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Best Medications to Relieve Itchy Skin

two cartoon people one woman, one man scratching itchy skin

Itchy skin (medical term: pruritus) can occur in a wide range of conditions. It can be the result of relatively minor skin conditions like dry skin, bug bites, or poison ivy or more serious conditions like liver disease or cancer. If you have chronic itchy skin and are “itching” for answers about what you can do to relieve itching, please read on. 

Why is my body itching so severely?

Severe itching can result from a skin condition. It can also be a warning sign of an underlying health condition such as liver disease or thyroid problems. Here are some of the common causes of itchy skin and medications that can help soothe itchy skin.

Dry skin

Skin that is very dry can develop a chronic itch. Keeping your skin moisturized can help prevent itching and skin inflammation. Your dermatologist can help you choose an appropriate moisturizer and give you tips on skin care for dry skin.

Insect bites

When a mosquito bites you, the cause of your itchy skin is usually obvious. However, in some cases, lice, scabies, and bed bugs can lead to an itchy rash that is not as easily recognized or not discovered as quickly. Your dermatologist can make an accurate diagnosis and tell you how to get rid of the bugs. They can also give you medications that kill the bugs and soothe itchy skin. 

  • Bed bug bites: Corticosteroid creams like hydrocortisone (Cotizone-10, Cortaid) and oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
  • Lice: Over-the-counter medications like permethrin (Nix) and ivermectin (Sklice) and prescription medications such as spinosad topical suspension (Natroba), and malathion lotion (Ovide).
  • Scabies: Permethrin cream, sulfur cream, and ivermectin (Stromectol).

Atopic dermatitis and other itchy skin conditions

Many skin diseases cause a skin rash and skin itch. Examples include atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, hives, dyshidrotic eczema, folliculitis, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, shingles, ringworm, and chickenpox

Pimecrolimus ointment (Elidel) and tacrolimus ointment (Protopic) are steroid-free prescription topical products. These topical drugs are calcineurin inhibitors, and they are commonly used to treat atopic dermatitis. 

Some of those skin conditions are bothersome, though they are generally harmless. However, some other skin conditions require appropriate treatment through physical exams and blood work at the minimum; for example, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. The best way to relieve itchy skin if you have a skin condition is to see a dermatologist. Your provider can make an accurate diagnosis and offer the appropriate treatment for your specific skin condition. 

Poison ivy and other plants that make you itch

Touching plants like poison ivy, poison sumac, poison hemlock, giant hogweed, cow parsnip, wild parsnip, nettle, and poodle-dog bush can cause an itchy rash. Parasites and marine animals found in water bodies like lakes, ponds, and oceans can also lead to skin itching. 

This type of skin rash tends to go away on its own and usually does not require any specific treatment. However, over-the-counter or prescription medications for itch relief can help you stay comfortable while your skin heals. There are many OTC products that can be quite overwhelming to choose the “right one.” Generally, calamine lotion or topical products that contain menthol are good choices to start with. 

Oral antihistamines are also an option. There are a few antihistamine options. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can make you drowsy and sleepy. This is a good option if the poison ivy rash has you tossing and turning at night. However, don’t forget that there are non-drowsy antihistamines if that is what you need; Zyrtec (cetirizine), Claritin (loratadine), or Allegra (fexofenadine) are your go-to's. Remember that these are the same drugs you take for seasonal allergies.

Steroid creams such as hydrocortisone 1% are also effective. The low concentration of steroids helps ease the discomfort from the inflammation and reduces some itchiness. Keep in mind that you should not use this cream for more than a week. 

There are several home remedies to help with poison ivy. A colloidal oatmeal bath is an inexpensive and simple remedy. After the oatmeal bath, the next step is to moisturize your skin with a fragrance-free moisturizer, then apply topical anesthetics. Moisturizing is a crucial step since dry skin can exacerbate itchiness.  

Your local pharmacist is a great resource to answer your questions and help you choose a product that fits your preference.

Allergic reactions

Sometimes itchy skin is the result of an allergic reaction. You can develop an allergy to many common substances like nickel (found in jewelry, eyeglass frames, zippers, and belt buckles), strong fragrances, skin care products, and more. 

Your doctor can help you identify what is causing the allergic reaction. Removing exposure to the substance will usually relieve symptoms. 

Your provider may also prescribe an anti-itch cream to apply to the affected skin. This can help reduce intense itching so you can avoid scratching. Scratching an itchy area can disrupt the skin barrier and cause complications like a skin infection.

Systemic conditions

Many conditions that affect different organs in the body can lead to itchy skin, for example, an overactive thyroid gland, diabetes, liver disease, and kidney disease. Itchy skin is also a common symptom of serious conditions like HIV and blood disorders such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Sometimes itchy skin is the hallmark symptom of the medical condition, thus, it plays an important role in its diagnosis. Getting treatment for the condition can often relieve itchy skin. Itchy skin can be benign; however, if it does not go away by itself or does not improve after a week with OTC treatment, you should make an appointment with your doctor. 

What is a natural remedy for itchy skin?

Here are some home remedies that can help relieve itchy skin throughout the day:

  1. Perform wet wrap therapy (apply a cold, wet cloth, cold compress, or ice pack to the affected skin for 5-10 minutes). This can help an itch go away.
  2. Take a colloidal oatmeal bath to soothe itchy skin on the entire body. This is especially helpful if you have blisters or oozing from hives, sunburn, poison ivy, or chickenpox.
  3. Follow a careful moisturizing routine with a fragrance-free moisturizer. This will prevent itching due to dry skin.
  4. Wear cotton gloves after applying moisturizer to your hands. This will allow your hands to be properly moisturized.
  5. If you have sensitive skin, consider using soothing substances that have a cooling effect, such as petroleum jelly, calamine, or menthol. 
  6. Use topical anesthetics that contain pramoxine on the affected area to prevent scratching. Scratching leads to complications like skin infections.
  7. Bathe or shower in lukewarm water and limit bath time to 10 minutes to prevent dry skin. 
  8. Wear loose-fitting natural fabrics like cotton. Rough fabrics like wool can irritate your skin and cause intense itching.
  9. Maintain a cool temperature and neutral humidity inside your home. Use a humidifier if you are prone to dry skin or eczema.
  10. Take measures to reduce stress because stress can lead to the worsening of itchy skin.
  11. Talk to your healthcare provider about light therapy to reduce itching. 

Home remedies can relieve itchy skin due to minor or self-limited conditions. However, it is important to get medical attention for severe or persistent itching or itching accompanied by additional symptoms. Also, you may have heard of the use of antidepressants for chronic itchy skin. Fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) are some of the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants; they may be useful in relieving itchy skin. However, you may know the many side effects of this drug class. So, of course, antidepressants are used only if the benefits outweigh the risks.   

As mentioned, itching skin can be benign and simple to treat, like treating poison ivy with many OTC options. However, you should make an appointment with your doctor if you don’t see improvement after a week of using OTC products. Your healthcare provider can discover the underlying cause, stop itching, and prevent complications like skin damage and infections. 

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have other medical conditions, it is recommended that you seek care with a healthcare provider. 

In addition, if you develop a fever or if your skin rash appears to be infectious, you should seek medical care immediately.


  1. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-uncontrollably-itchy-skin
  2. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-itchy-skin
  3. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/poison-ivy/plants-that-make-you-itch
  4. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/types/common/ctcl/relief-related#:~:text=Itchy%20skin%3A%20Itch%20is%20often,a%20creamy%20moisturizer%20or%20ointment