Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots


Pruritus means itching. It can be caused by dry skin, pregnancy and a number of disorders, including skin disease and, rarely, cancer.

Other causes of pruritus include infection, tumours, or a fungus. In addition, various medications can cause pruritus.

Who gets pruritus?

Anyone can get pruritus but certain groups of people are more susceptible to the condition, including:

How is pruritus treated?

Finding the cause of the itching and treating any underlying skin disease is the first step.

If a reaction to a medicine is suspected, switching to a different medication may be helpful to reduce the itching.

Pruritus prevention

The best way to prevent pruritus is to take care of your skin. This includes protecting your skin from excessive damage. Methods for protecting your skin include the following:

  • Use skin creams and lotions that moisturise your skin and prevent dryness.
  • Use sunscreens regularly to prevent sunburn and skin damage.
  • Use mild bath soap and laundry detergent that won't irritate your skin.
  • Take a bath in warm, not hot, water to relieve itching and avoid making your skin too dry.
  • Avoid certain fabrics, such as wool and synthetics that can make your skin itch. Switch to cotton clothing and bed sheets.
  • Since warm, dry air can make your skin dry, keep the thermostat in your house or flat down.
  • To relieve itching, place a cool flannel or some ice over the area that itches, rather than scratching.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication to treat pruritus, including antihistamines and topical steroids. Rarely, steroid pills and antibiotics may also be needed.

Soothing dry, itchy skin

Is dry, itchy skin driving you mad? Soft, smooth skin requires a delicate balance of water and body oils. Thirsty skin can become dry, flaky, itchy and may even crack - like dirt on the ground does during a drought.

Quench your dry skin properly, however, and you could prevent the itch and the urge to scratch. Here are some simple ways to prevent and treat dry, itchy skin.

Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise

If you have dry skin, you should cover yourself with moisturiser on a daily basis. It is particularly important to do so immediately after you shower, bathe or wash your hands, while your skin is still damp. However, don't be too quick to grab the first bottle you see. Not all moisturisers are the same. Here's some advice about choosing the best one for dry, itchy skin:

Opt for a moisturiser that is thick, heavy and gooey. Skin care experts say ointments (called emollients) are best. They help seal the skin and prevent water loss. However, their greasy feel may put off some people. Creams are the next best solution. Lotions should be your last resort. These products are mainly water-based, and the water quickly evaporates when applied to the skin. They do less to help lock moisture into your skin.

The moisturiser should be free of dyes, fragrances and other possible irritants. Consider using hypoallergenic moisturisers. These are products that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction, which can make you even itchier.

If a skin cream or ointment isn't available, check your kitchen store cupboard for a quick fix. Cooking oils, particularly olive oil, can work just as well as commercial moisturisers, and are likely to be less expensive.

Frequent hand washing can often lead to dry skin. Place a tube of hand moisturiser (ointment or cream) next to the sink so it is within reach each time you wash your hands.