10 causes of an itchy face
Although pruritus can occur due to visible conditions, such as psoriasis or an insect bite, it might also indicate the presence of an underlying condition.
This article will look at the different causes of pruritus on the face, as well as some options that may provide relief.
1. Dry skin
A person may have an itchy face because their skin is dry.
Dry skin on the face can be a cause of pruritus. A person might have dry skin on their face for many reasons.
These may include:
- frequent washing
- exposure to harsh chemicals
- low air humidity
The American Academy of Dermatology recommend following these tips to prevent dry skin:
- Use warm water for bathing and washing.
- Choose a mild, fragrant- and alcohol-free cleanser.
- Cleanse the face once per day at night, then rinse with cool water in the morning.
- Limit bath and shower time to 5–10 minutes.
- Apply moisturizers immediately after taking a bath or shower, while the skin is still damp, to lock in moisture.
- Shave after taking a bath or shower, and use a shaving cream or gel to soften the hairs.
- Change razor blades every five to seven uses.
- Apply cool cloths to the affected area.
- Apply a lip balm with petrolatum to soothe chapped lips.
- Wear a scarf to protect the face from exposure to cold temperatures.
If pruritus occurs due to dry skin, a person can moisturize to ease the itching. The purpose of a moisturizer is to prevent water loss and add water to the skin.
Moisturizers contain different ingredients that serve different purposes. For example, occlusive moisturizers containing petrolatum prevent water loss from the skin by forming a barrier.
Humectants, such as urea and glycolic and lactic acids, attract and bind water to hydrate the skin.
Pruritus appears to be particularly prevalent among older adults. As people age, their bodies' pH levels can change. There may also be decreased hormone levels and a reduced ability to retain water.
As the skin retains less moisture and becomes thinner, this may cause dry skin and pruritus.
Treatments for pruritus among older adults will depend on the cause. However, a person may be able to ease the itching by moisturizing the skin.
3. Bug bites
Some people may experience pruritus on their face as a result of a mosquito bite.
Typically, a mosquito bite will clear up by itself. However, other bugs — including lice and bed bugs — may live or feed on the skin.
Home treatment for bug bites may include:
- cleaning the area with soap and water
- applying a cold compress
- ïtaking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- taking antihistamines
If a person is experiencing anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction, they or someone near them should seek immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include wheezing, the feeling of a lump in the throat, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
4. A skin condition
People with the following skin conditions may experience pruritus on the face:
- chickenpox, which is an infectious viral disease
- folliculitis, which is a condition that causes hair follicles to become inflamed
- eczema, which is a condition wherein the skin can become itchy, red, cracked, and inflamed
- hives, which may occur due to an allergic reaction that causes swollen bumps on the skin to appear
- psoriasis, which is a chronic condition that causes red, scaly patches of skin to develop
- seborrheic dermatitis, which is a skin condition that affects the scalp
- ringworm, which is a fungal skin infection
- shingles, which is a viral infection that causes rashes
To control the itch, a doctor will first need to diagnose the condition. Once they have confirmed the diagnosis, they can develop a treatment and management plan to provide relief from the itch.
Some treatments may include calamine lotion, topical medications, and antihistamines.
5. Skin cancer
A visible sign of skin cancer, or melanoma, is a new or changing spot on the skin. This spot may sometimes feel itchy.
To reduce the itch, a doctor may prescribe histone deacetylase inhibitors and oral corticosteroids.
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6. A symptom of an underlying condition
A long-term itch without a rash or any other visible marks may suggest that a person has an underlying condition.
People with chronic kidney failure who are close to requiring dialysis may have a chronic itch. In fact, researchers suggest that about 40% of people with end stage kidney failure experience pruritus.
Liver disease can also cause pruritus. According to one 2015 study, 69% of those with primary biliary cirrhosis experienced pruritus, and 75% of those people reported experiencing pruritus before receiving their diagnosis.
Chronic pruritus can affect a person's mood and sleep, which may affect their quality of life.
In these cases, treatment for pruritus will depend on the exact condition a person has. For example, people with liver disease may require creams or ointments for mild and local pruritus. Some may need systemic medications if the itch is severe or generalized.
Treatment for pruritus more generally may include opioid receptor antagonists, antihistamines, bile salts, and rifampicin.
7. Allergic skin reactions
People can develop allergic skin reactions to many different substances. Nickel, for example, is a common substance that can cause allergic reactions.
Many products that can come into contact with the face — including jewelry, cell phones, and eyeglass frames — may contain nickel.
People who develop an allergic reaction to a substance might develop a noticeable rash.
In order to treat allergies that affect the skin, a person can use steroid creams or ointments.
8. Reaction to a plant or marine life
Some plant and marine life can cause pruritus.
The following is a list of plants that may cause a reaction on the skin:
- poison ivy
- rose hip
- hot peppers
"Swimmer's itch," for example, may occur when a person develops an allergic reaction after coming into contact with parasites in a pond, lake, or ocean.
"Seabather's eruption," on the other hand, is a reaction that can occur when newly hatched jellyfish or sea anemones become trapped between a person's skin and their swimsuit.
Treatment for allergic reactions to plant and marine life includes steroids and antihistamines.
9. Side effects of medication
Some medications may cause itchy skin, including:
In some cases, a person can stop taking a drug and replace it with another that does not cause pruritus.
Some people may not be able to change their medication, however, so they must discuss the treatment and management of this side effect with their doctor.
10. Nerve damage
Some people may have pruritus on the face as a result of nerve damage. Typically, pruritus due to nerve damage is localized.
It can be difficult to treat pruritus that occurs due to nerve damage. However, person may use local anesthetics, gabapentin, or capsaicin patches to alleviate the itch.
There has not been much research into effective treatments for pruritus due to nerve damage.
Health professionals suggest that almost everyone develops an allergic reaction on their skin at least once.
In making a diagnosis, they will examine the skin carefully. They may also ask about any current and past health concerns.
They may also ask about work, free time, pets, and skincare products to find the substance that caused the reaction.
Some people may need to undergo patch testing. For this, a doctor will place a patch containing small amounts of substances that may cause an allergic reaction on the skin. A few days later, they will remove the patch and check the skin to see if another rash appears.
People with underlying health conditions may require a full medical examination to determine the cause of the itch.
When to see a doctor
People experiencing pruritus should consult with a doctor, as this can be a symptom of several chronic health conditions.
Other symptoms that may point to an underlying condition include:
- pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
- dark urine
- jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- sensitivity to heat
- muscle weakness
- frequent urination
- persistent thirst
Conditions that give rise to pruritus — such as psoriasis, folliculitis, and allergies — may require medical attention.
When topical creams and antihistamine pills do not work to control the itch, a person may need to see a doctor to determine the exact cause.
Some people may experience an allergic skin reaction without knowing which substance caused the rash. In this case, a person may need to consult an allergist.
An itchy face is a common skin condition that, in severe or persistent cases, can affect quality of life.
Sometimes, the cause is dry skin. People with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis may also experience itchiness on their face.
When a person has an itchy face but no rash or other visible marks, they require a thorough physical examination from a doctor to determine the cause.