The Sneaky (& Common!) Reason You Feel Itchy After A Shower + How To Fix It
Whether you like your rinse long and luxurious or practical and speedy, a good shower should leave you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and, well, clean. But itchy? Seems suspect.
Actually, it’s quite common to feel itchy after a shower, and if you frequently dread hopping under the spray, don’t worry—there’s a bunch of ways you can find relief. Below, six reasons for the itch, and how to make sure your showers stay soothing.
What causes itchy skin after the shower?
Say it with us: A compromised skin barrier leads to dry, irritated, itchy skin. (When your barrier weakens, your skin is unable to do its two primary functions: stop water from evaporating from the skin and keep environmental aggressors, irritants, and allergens from sneaking their way inside.)
And guess what? A strong skin barrier starts in the shower—at least for the neck down. That said, it’s worth paying attention to your shower habits. Sometimes, one or two of these is all it takes for itchy skin to creep up:
You’re using a harsh cleanser.
Let’s start with one of the most common culprits for itchy skin post-shower: your soap. Traditional soaps can contain sulfates (these help the washes lather into a foam, but they can also strip your skin’s microbiome), as well as irritating parabens and fragrance.
“[Artificial fragrance] is one of the most common ingredients to cause sensitivity, puffiness, itch, and rash,” board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, once told us about hypoallergenic products, whereas parabens and other common preservatives have been linked to allergic reactions.
Hot water also has the ability to strip the natural oils and lipids from your skin—and when you compromise that lipid barrier (which makes up about 50% of your epidermis), your skin barrier isn’t too far behind. Plus, “Hot water evaporates faster,” says board-certified dermatologist Purshiva Patel, M.D., founder of Visha Skincare, which means unless you moisturize right after (which we’ll discuss in a moment), it’ll leave your skin even drier than it was before.
Your showers are too long.
There’s also something to be said about the length of your shower, especially if you are partial to a steamy spray. Read: The longer you expose your skin to hot water, the more it’ll strip your skin. And if you live in an area of hard water? Well, it’s the perfect storm: “Hard water can be super drying, and frequently exposing your skin (especially if it’s already prone to dryness) can make those conditions worse,” Ciraldo says regarding shower schedules.
You’re showering too often.
This may come as a surprise, but you might not need to shower every single day! Of course, it depends on your environment and lifestyle habits (jump over here to learn more), but board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD, says a daily scrub down might not be necessary—if your skin feels dry or itchy, you might want to edit your showering schedule, or perhaps skip the soap on less sweaty days.
You’re using an irritating laundry detergent.
For some, it’s more about the towelling off than the shower itself, depending on which laundry detergent you use. Again, traditional cleansing agents can contain harsh surfactants (great for lifting stubborn grease stains; potentially not so great for sensitive skin), as well as other irritating ingredients: “Those ingredients—detergents, preservatives, strong fragrances—can cause dermatitis in sensitive skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Nava Greenfield, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn.
You have a sensitive skin condition.
Due to its drying nature, water is a common trigger for sensitive skin conditions. According to the National Eczema Association, “Too much contact with water or improper bathing can actually cause irritation. Especially if you repeatedly get your skin wet without moisturizing it immediately afterward.” So if your itchy skin isn’t going away, you might want to see a dermatologist to help identify the issue.
You don’t have to completely upend your showertime routine, but perhaps give one or two of these tips a try. Quick note: Everyone’s skin microbiome is unique, so there isn’t one magic answer for relieving the itch—find what works for you with the advice below, and if the dryness and itch subside, well, consider your shower skin barrier-supportive.
Use gentle, microbiome-supporting cleansers.
To avoid irritation from skin-stripping ingredients, we recommend, well, avoiding those ingredients in your cleansers. “Ideal soaps are made without harsh sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate, that can damage the skin barrier,” board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., tells us about taking a microbiome-supporting shower.
However, we also recommend taking it a step further—look for cleansers that feature hydrating, balancing, barrier-supporting ingredients as well. “I also love seeing hand soaps that are enriched with soothing, hydrating ingredients like milk, aloe, honey, and oatmeal,” says Bowe. “Also, any ingredients that restore the barrier and help bring the pH back to the normal range—slightly acidic—are imperative. Our skin has an invisible layer called the ‘acid mantle,’ and we need to respect the pH of our skin to keep it healthy.” (Find our favorite moisturizing body washes here.)
Take cooler or shorter showers.
As many derms will tell you: Stick to lukewarm showers. Not only will you avoid stripping your skin of crucial lipids, but showering in cooler water is also a great way to put moisture back into the skin. As Ciraldo says, “Take lengthy showers in tepid water, staying under the water until your fingertips get wrinkled. This is a sign that you have tremendously rehydrated your skin.”
If you are partial to a warmer shower (they can help melt away stress, we understand), just make sure you don’t stay underneath the spray for too long, so you don’t dry out your skin.
Moisturize right after.
After covering the body with moisture (water), sealing it all in is key. “It’s essential to moisturize as often as possible to restore those lipids and encourage the regrowth of healthy bacteria,” Bowe once told us about using hand cream. “If you wait too long, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients in the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin.”
You’ll also want to leave your skin a bit damp, so the occlusives can really lock in that hydration. So don’t dry off right away! Rather, lightly pat dry with a towel so you’re not sopping wet, then slather on a body lotion, cream, or oil until you’re practically slick with moisture.
Chill your lotions and creams.
If you’re looking for instant relief, try tossing your moisturizers in the fridge for a few minutes before applying. It’s a classic trick: A cooler temperature constricts your blood vessels (called vasoconstriction), which “tricks the nerves that sense itch [and] leads to a cooling, soothing effect,” says board-certified dermatologist Afton Chavez, M.D., FAAD.
You can even use a cold compress or ice cubes, if you choose: The cool temperature breaks the incessant itch-scratch-itch cycle, so you won’t tug or further irritate the skin.
If your itchy skin remains chronic or you’re facing severe irritation, you might want to give your dermatologist a ring, just to make sure you’re not experiencing an underlying condition or allergic reaction. Leave it to the professionals, who can help get to the root of the issue and find more targeted treatments for relief.
Feeling itchy after a shower is quite common—it essentially means you have a compromised skin barrier. It’s nothing to beat yourself up about, and in most cases, you can find relief with a few simple tweaks.
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