Copied to Clipboard
You're having a great day when the urge to scratch your legs suddenly hits you. After a good scratching session, your itchy legs go away — for now. But you know the itch will come back, and you'll have to scratch again.
Dealing with the itch-scratch cycle on your legs can be frustrating, but there are ways to get relief. To help you stop the itch, we put together this guide on what causes itchy legs, how you can soothe the irritation, and what steps you can take to prevent this sensation in the future.
Table Of Contents
- Why Having Itchy Legs Is The Worst
- Symptoms Of Itchy Legs
- Causes Of Itchy Legs
- How To Treat Itchy Legs
- How to Prevent Your Legs From Itching
Why Having Itchy Legs Is The Worst
Itching you can’t get relief from is obviously frustrating no matter where on your body it occurs, but itchy legs can be especially maddening.
Itchy legs are often accompanied by unsightly bumps or inflammation, which makes it embarrassing to wear certain outfits. On the other hand, keeping your legs covered up can lead to chafing and sweating, which only make the itching worse. You can’t win!
Itching legs can make it difficult to get through a workout or make it almost impossible to get a restful night’s sleep. What seems like a minor problem can leave you looking and feeling far from your best.
Finding relief from itchy legs depends on correctly identifying the source of the problem. The good news is that in most situations, once you understand what’s causing the irritation, you can address it with simple steps and minor lifestyle changes.
Symptoms Of Itchy Legs
You might think it’s a waste of time to talk about the symptoms of itchy legs. Your legs itch; what else is there to say?
However, by examining the other symptoms that accompany the itchy sensation, you can often identify the cause on your own and make some simple changes to address the problem.
As the name suggests, the primary symptom of itchy legs is, well, an itch. But there are other things to look out for that can indicate you have this condition. These include:
Some of these symptoms might indicate something more severe than just itchy legs. For example, hives could be a sign of an allergic reaction, while an inflamed red streak on your skin could be a sign of a serious infection.
That’s why it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional if you’re unsure about your symptoms or if you’re feeling concerned.
Causes Of Itchy Legs
Itchy legs have many potential causes, from insect bites to skin conditions like eczema. While itchy legs are caused by factors like these that directly irritate the skin in the majority of cases, there certain underlying conditions can also cause your legs to itch.
Here are some of the most common reasons people experience itchy legs.
When your skin is dry, it’s more likely to itch. This is true for your legs and all your other body parts.
Weather conditions, like low humidity or cold temperatures, can cause dry skin. And dryness can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as those used to treat acne or allergies.
If it’s dry (or, more properly speaking, dehydrated) skin that’s causing your itching, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to see visual signs. In addition to reddish irritation, your skin might become flaky or scaly, or even start to peel.
Insect bites and stings can cause an itchy, burning sensation on the skin. If you're feeling an itch, it's always a good idea to visually check your legs for any bites.
Mosquitoes, fleas, and bedbugs are common insects that bite people and cause itching. Also, if you live in an area where chiggers exist, they're another potential source of bites that could leave you wanting to scratch.
An allergic reaction is one of the most common causes of itchy skin anywhere on the body. The trick is figuring out what the allergen that’s causing your itch is and how you’re being exposed to it.
It’s possible that products you use as part of your skin and beauty regimen, such as lotions, soaps, or shaving creams, could actually be causing your allergies.
One very common allergy is nickel. It’s the reason why you might have developed a rash when you wear certain earrings or other jewelry. What you may not know is that nickel is also present in many copper compression braces that you may wear while exercising or playing sports.
If you started using a new product and immediately started itching, the culprit is pretty obvious, but if you have chronically itchy legs due to allergies, you may have to use a process of elimination to figure out which product you’re allergic to.
Chronic Skin Conditions
Eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis are all chronic skin conditions that can cause itchy legs. Here’s a bit more information about each one.
Eczema is a chronic condition that causes the skin to become dry, cracked, and inflamed. It can be genetic or develop due to environmental factors such as extreme temperatures or allergens like pet dander and pollen. For some people, eczema episodes can also be triggered by stress.
You can experience eczema on your legs, but it's also commonly found on the face, hands, and feet. No matter where it is on your body, it can be very itchy and scratching can make it worse.
Psoriasis is another chronic skin condition that can cause itchy, inflamed skin.
It's thought to be the result of an overactive immune system that causes the skin cells to grow too quickly, leading to a build-up of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. This can cause red, flaky patches, which can be very itchy.
Dermatitis is a broad term that covers any inflammation of the skin. Allergic reactions, irritants, and infections can all cause contact dermatitis.
For example, if you've been in the woods recently, you could have stumbled upon poison ivy, oak, or sumac. These plants release an oily resin called urushiol when they're disturbed.
If this resin comes into contact with your skin, it can cause an allergic reaction. The resulting contact dermatitis usually manifests as a rash of itchy, red bumps.
If the itchy sensation on your legs is accompanied by bumps, it might be caused by shaving your legs. These so-called “razor bumps” are a result of cut hairs curling and growing back into your skin.
Shaving against the grain or using a dull razor makes these ingrown hairs more likely, so don’t neglect to replace your razor regularly.
It’s also not uncommon for itchiness to occur one to two days after shaving your legs as hair starts to grow back.
You may like to cool off with a refreshing dip during a sweltering summer or swimming as a form of exercise, but time in the water can sometimes cause itchy legs.
This is because the combination of chlorine and sun can make you itch, especially if the skin of your legs is already somewhat dry.
And if you’ve gone swimming in a natural body of water, parasites that live in the water can cause hives, bumps, or blisters.
A surprising number of people report that their legs become itchy when they’re walking, running, or doing other physical exercise.
This is called Cholinergic Urticaria (CU), and it’s caused by your blood vessels expanding as your heart pumps more blood through your body during a period of physical activity. This stimulates the nearby nerve endings and makes you feel itchy.
Some people report similar symptoms in hot tubs or saunas. Others may get a similar itchy feeling on their face when they flush from eating spicy foods or as a stress reaction.
While not a serious health concern, CU can be an irritating distraction during a workout. The good news is that people who exercise regularly have higher blood volume, which means your body will need to do less to adjust to exercise and you should notice the symptoms of less.
Restless Leg Syndrome
What if, on the other hand, you find that instead of itching when you’re active, your legs only itch at night or when you’re sitting or lying down? This could be a sign of Restless Leg Syndrome.
If you’ve heard of Restless Leg Syndrome, you might have thought it was mainly characterized by leg spasms or twitches while you’re trying to sleep, but that isn’t the case for all people. Some only experience itching, which is bad enough if it keeps you awake.
Experts believe Restless Leg Syndrome might be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals associated with muscle movement. It may also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Other Health Conditions
Some other health conditions can also lead to itchy legs.
There are certain skin issues associated with diabetes, and diabetic people are also more likely to have dry skin. Nerve damage from diabetes can also cause an itchy sensation.
Folliculitis is a condition that develops because of inflammation of hair follicles in the skin. It may appear as small pimple-like bumps at first.
Certain skin conditions thought to be caused by heightened or fluctuating hormone levels that develop during pregnancy can cause rashes on the torso, arms, and legs. This rash disappears after delivery.
Seeing a doctor is essential if you're experiencing itchiness and other symptoms like fatigue or weight loss.
How To Treat Itchy Legs
While the exact course of treatment for your itchy legs depends on what's causing the itchiness in the first place, there are some general things you can do to find relief. Let’s take a look.
Apply A Cold Compress
A cold compress is a common treatment for injuries like sprains because it reduces inflammation and swelling by restricting blood circulation. This also means that a cold compress is a simple remedy for itchiness. It can help numb the itch and reduce swelling.
Cold compresses have the advantage that you can apply them to basically any part of your body and can make them from materials you probably already have on hand.
To make a cold compress, wrap some ice cubes in a clean cloth (or use a bag of frozen peas) and apply the compress to the itchy area for 10-15 minutes.
Soak In A Colloidal Oatmeal Bath
Sometimes, there's nothing like a quick soak in the tub to ease itchiness. Adding colloidal oatmeal to your bath water can help soothe your skin and relieve the itch even more.
Colloidal oatmeal isn’t a special type of oatmeal you have to go hunting for at the health food store. Colloidal oatmeal is simply oats that have been ground into a fine powder. When added to water, it forms a milky liquid perfect for soaking in.
Any type of oats — instant, quick-cooking, or slow-cooking — works equally well, as long as they’re unflavored.
To make a colloidal oatmeal bath, add one to two cups of colloidal oatmeal to a tub of warm water. Soak in the tub for five to 10 minutes, then pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Remember to moisturize when you’re done!
Don’t bother with soap during your oatmeal bath. The goal here is to soothe your itchy skin, not to get yourself clean (although an oatmeal bath is a good way to remove dirt and oil from your pores).
Drinking plenty of water is vital for overall health, but it's also important for keeping your skin healthy and hydrated from the inside out. And, as you know by now, if your skin is dry, it's more likely to become irritated and itchy.
So, make sure you're drinking six to eight glasses of water daily. You can also try running a humidifier in your home to help keep the air moist and your skin hydrated.
Sometimes, natural remedies aren't enough to ease the itch. In that case, you may need to try medication.
For example, topical corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and itchiness. These are available over the counter in creams, ointments, and lotions.
Antihistamines can also be effective for treating itchy legs since they reduce histamine production in the body. Histamine is a chemical that your body releases during an allergic reaction, and it can cause itchiness.
Talk to your healthcare provider to see if antihistamines are right for you.
Know When To Call The Doctor
In most cases, itchy legs are nothing to worry about and can be quickly treated at home. However, there are some cases when you should see a doctor.
For example, if the itchiness is severe or accompanied by other symptoms, like fever, rash, or swelling, it's best to call your healthcare provider.
It's also a good idea to see your doctor if home remedies and over-the-counter medications haven't eased the itch. They can diagnose the underlying cause of your itchiness and recommend other treatment options.
How To Prevent Your Legs From Itching
Now that you know a bit more about what causes itchy legs and how to treat this condition, let's talk about how to prevent your legs from getting itchy in the first place.
Dry skin is itchy skin, so moisturize daily with a quality lotion or cream. It’s especially important to moisturize after shaving or bathing.
Our Eczema Daily Calming Cream: On-the-Go is the perfect size for keeping in your purse or car if your itching is caused by eczema. That way, you can use it no matter where you are.
The colloidal oatmeal in our cream relieves itch, while niacinamide, coconut oil, and vitamin E, help soothe and protect your skin while keeping it hydrated. And best of all, you can use it daily.
Some substances can irritate your skin and make itching worse. This includes many common soaps, cleansers, and skincare products. Be especially sure to steer clear of scented lotions and laundry detergents.
To prevent this, avoid using products with harsh ingredients. Instead, choose gentle products that help lock in moisture.
When you're outside, take precautions to protect your legs from bug bites and poisonous plants. For example, wear long pants and good shoes when exploring the woods, and use bug spray to keep mosquitoes and ticks at bay.
Change Your Bath Routine
It might seem counterintuitive, but spending too long in the shower or bath or bathing with water of the wrong temperature can actually backfire when it comes to maintaining a healthy level of moisture in your skin.
If you suffer from dry skin, consider reducing the amount of time you spend in the bath and reducing the temperature of the water. If you come out of the shower looking red like a cooked lobster, the water is probably too hot!
It’s been shown that for many people, there’s a direct link between high levels of stress and anxiety and skin irritation.
If you’re suffering from itchy legs or other skin irritation that just won’t go away even after changing your moisturizing routine, removing irritants, and using medication, it’s possible that stress is the culprit.
Meditation, exercise, spending time outdoors, eating healthier, getting more sleep, and using time management techniques so you don’t feel like you’re rushing to get things done are all steps that many people have found helpful in achieving better peace of mind.
Unfortunately, we can’t give more personalized and specific advice beyond this on how to cut down on stress in your life, but if the tried-and-true methods don’t work, consider seeing a professional counselor to help you get to the root of your anxieties.
We know that when itchy legs are driving you crazy, it’s not as simple as just deciding not to scratch anymore.
However, while scratching your itchy legs may feel really good for a moment, that temporary relief comes at the cost of possibly prolonging the condition overall.
The itch-scratch cycle really does make many skin irritations worse. This is because scratching damages your skin barrier (allowing water to more easily escape and irritants to more easily get in) and increases inflammation and blood flow to the area.
The more you scratch your skin the itchier it will become, so try to avoid scratching if possible. If your itchy skin is really driving you crazy, try putting on a pair of thin gloves. They can help keep you from accidentally irritating your skin more.
You can also try to redirect your movements. For example, if you reach down to scratch your legs, try patting the skin gently instead. The motion can help relieve the itch without causing more problems.
No More Itchy Legs!
Itchy legs can be annoying, but they're rarely a sign of anything serious. In most cases, you can treat them with over-the-counter medications or home remedies.
The deep hydration of our Eczema Daily Calming Cream can also help tame your eczema itch so you can get back to living life without scratching.
But if the itching persists after trying these treatments, it's best to see your doctor. They can get to the bottom of what's causing your itchiness and help you develop a treatment plan to ease your symptoms for good.