Is It Bad To Scratch Eczema?

If you’re dealing with eczema, you must have wondered at some point whether scratching is detrimental to your skin. The urge to alleviate the itchiness can be overwhelming, but is scratching really a bad idea? In this article, we explore the effects of scratching on eczema and provide some helpful insights on how to manage the condition effectively. So, before you give in to the irresistible urge, let’s find out if scratching eczema is truly a harmful habit.

What is eczema?

Eczema is a common skin condition characterized by itchy, red, inflamed, and sometimes oozing patches of skin. It can occur at any age and can range from mild to severe. Eczema is often chronic, with periodic flare-ups and periods of remission. It is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

Definition of eczema

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes inflammation and itching. It is a result of an overactive immune response, where the skin becomes hypersensitive to certain triggers, such as allergens or irritants. This immune response leads to the development of the characteristic symptoms of eczema.

Types of eczema

There are different types of eczema, each with its own unique characteristics and triggers:

  1. Atopic dermatitis: This is the most common type of eczema, often occurring in childhood and persisting into adulthood. It is associated with a family history of allergies and asthma.

  2. Contact dermatitis: This type of eczema is caused by direct contact with allergens or irritants, such as certain chemicals, detergents, or metals.

  3. Nummular eczema: Characterized by round, coin-shaped patches of inflamed skin, this type of eczema is often triggered by dry skin, cold weather, or irritants.

  4. Dyshidrotic eczema: This affects the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and sides of the fingers. It is characterized by small, itchy blisters and is often triggered by stress or exposure to certain metals.

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 allergies or asthma are more likely to develop eczema. Additionally, certain triggers can exacerbate eczema symptoms, such as dry skin, irritants, allergens, stress, extreme temperatures, and hormonal changes.

Understanding the urge to scratch

Why do people scratch eczema?

Scratching eczema provides temporary relief from itching. When you scratch, your nerve fibers are stimulated, which dampens the intensity of the itch. However, scratching also triggers the release of chemicals that can further irritate the skin, leading to a vicious cycle of itching and scratching.

Effects of scratching

While scratching may initially provide relief, it can have negative effects on the skin and worsen eczema symptoms. Scratching can cause the skin to become more inflamed, red, and swollen. It can also lead to the formation of scabs, cracks, and bleedings.

The itch-scratch cycle

The itch-scratch cycle is a continuous loop that occurs when scratching leads to more itching, and increased itching leads to more scratching. The more you scratch, the more sensitized your skin becomes, and the stronger the urge to scratch becomes. Breaking this cycle is crucial for managing eczema effectively.

Short-term consequences of scratching

Skin damage

Frequent scratching can cause damage to the skin. It can lead to the formation of microtears, breaks in the skin’s protective barrier, and increased vulnerability to infection. The skin may appear rough, dry, and scaly, making it prone to further irritation and discomfort.

Increased itching

Paradoxically, scratching can actually intensify itching. When you scratch, you stimulate the release of histamines, which are chemicals that promote itching. This can create a cycle of increased itching, leading to more scratching, and ultimately exacerbating the overall severity of eczema symptoms.

Infection risk

Scratching can open up the skin, creating pathways for bacteria and other microorganisms to enter. This increases the risk of secondary infections, such as impetigo or cellulitis. Infected eczema can become even more painful, swollen, and resistant to treatment.

Long-term consequences of scratching

Secondary infections

Constant scratching can break the skin and create openings for bacteria to enter, leading to infection. Secondary infections can prolong the healing process and cause additional discomfort. If you notice signs of an infection, such as pus, increased redness, warmth, or fever, it is important to seek medical attention promptly.

Scarring and skin discoloration

Repeated scratching can lead to scarring and skin discoloration. The constant trauma to the skin can disrupt the normal healing process, leaving behind permanent marks and pigmentation changes. These scars can be a source of self-consciousness and can affect one’s self-esteem.


Lichenification is a thickening and hardening of the skin that occurs as a result of chronic scratching. The constant rubbing and scratching can lead to the skin’s protective outer layer becoming thicker and more leathery. This can further exacerbate itching and make eczema symptoms more difficult to manage.

Managing eczema itch without scratching

Moisturize regularly

Keeping your skin hydrated is key to managing eczema itch. Apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing, while your skin is still damp, to lock in moisture. Choose a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer that is specifically formulated for eczema-prone skin.

Apply topical treatments

Topical treatments, such as corticosteroid creams or ointments, can help alleviate itch and reduce inflammation. These medications work by suppressing the immune system’s response and reducing redness and swelling. However, it is important to use them as prescribed by your healthcare professional and follow their instructions carefully.

Avoid triggers

Identifying and avoiding triggers can help minimize eczema flare-ups and reduce itchiness. Common triggers include harsh soaps, detergents, fragrances, certain foods, stress, and excessive heat or cold. Keeping a diary to track your symptoms and potential triggers can help you identify patterns and make necessary lifestyle adjustments.

Use cold compresses

Applying a cold compress can help numb the skin and temporarily relieve itchiness. Wrap a clean cloth or ice pack in a towel and gently apply it to the affected areas for a soothing effect. Be sure not to apply ice directly to the skin, as it can cause injury.

Relief methods for itchy eczema

Over-the-counter itch creams

Over-the-counter itch creams or lotions containing ingredients like hydrocortisone, calamine, or menthol can provide temporary relief from itching. However, it is important to carefully read and follow the instructions and consult with a healthcare professional if your symptoms persist or worsen.

Prescription medications

For more severe cases of eczema, prescription medications may be necessary. These can include stronger corticosteroid creams or ointments, immunosuppressants, or oral antihistamines. These medications should be prescribed and monitored by a healthcare professional.

Wet wrap therapy

Wet wrap therapy involves applying a moisturizer or topical medication to the affected areas and then wrapping them in damp clothing or bandages. This helps to lock in moisture and enhance the absorption of the medication, providing relief from itching and promoting healing.


Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, involves exposing the affected skin to certain wavelengths of light under medical supervision. This treatment can help reduce itching and inflammation by suppressing the immune system and slowing down the growth of skin cells.

Alternative solutions for eczema itch

Natural remedies

Some people find relief from eczema itch using natural remedies. These can include oatmeal baths, coconut oil, aloe vera gel, chamomile tea compresses, or apple cider vinegar diluted in water. However, it is important to remember that natural remedies may not work for everyone, and it is best to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any alternative approaches.


Hypnosis is a relaxation technique that aims to change your thought patterns and reduce stress. Some individuals with eczema have reported positive results in managing itch through hypnosis. It may be worth exploring this option with a qualified hypnotherapist if you are interested in a holistic approach to addressing eczema symptoms.

Mindfulness techniques

Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help reduce stress and manage the urge to scratch. By focusing on the present moment and cultivating a sense of calm, you can shift your attention away from the itching sensation and promote relaxation.

When to seek medical help

Persistent symptoms

If your eczema symptoms persist despite home remedies and over-the-counter treatments, it is important to seek medical help. A healthcare professional can assess your condition, provide a proper diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options. They may refer you to a dermatologist for further evaluation and specialized care.

Severe itching

If your itching is severe and affecting your daily life, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. They can help determine the underlying cause of your itching and recommend the most effective treatment plan to alleviate your symptoms.

Complications from scratching

If you notice signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, or the presence of pus, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Secondary infections can be serious and may require antibiotics or other interventions to prevent further complications.

Preventing eczema flare-ups

Avoid harsh soaps and detergents

Using gentle, fragrance-free soaps and detergents can help minimize skin irritation and reduce the risk of eczema flare-ups. Look for products specifically formulated for sensitive or eczema-prone skin.

Moisturize immediately after bathing

After bathing or showering, pat your skin dry and apply a moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp. This helps to lock in moisture and prevent dryness, which can trigger eczema symptoms.

Wear breathable fabrics

Choose clothing made from breathable, natural fabrics such as cotton or bamboo. These fabrics allow air to circulate around the skin, reducing the risk of perspiration and irritation. Avoid synthetic materials that can trap heat and moisture against the skin.

Maintain a consistent skincare routine

Establishing a consistent skincare routine is essential for managing eczema. Cleanse your skin gently, moisturize regularly, and apply any prescribed medications as directed. Avoid excessive scrubbing or rubbing, as this can further irritate the skin.


While scratching may provide temporary relief, it can worsen the symptoms of eczema and lead to long-term consequences. Understanding the urge to scratch, managing the itch without scratching, and seeking appropriate medical help when needed are crucial for effectively managing eczema and minimizing its impact on your daily life. By adopting preventive measures, following a consistent skincare routine, and exploring various relief methods, you can find comfort and relief from eczema itch, promoting healing and maintaining healthier skin. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment options that best suit your needs.