Do certain cleansers cause itchiness?

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When you walk down the cleanser aisle in your local drugstore, the choices can be overwhelming. There are facial cleansers for every skin type, products claiming to cure every skin problem, body washes that smell like every fruit combination imaginable and soaps that come in bar, foam and liquid form. How do you know which is the best option for your skin?

With so many products out there, the most important thing is how your skin will feel afterward. High on most people's lists is avoiding dry skin and the itchiness, irritation and fine lines that come with it. Though dry skin, or xerosis, isn't a serious medical condition, it can be extremely uncomfortable and can have unattractive symptoms. In severe cases, dry skin can lead to a more serious infection. It's often unavoidable because it can be caused by weather, geographic location, air conditioning, pollution and sun exposure -- all elements that are almost impossible to avoid on a daily basis. Knowing the right products to use and the most effective cleansing routine are the first steps in providing relief for your dry skin.


As common as dry skin is, it's just as easy to avoid when you take the proper steps and use the right products. There are several easy lifestyle changes you can make to avoid dry skin and itchiness -- from when you moisturize to what type of water you use when you cleanse. You might have to make some adjustments, but you'll soon feel relief, especially in settings where dry skin is most common.

Read on to discover if the cleansers currently in your shower are the cause of your itchy skin.


Cleansers and Dry Skin

Showering and washing your face in the morning and evening are a natural part of a daily routine, ensuring that all the grime and dirt you encounter during the day gets taken off of your skin. But the type of cleanser you use could cause more harm than good if it dries out your skin to an uncomfortable, irritable level. Choosing the right cleanser will make all the difference.

Normal, healthy skin has a natural layer of lipids, or fatty substances, that keep moisture in the skin. Harsher cleansers can strip skin of these natural oils and leave your skin feeling dry and itchy. Soaps are one of the most common perpetrators of dry skin -- the bubbling and lathering of soaps strips away the protective oils. When selecting soaps and cleansers, look for mild, unscented cleansers; soap-free products or soaps with added oils and fats. Products with deodorants or antibacterial elements are going to be harder on your skin. Cleansing creams and cleansers with added moisturizers are also effective in helping skin maintain its natural moisture.


The right type of cleanser will help in the battle against dry skin, but your cleansing routine is just as important. While a steaming hot shower may feel great at the end of the day, it can contribute to your dry skin. Using warm water instead of hot and limiting showers to five to 10 minutes will reduce the amount of oil being washed from the skin. Also, you need to use soap only on the areas of your body that get particularly dirty, such as the underarms, groin and feet. A gentle cleanser is best for the face. A warm-water rinse should do the trick everywhere else.

After you've patted your skin dry, moisturizer should be the immediate next step in your routine. The skin should still be a bit damp when you slather on a thick moisturizer -- this will ensure that you trap the moisture beneath the skin by providing a seal that keeps water from escaping. These steps may require you to change up your current skin cleansing habits, but they'll save you a great deal of irritation and itching that comes with dry skin.

Read on to learn how to tell if you are mistaking dry skin for clean skin.


Knowing When Your Skin is Clean or Dry

After a tough workout or a long day at work, sometimes all you want is to feel as clean as possible. But if your skin is too clean, you could actually expose yourself to more problems than dirt or sweat can cause. Dry skin can be irritating and painful. So how do you know when your skin is the perfect level of clean?

After you cleanse, your skin should feel soft and smooth -- it should never feel tight or dry. If your skin feels tight, it's because your skin hasn't retained enough moisture, and your naturally plump skin cells have turned shriveled and tight. If you're cleansing and moisturizing properly, you shouldn't experience this problem. Don't mistake a tight feeling after cleansing for a sign that your skin is extra clean and healthy.


There are more signs that your skin is severely dry. Any roughness, itching, flaking, scaling or peeling indicates that your skin is due for some much-needed moisture. A hydrocortisone cream can  help to alleviate the itching while your skin regains its natural moisture. When skin is dry like this, fine lines and redness can appear and, in severe cases, bleeding can occur in cracks in the skin. If your skin begins to swell, crack, bleed or ooze, home treatments may not be enough and it is time to see your doctor.

If you have sudden itchiness or dry skin that develops with a new medication or a medical condition like diabetes, you should contact your doctor for further information. These symptoms may not be the result of improper cleansing but of something else that your doctor can advise you on more specifically.

In most cases, dry skin isn't a serious condition -- following proper cleansing and moisturizing routines can easily reverse it. For more hints on dry skin prevention, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Dermatologists' Top 10 Tips for Relieving Dry Skin." 2008. (Accessed 8/30/09).
  • Fries, Wendy C. "Dry Skin: Soothing the Itch in Winter." WebMD. Oct. 17, 2008. (Accessed 8/30/09).
  • Griffin, R. Morgan. "What's Causing Your Dry Skin Problem." WebMD. March 6, 2009. (Accessed 8/30/09).
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dry Skin." Nov. 26, 2008. (Accessed 8/30/09).
  • WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Skin Care for Dry Skin." Nov. 29, 2007. (Accessed 8/30/09).
  • WebMD. "Ultra Dry Skin? When to Call the Doctor." Nov. 29, 2007. (Accessed 8/30/09).