Best Treatments for Itchy Skin

Symptoms and fixes

With summer comes more time spent outdoors— and increased exposure to the triggers of itchy rashes. Here are symptoms to watch for and some fixes, with help from Gregory Henderson, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist and health sciences clinical instructor with UCLA Dermatology in Palos Verdes, Calif.

1. Athlete’s foot

This itchy fungal infection causes flaky, cracked skin on the feet and between the toes. It’s often contracted after walking barefoot in damp, public areas like locker rooms and around pools.

2. Athlete’s foot fix

Wash and dry feet thoroughly every day, including between the toes. Over-the-counter antifungal creams or sprays made for athlete’s foot may help. It may require an oral antifungal drug prescription.

3. Eczema

Among the wide variety of symptoms are dry, itchy skin; scaly patches; redness; oozing, crusty patches; and swelling.

4. Eczema treatment

Steer clear of irritants such as harsh soaps and dishwashing liquids; take lukewarm—not hot—baths and showers and moisturize your skin as soon as you finish; keep a humidifier on in your home; and do your best not to scratch.

5. Heat rash

This rash causes small red bumps that may itch, tingle, and sting. It’s common in hot, humid conditions, when pores become clogged. Heat rash most often occurs in areas of skin-to-skin chafing, such as the neck, groin, underarms, and beneath the breasts.

6. Heat rash treatment

Calamine lotion can soothe the skin. Cool compresses may also help, but be sure to dry off moist areas. If the rash doesn’t go away on its own within a few days, your doctor can prescribe a soothing cream.

7. Lyme disease

A red “bull’s-eye” rash occurs in about three-quarters of infected people— typically 3 to 10 days after a tick bite. You may also feel feverish, tired, and achy.

8. Lyme treatment

The antibiotic doxycycline is typically prescribed for several weeks, although symptoms that persist for months may require longer-term treatment with antibiotics. If not treated early, Lyme disease may become chronic.

9. Photosensitivity

This condition appears after being exposed to the sun and causes a red rash or small bumps that may be raised or “sac”-like.

10. Photosensitivity fix

Keep out of the sun until your skin clears up. To relieve the itch, consider over-the-counter topical steroids and antihistamines or consult a dermatologist, who can provide relief.

11. Poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak

A raised, red, streaky-looking rash develops 12 to 72 hours after you come into contact with an offending plant. It’s intensely itchy.

12. Poison ivy treatment

Wash skin and clothing immediately after exposure. Cool compresses and hydrocortisone cream can relieve the itching. If your reaction is severe or the rash doesn’t improve after a week to 10 days, consult a dermatologist.

13. Swimmer’s itch

Minutes to days after being in contaminated water (such as lakes, ponds, and oceans) you might see little red bumps or blisters that itch and burn. The cause: microscopic larvae found in snails.

14. Swimmer’s itch treatment

Over-the-counter steroid cream, cool compresses, and baking-soda or oatmeal baths can relieve some misery. Itching should subside in about a week. See your doctor if the condition doesn’t clear up.

Gregory Henderson, M.D., Ph.D.
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Gregory Henderson, M.D., Ph.D.

Gregory Henderson, M.D., Ph.D., is a clinical Instructor of health sciences at UCLA Dermatology, Palos Verdes, California.