Being itchy is weirdly psychologically taxing. It’s like being in pain, but rather than wanting to curl up in a ball and slip into oblivion, itchiness makes me want to run around my house naked and screaming. So, it’s kind of an issue that I regularly reach this level of itchiness following a shower. Maybe it’s convenient that I’m already naked, but I’m also currently living with my family. I need to know: What exactly is causing this itchiness, and what can I do to remedy it?
As Anthony Rossi, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, has explained for us previously, both hot water and soap strip the skin of its natural oils. In turn, the skin becomes dry, which makes it feel itchy. The sensation of itchiness is caused by the activation of nerve cells called C-fibers. According to Scientific American, C-fibers are identical to the nerve cells that cause the sensation of pain, but instead produce itchiness. When triggered, C-fibers send signals to the nervous system and brain telling us to relieve the itching via touch. This works for a moment, because when we scratch or rub our itchy skin, we’re activating different nerve cells.
There are tons of different ways C-fibers can become triggered, from allergic reactions releasing histamines to opioids to regular ole dry skin. While some people may experience itchiness following a shower due to an allergic reaction to a product they used, most of us are simply experiencing the latter.
Further, people’s sensitivity to itch and their capacity to experience it varies. For example, one woman was so accustomed to scratching her scalp that over the course of a year, she scratched through her skull and reached her brain. This wasn’t shower related, but still. She must have been really fucking itchy for that to happen.
In addition to maybe reaching your brain, scratching can cause other issues, too. Dry skin “can lead to cracked skin or irritated skin which isn’t only painful but exposes the skin to infection from bacteria and viruses,” Rossi explains. Further irritating the skin via scratching only worsens this.
To avoid itchiness, the general advice from Rossi and others is to take a cold shower instead of a hot one and use milder soap. That said, I hate those options. What am I, Wim Hof? Gentler soap, fine, but a cold shower is a line I will not cross.
So what am I to do?
One possible solution Rossi recommends is moisturizing before drying off completely, as this helps lock in the moisture of the water itself.
I have tried just about everything — thick-ass unscented Eucerin, calendula ointment, calamine lotion, a variety of oils — only to have mixed results. Sometimes one of these options will work, sometimes they won’t. Applying lotion before I’m completely dry definitely helps. Still, I’m sad to report that I’ve yet to find the perfect solution. (Today, I ended up spraying my legs with a Benadryl product intended for bug bites. It worked, if only because it contained a topical analgesic.)
The reality of the situation is most likely that I’m simply a wimpy little bitch. I have a low tolerance for being itchy, coupled with the dry, sensitive skin that causes the itching to occur. I plan to try a humidifier and some CBD lotion next.
Or, you know, actually seeing a doctor.