fragrances and alcohol.

In the process, don’t neglect to consider your laundry detergent. Microscopic amounts of any harsh chemicals they contain can stay on your clothes and sheets, come in contact with your skin, and potentially lead to irritation.

3) Make Lifestyle Changes

Man relaxing in his office

If high stress or other intense emotions are common occurrences during your day, consider making some lifestyle changes to help you stay relaxed.

Talk to a trusted friend. Meditate. Relax. Get out of a bad relationship. Change jobs.

Even small things that reduce your stress and anger may be able to help improve the symptoms of irritated skin.

4) Hydrate Then Moisturize

Did you know that the order in which you apply your skincare products can help prevent irritated skin? It’s true!

First, hydrate your skin in some way — applying a hydrating serum (containing a humectant like hyaluronic acid) is an easy way to do this.

Second, lock those hydrating substances into your skin by applying a moisturizer that contains healthy emollients like jojoba and avocado.

Don’t have time to apply two products? Use a cream that contains both hydrating ingredients (e.g., glycerin, aloe, and honey) and emollient ingredients (e.g., coconut oil, vitamin E, and vitamin B3) so you can benefit from them all at once.

Say Goodbye To Irritated Skin

Young woman enjoying healthy skin

Say goodbye to irritated skin by treating the patches you do have, eliminating or avoiding the common causes, and taking steps to prevent the condition from coming back.

If your skin is irritated due to eczema, our Eczema Daily Calming Cream might be just what you need.

With the right treatment and prevention, you can feel comfortable in your skin once more!


Cleveland Clinic
National Library of Medicine
United States Environmental Protection Agency

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