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With the growing coronavirus pandemic, we have all been advised not to touch our faces. But did you know that you should avoid touching it even when your facial skin feels itchy or irritated?

An itchy face can be caused due to various factors like dry skin or an allergic reaction to something you ate, contact with a plant or sunburn. But fret not, there are many ways to take care of the problem besides medication. We tell you what to do and what not to when your face is itching.

What Causes Itching On The Face And How To Treat?

Itching on the face is also known as Pruritus [1]. It is the skin’s defence mechanism to irritants -- external or internal. Here are some of the most common causes of itching:

1. Sunburns

Excessive sun exposure can cause sunburn and the skin shrivels up. As it dries and stretches out, it begins to peel and leads to itching.

How To Treat:

Topical application of a calamine solution helps to calm the itch. An oatmeal bath also helps soothe the itch. For people with sensitive or acne-prone skin, a hypoallergenic moisturising lotion will help.

2. Itchy Face And Acne

At times, acne or pimples cause itching. Scratching may spread the bacteria, which in turn increases the itching and acne. It can also be caused due to cosmetics, blocked pores or an allergic reaction to a topically applied cosmetic.

How To Treat:

If it is a severe case, it is best to consult a doctor. Even placing a wet clean piece of muslin cloth can reduce the urge to itch and soothe the skin. Topical application of calamine or hypoallergenic moisturisers can also help. [2]

3. Itchy Face With Rash

If you have a rash and want to scratch your face, it could be a reaction to an irritant or something you are allergic to. Skin conditions like psoriasis [3] and rosacea [4] are known to cause itching on the face. It could also be due to heat, what we call prickly heat.

How To Treat:

Application of a generic antihistamine [5] cream can reduce the itch and the rash. Even a calamine lotion can help. However, if you see no improvement after applying a few times, consult a doctor. Sometimes a steroidal cream with hydrocortisone [6] may be prescribed.

4. Itchy Face Without A Rash

If you have an itchy face and no rash or any other symptoms, it could be an allergic reaction to something you ate or touched; dry skin or even an iron deficiency [7] in your blood. Sometimes, even hard water can cause your skin to itch.

How To Treat:

If it is an allergic reaction, an antihistamine can help. Dry skin can be treated with a hypoallergenic or emollient rich moisturiser. If it is due to hard water, use a moisturising body wash or soap that contains natural oils.

5. Food Allergy

If you eat something that triggers an allergic reaction like a rash or an itch, it means you have a food allergy to that particular substance. Peanuts, shellfish, soy, wheat (the gluten in wheat), eggs and seafood are commonly known food items that can cause an allergic reaction.

How To Treat:

An anti-allergy tablet usually helps. But if the reaction is severe, like swelling on the face or limbs, nausea, or difficulty in breathing, it is best to consult a doctor immediately.

6. Pregnancy

Not a very common occurrence is facial itching during a pregnancy. There is usually no rash, but if it is on other parts of your body too, it could be a condition called obstetric cholestasis [8], which usually affects the liver.

How To Treat:

Since it is a condition that occurs during a pregnancy, it is best to see your obstetrician or gynaecologist right away.

7. Bug Bite

Whether it is a mosquito, a bed bug or a bite from an insect, if bitten on the face, there is a strong urge to itch. If the bite leads to a rash, the itching sensation can last for long and can sting too at times. Sometimes, there is a small bump or swelling on the spot where bitten.

How To Treat:

Most home remedies like applying honey or an oatmeal paste or even an ice pack can quell the urge to itch and even reduce the inflammation. Aloe vera gel and honey can soothe the itching almost instantly.

8. Allergic Reactions

Some medications cause side effects like itching, with or without a rash. Antibiotics, pain medication and anti-fungal medicines can cause itching. If you are allergic to sulphur for example, it is best to stay away from medicines that contain sulphur.

How To Treat:

For a medicine related itch or rash, it is best to consult a doctor. Topical home remedies used, if any, can provide temporary relief from the itch. But if you decide to discontinue the medicine, it should be done on the advice of the doctor who prescribed it.

9. Neural Disorders

When the nerve endings on your face sense a trigger or an irritant that can cause an itch, it is known as a neuropathic itch [9] caused by a sensory hallucination. It is usually triggered when you have nerve-related health conditions like multiple sclerosis or even shingles.

How To Treat:

We suggest you see a doctor if you have this condition as the medication prescribed will be linked to the ailment you have. Avoid self-medication.

Home Remedies To Soothe An Itchy Face

  • Grind oatmeal to a fine paste dissolved in water and apply on the skin. It will soothe the skin and control the urge to itch.
  • Dip a thin piece of cotton cloth, large enough to cover your face in cold water. Apply on the face to soothe the itch. Repeat the process for upto ten minutes.
  • If it is a bad case of sunburn, apply cold milk to the sunburnt area. It will calm the itch and moisturise the dry skin. This is only for people with dry skin, not for those with oily or sensitive skin.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply to the itchy part of the face. Or you can add a quarter cup to a bucket of warm water and bathe with this solution.

What Not To Do When Your Face Itches?

When your face itches, you must not scratch it. Scratching may aggravate it further and lead to an itch-scratch cycle. If you have acne and you scratch your face, it can lead to a pimple burst, which will spread the bacteria. Some itches like those of a bug bite may even bleed if you scratch. Avoid the triggers that cause itching on the face as much as possible.

Tips To Prevent Face Itching

  • Keep your skin moisturised. For dry and itchy skin, use an oil-based moisturiser which is hypoallergenic in nature. This will prevent itching and relieve dry skin by nourishing it with much-needed moisture.
  • Always shower with lukewarm water and use products which are gentle and do not have strong fragrance. Avoid washing clothes too with detergents that have strong chemicals.
  • If your dermatologist has prescribed a topical medication, always apply it before you apply your moisturiser. This increases the medicated cream’s efficacy as it is better absorbed into freshly washed skin.
  • If you are stressed because of exams or job pressure, find avenues to reduce your stress levels, as stress will increase your urge to itch. [10]
  • Avoid excessive temperature changes like being in an air conditioned room and stepping out into the heat constantly.
  • To prevent itching due to insect bites, use a protective cream when you are outdoors; and keep your home free from mosquitoes and other stinging insects to minimise the problem.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated at all times.

When To See A Doctor?

  • If your itching gets worse over a period of ten days or more.
  • If you get no relief despite using OTC creams and lotions, including steroidal ones.
  • If the itching started without a rash and now has spread to a rash.
  • If the itching has other symptoms like a fever, weight loss or fatigue.
  • If constant scratching leads to broken skin that could get infected.

Wrapping Up

As with any other skin condition that persists, if your urge to itch on the face does not subside in a few days, consult a qualified professional. While the underlying causes can be several, most of them are treatable and subside with the right treatment.

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