Are You Supposed To Scratch Your Eczema?

Have you ever wondered if scratching your eczema is supposed to provide any relief or if it could actually make it worse? Eczema, a common skin condition characterized by itching and inflammation, can be quite uncomfortable and often leads to the instinctive urge to scratch. But is this actually beneficial? In this article, we will explore whether scratching your eczema is recommended or if there are alternative ways to find relief without exacerbating the condition. So, if you’ve ever found yourself torn between scratching and resisting the itch, keep reading to discover what the best approach is for dealing with eczema.

Understanding Eczema

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that affects many individuals around the world. It is characterized by red, itchy, and inflamed patches of skin. Understanding the nature of eczema is essential in managing its symptoms effectively.

Definition and Types of Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition that causes the skin to become dry, itchy, and inflamed. It can occur at any age and is commonly seen in infants and young children. There are different types of eczema, including atopic eczema, contact dermatitis, and nummular eczema. Each type has its own set of triggers and characteristics.

Causes of Eczema

The exact cause of eczema is still unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with a family history of eczema, asthma, or hay fever are more likely to develop this condition. Environmental factors such as allergens, irritants, and changes in temperature can also trigger eczema flare-ups.

Symptoms of Eczema

The symptoms of eczema can vary from person to person, but common symptoms include dry and itchy skin, redness, swelling, and rough patches. In severe cases, eczema can lead to cracked and weeping skin, blisters, and even skin infections. It is important to recognize these symptoms to seek appropriate treatment and prevent further complications.

Effects of Scratching

While scratching may provide temporary relief from itching, it can have detrimental effects on the skin and worsen the symptoms of eczema.

Damaging the Skin Barrier

Continuous scratching can damage the skin’s protective barrier, leading to increased moisture loss and vulnerability to irritants and allergens. This can further aggravate the eczema symptoms and make the skin more prone to infections.

Worsening Inflammation

Scratching can intensify the inflammation already present in eczema-affected skin. It releases pro-inflammatory chemicals, causing the skin to become even more swollen, red, and irritated. This can create a vicious cycle where scratching leads to more inflammation and itching.

Increasing Itching

Paradoxically, scratching can actually increase the sensation of itching. When you scratch the affected area, it triggers the release of histamine, a chemical that induces itching. This can lead to an endless cycle of itching and scratching, making it difficult to find relief.

Risk of Skin Infections

The broken skin barrier due to scratching makes the skin susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Skin infections can further exacerbate the symptoms of eczema and require additional treatment. It is crucial to avoid scratching to minimize the risk of infections.

Alternatives to Scratching

To alleviate itching and manage eczema symptoms effectively, it is important to look for alternatives to scratching.

Moisturize Regularly

Keeping the skin well-hydrated is key to managing eczema. Regularly moisturizing the affected areas can help reduce dryness and itching. Opt for fragrance-free and hypoallergenic moisturizers that are specifically formulated for sensitive skin.

Use Cool Compresses

Applying cool compresses to the itchy skin can provide temporary relief. The cool temperature can help soothe inflammation and reduce itching. Wrap a clean cloth or towel around ice cubes and gently press it against the affected area for a few minutes.

Apply Topical Steroids or Medication

Topical steroids, such as hydrocortisone creams, can help reduce inflammation and itching. These medications should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as long-term use or misuse can lead to adverse effects. Non-steroidal prescription creams or ointments may also be recommended by a dermatologist for more severe cases of eczema.

Utilize Anti-Itch Creams

Over-the-counter anti-itch creams containing ingredients like menthol, camphor, or pramoxine can provide temporary relief from itching. These creams work by numbing the affected area and reducing the sensation of itching. However, they should be used sparingly and according to the instructions.

Take Antihistamines

Oral antihistamines can help alleviate itching caused by eczema. They work by blocking the effects of histamine, a chemical released during an allergic reaction. Non-drowsy antihistamines are preferred during the day, while those causing drowsiness can be taken at bedtime to help control itching and promote sleep.

Tips for Relieving Itching

In addition to the alternatives to scratching mentioned above, there are several lifestyle measures and habits that can help relieve itching and manage eczema effectively.

Avoid Triggers

Identify and avoid triggers that worsen your eczema. Common triggers include certain foods, environmental allergens, harsh soaps, and stress. Keeping a diary to track flare-ups can help identify specific triggers and allow for better management of the condition.

Keep Nails Short

Short nails can prevent accidental scratching and minimize skin damage. Trim your nails regularly and consider wearing gloves at night to prevent scratching during sleep.

Wear Protective Clothing

When possible, wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing made from soft fabrics like cotton. Avoid wearing wool or synthetic materials that can irritate the skin and worsen itching.

Utilize Distraction Techniques

Engaging in activities that divert your attention away from the urge to scratch can be helpful. Keep your mind occupied with hobbies, games, or puzzles. Applying pressure to the itchy area or lightly tapping it with your fingers can also provide temporary relief.

Take Short, Lukewarm Showers

Long, hot showers can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and triggering eczema flare-ups. Opt for short, lukewarm showers or baths and use mild, fragrance-free cleansers. Gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel and immediately follow with a moisturizer.

Seeking Professional Help

If your eczema is persistent, severe, or not responding to self-care measures, it is important to seek professional help. A dermatologist can provide guidance, diagnose the specific type of eczema, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Consulting a Dermatologist

A dermatologist specializes in diagnosing and treating skin conditions, including eczema. They can assess your specific situation, provide personalized advice, and prescribe medications tailored to your needs. Working closely with a dermatologist can significantly improve the management of your eczema.

Consideration of Biologic Medications

In cases of severe eczema that does not respond to other treatments, a dermatologist may consider prescribing biologic medications. These medications target specific components of the immune system to reduce inflammation and control symptoms. Biologic medications are typically administered through injections and require close monitoring.

Phototherapy as Treatment

Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light under medical supervision. This controlled exposure can help reduce inflammation and alleviate itching. Phototherapy can be an effective option for individuals with moderate to severe eczema.

Other Prescription Medications

In addition to topical steroids, a dermatologist may prescribe other medications to manage eczema, such as calcineurin inhibitors or immunosuppressants. These medications work by modulating the immune response and reducing inflammation. They should be used under close medical supervision due to potential side effects.

Additional Measures for Eczema Management

In addition to the alternatives to scratching and seeking professional help, there are several other measures you can take to manage eczema and prevent flare-ups.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

A nutritious diet plays a role in overall skin health. Incorporate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Avoid or limit foods that may trigger eczema flare-ups, such as dairy products, eggs, gluten, and processed foods. In some cases, certain food allergies may contribute to eczema symptoms, so it may be beneficial to consult an allergist or a dermatologist for an evaluation.

Identify and Address Stress Triggers

Stress can worsen eczema symptoms in many individuals. Identifying stress triggers and implementing stress management techniques like exercise, meditation, or counseling can help reduce the impact of stress on your skin. Establishing a good work-life balance and prioritizing self-care can also contribute to better eczema management.

Avoid Excessive Hand Washing

Frequent hand washing can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. While hand hygiene is important, try to avoid excessive washing and use mild, fragrance-free soap. Apply moisturizer immediately after washing to keep the skin hydrated.

Be Cautious with Soaps and Detergents

Harsh soaps and detergents can irritate eczema-affected skin. Opt for mild, fragrance-free cleansers and laundry detergents. Avoid fabric softeners and opt for hypoallergenic options. Rinse your clothes thoroughly to remove any residue that may trigger eczema flare-ups.

Maintain a Suitable Room Humidity

Dry air can exacerbate eczema symptoms, so it is important to maintain a suitable room humidity. Consider using a humidifier during dry seasons or placing a bowl of water near heating devices to increase moisture in the air. Be cautious not to over-humidify, as high humidity can also promote the growth of mold and dust mites, which can trigger allergies in some individuals.

Preventing Eczema Flare-Ups

Prevention is key when it comes to managing eczema. By following a few simple guidelines, you can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of eczema flare-ups.

Establish an Effective Skincare Routine

Developing a skincare routine that caters to your specific needs can help maintain the health of your skin and prevent flare-ups. Cleanse your skin gently using mild, fragrance-free products and follow up with a moisturizer to lock in hydration. Regularly apply any prescribed topical medications as directed by your dermatologist.

Avoid Harsh Cosmetics

Cosmetics and skincare products with harsh ingredients can irritate sensitive skin and trigger eczema flare-ups. Choose products labeled as hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, and free from fragrances, dyes, and alcohol. Perform patch tests before using new products, and be mindful of potential allergens or irritants.

Protect Skin from Extreme Temperatures

Extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, can aggravate eczema. Protect your skin from excessive heat by using sunscreen and seeking shade. During cold weather, dress warmly to protect your skin from harsh winds and use moisturizers to combat dryness.

Choose Appropriate Clothing and Fabrics

Certain fabrics can irritate sensitive skin, triggering eczema flare-ups. Opt for soft, breathable fabrics like cotton or bamboo. Avoid rough fabrics like wool or synthetic materials that can cause friction and discomfort.

Avoid Tight Clothing and Irritants

Wearing tight clothing can rub against the skin and worsen eczema symptoms. Choose loose-fitting garments that provide ample airflow to the affected areas. Additionally, be mindful of any potential irritants, such as certain jewelry, accessories, or fabrics that come into direct contact with the skin.

Educating Others about Eczema

Increasing awareness and understanding of eczema can help create a supportive environment for those affected by this condition.

Increase Awareness and Understanding

Educate your friends, family, and colleagues about eczema. Share relevant information about the causes, symptoms, and management strategies to promote empathy and reduce misconceptions.

Address Myths and Misconceptions

There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding eczema. Clarify these misconceptions by providing accurate information based on scientific evidence. Help others understand that eczema is not contagious and that it requires proper care and management.

Provide Support for Those with Eczema

Offer support and understanding to individuals dealing with eczema. Listen to their concerns, validate their experiences, and encourage them to seek appropriate help. Sharing personal stories, joining support groups, or participating in advocacy initiatives can create a sense of community and empowerment among those affected by eczema.

Impact of Scratching on Eczema Scarring

Persistent scratching can lead to various types of scarring, both physical and emotional.

Formation of Scratch Marks

Frequent and intense scratching can result in scratch marks or excoriations on the skin. These marks are typically shallow and may appear as red or darker lines. While they may fade over time, deeper scratches can leave more noticeable marks.

Risk of Hyperpigmentation

Prolonged scratching can cause hyperpigmentation, which is the darkening of the skin. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces excess melanin as a response to inflammation or injury. This can result in patches of skin that appear darker than the surrounding areas.

Potential for Permanent Scarring

Deep, chronic scratching can lead to permanent scarring. When the skin is repeatedly injured and does not have a chance to heal properly, it can result in atrophic or hypertrophic scars. Atrophic scars appear as depressions in the skin, while hypertrophic scars are raised and thickened.

Psychological Effects of Scarring

Scarring caused by eczema can have psychological effects on individuals. It may affect self-esteem and body image, causing feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity. It is important to address the emotional impact of scarring and seek support if needed.


Understanding eczema and its effects on the skin is crucial in managing this chronic condition effectively. Avoiding scratching and exploring alternative methods to alleviate itching can help prevent further damage to the skin. Seeking professional help, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, and educating others about eczema can contribute to better management and support for individuals with eczema. Remember, by taking care of your skin and prioritizing self-care, you can minimize the impact of eczema on your daily life and achieve optimal skin health.