Breaking The Itch-Scratch Cycle

Practical Tips To Stop The Feedback Loop

It’s a familiar feeling. You’re sitting in class, trying to pay attention to the professor but you can’t stop thinking about that itch on your back. You try to ignore it, but the more you focus on not scratching, the worse it gets. Soon you’re so distracted that you can’t think about anything else.

This is called the itch-scratch cycle, and for many people, it’s a frustrating reality of life. The good news is that there are ways to break this cycle and regain control over your thoughts and actions. In this chapter, we’ll discuss what causes the itch-scratch cycle and offer some tips for getting started.

The Psychology Behind The Cycle

The itch-scratch cycle is a type of feedback loop. This means that the more you scratch, the more you itch. The key to breaking this cycle is understanding the psychology behind it.

When you have an itch, your brain is releasing a chemical called histamine. This substance is designed to protect your body from allergens and other irritants. In response to histamine, your body produces inflammation, which can make the itching worse. Serotonin too is released in response to an itch. This chemical is designed to calm the nervous system, but it also has the effect of making the itch feel more intense. The combination of histamine and serotonin makes it difficult to resist the urge to scratch. The more you scratch, the more histamine and serotonin are released, and the cycle continues.

At the same time, scratching releases endorphins, which are hormones that produce feelings of pleasure. These endorphins can temporarily relieve the itchiness, but they also signal your brain to produce more histamine. As a result, the cycle continues and the itching gets worse over time.

In short, the cycle is a self-perpetuating loop that makes it difficult to stop scratching. The good news is that there are ways to break out of it.

Tips For Breaking The Cycle

There are quite a few things you can do to break the itch-scratch cycle. We’ve jotted down a few of the most effective strategies below.

Staying Moisturized

Any good skincare routine should include some form of moisturizer that is formulated from plant oils or preferable, plant seed oils. This is especially important for people who suffer from chronic itchiness, eczema, psoriasis or other skin disorders. When your skin is dry, it’s more prone to irritation. Moisturizing helps to keep the skin hydrated and less likely to itch.

There are many different types of moisturizers on the market, so you’ll need to experiment to find one that works best for you. Since moisturizers that are formulated from plant oils have a much shorter shelf life than moisturizers that are not substantially plant oil base, you’ll have to purchase those on-line. Synthetic base moisturizers have long shelf lives, some indefinitely long shelf lives. Many retailers require products with a 5 year or longer shelf life, so you are unlikely to see plant oil base moisturizers at your local store. If you have sensitive skin, look for a hypoallergenic moisturizer that won’t aggravate your symptoms. You might also want to try a lotion or cream that contains colloidal oatmeal. This ingredient has been shown to be effective at relieving itching and other forms of irritation.

Applying A Cold Compress

If your itch is particularly bothersome, try applying a cold compress to the affected area. This can help to numb the sensation and provide some relief. You can make a cold compress at home by soaking a clean cloth in cool water. Apply the cloth to the itchy area for a few minutes. Repeat as necessary.

You can also use a store-bought product like an ice pack or cooling gel wrap. These products are designed to stay cold for longer periods of time, so they can be helpful if your itch is persistent.

Avoiding Irritants

There are many different things that can trigger an itch, so it’s important to be aware of your triggers and avoid them whenever possible. Common irritants include dust, pollen, pet dander, and certain fabrics. Retail alkaline soap bars may also irritate your skin and can cause damage to the keratin proteins in the skin, leading to disruption in the skin barrier.1, 2 

Heavy duty laundry detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets have been known to cause itching and skin irritation. Liquid laundry soaps which have “free from” labeling are often less irritating than the laundry detergents that claim to de-grease and wash your clothes better than any other brand.  If you’re not sure what’s causing your itch, try keeping a diary of your symptoms. This can help you to identify patterns and figure out which substances or activities are most likely to trigger an itch.

Once you know what your triggers are, take steps to avoid them. This might mean using an air purifier in your home or office, washing your bedding and clothes with a milder laundry soap, or wearing loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibers.

Using Over-The-Counter Treatments

Not all medications are created equal, so it’s important to choose one that’s specifically designed to treat itchiness.

If your itch is being caused by an underlying condition like psoriasis, eczema, dry skin conditions ( xerosis) or dermatitis, you can use a FDA approved medication that’s designed to treat that condition. Steroid creams and ointments are often effective at reducing inflammation and relieving symptoms. Antihistamines can also be helpful for some people. These medications work by blocking the histamine receptors in your body, which can help to reduce itching. They are straight forward FDA approved anti itch creams.

Going back to plant oil and plant seed oil base creams, many of those plant oil and plant seed oils contain vitamins A, C and/or  vitamin E. Many of these oils contain moisture rich free fatty acids as well as phospholipids, phytosterols, polyphenolic compounds, tocopherols and many other skin nourishing elements. These natural elements have been proven to be extremely anti-inflammatory as well as proven to repair the skin barrier and provide faster wound healing. Other properties include Antibacterial effect and form a antimicrobial barrier. Moisturizing creams and lotions produced from a base of plant oils and /or plant seed oils are superior to synthetic base creams.

If your itch isn’t being caused by an underlying condition, you might still be able to find relief with over-the-counter treatments. There are many anti-itch creams and ointments on the market that can provide some relief. Be sure to read the labels carefully and choose a product that’s appropriate for your symptoms.

Using the Right Soaps and Creams

While classical retail soaps and harsh skincare products disrupt the skin barrier, cause irritation, and elicit itching, there are plant-based products, which soothe irritated skin and help break the itch-scratch cycle. Creams and soaps with ingredients such as vitamin B3, vitamin B5, sphingolipids, Avena sativa (Oat) Protein and aloe vera have a soothing and moisturizing effect on the skin.

LipidTAC products, including creams and soaps, are tailored to nourish the skin, particularly in eczema and psoriasis. These products are enriched with the above-mentioned ingredients. In addition to these ingredients, the products also contain safflower oil which has a high content of essential fatty acids.3 This helps with maintaining the skin barrier and breaking the itch-scratch cycle. 

Instead of irritation that is common with retail soaps, you will experience relief from itching and scratching your skin with consistent use of LipidTAC creams and soaps.

Stress Management

It is proven by evidential studies that stress can worsen the symptoms of many conditions, including chronic itchiness. If you’re struggling to control your itch, it’s important to find ways to reduce stress in your life.

There are many different ways to manage stress. Some people find that regular exercise helps to relieve tension and improve their overall sense of well-being. Others find that relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can be helpful. If you’re having trouble managing your stress on your own, don’t hesitate to seek out professional help. A therapist can teach you effective coping mechanisms and help you to develop a plan for managing your stress.

Try To Control The Urge To Scratch

It can be difficult to resist the urge to scratch, but it’s important to try. When you scratch an itch, you’re actually causing damage to your skin. This can lead to further irritation and even infection. If you find yourself scratching frequently, try to keep your nails short and smooth. Distraction techniques like watching television can also be helpful. But the best way to reduce itching is always to keep a fresh jar of plant oil and plan seed oil moisturizing cream handy . Apply it immediately at the first signs if itch.

Breaking the itch-scratch cycle can be difficult, but it’s important to keep trying. With time and patience, you’ll be able to find a treatment that works for you and get your itch under control. 

REFERENCES:

  1. Barel, A. O., Lambrecht, R., Clarys, P., Morrison Jr, B. M., & Paye, M. (2001). A comparative study of the effects on the skin of a classical bar soap and a syndet cleansing bar in normal use conditions and in the soap chamber test. Skin Research and Technology7(2), 98-104 
  2. Wolf, R., & Parish, L. C. (2012). Effect of soaps and detergents on epidermal barrier function. Clinics in dermatology30(3), 297-300

Skolnik, P., Eaglstein, W. H., & Ziboh, V. A. (1977). Human essential fatty acid deficiency: treatment by topical application of linoleic acid. Archives of dermatology113(7), 939-941

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