Spoiler alert: It goes beyond using the wrong products for your skin type.
There's nothing like taking a relaxing shower after a long day or a good workout before easing into the rest of your day. While a good shower is normally associated with self-care and stress relief, there are times when post-shower relief becomes post-shower itch. Albeit annoying, itchy skin after a shower is more common than you'd think, and it has nothing to do with your personal hygiene or not scrubbing hard enough. In fact, many of the major causes of skin itchiness after a shower start before bathing even begins.
So before you turn on the water to take a scorching hot shower, consider the fact that hot water dries out the skin and can lead to dryness and itching. Here's everything you need to know about treating and preventing itching after a shower, plus the simple changes you can implement in your shower routine to maintain soft, healthy, and moisturized skin.
What Causes Itchy Skin After a Shower
Itchy skin after a shower can be an irritating experience for those who have experienced it. After all, how can your skin itch when you've just cleansed it? Post-shower itchy skin often has nothing to do with the hygiene aspect of showering and everything to do with the condition of your skin and the products you’re using. "Skin typically itches after a shower because it has been stripped of its natural oils and left too dry, either by a formula that was too harsh (such as drying soaps, an overly abrasive body scrub, or a potent chemical exfoliant)," says Geeta Yadav, M.D., founder of FACET Dermatology.
Other than the products you’re using, it’s important to adjust the temperature of your shower water to prevent itchy skin after a shower. "Using water that’s too hot and especially bathing for too long in hot, steamy showers can lead to dry, itchy skin," explains Dr. Yadav. Yes, those hot showers may be soothing, but they wreak havoc on your skin over time. Bathing in extremely hot water for a long period of time can dry out the skin and lead to itchiness and rashes because the water is stripping away the natural oils and proteins in the skin.
In some extreme and uncommon cases, itchy skin after a shower can be the result of serious health conditions, "in very, very rare cases, [itchy skin] could be a water allergy known as aquagenic urticaria, which leaves the skin itchy with inflamed hives after exposure," she explains. While this is not a typical cause of post-shower itching, if you believe you’re experiencing hives after encountering water, it’s best to consult a dermatologist to figure out a treatment plan.
For those with preexisting skin conditions (and a resulting compromised skin barrier), their skin may be more sensitive to post-shower itching. (The skin barrier, ICYDK, is the outermost layer of skin that protects your skin from environmental factors and damage and regulates water loss and moisture retention.) "People with skin conditions characterized by skin barrier dysfunction, such as eczema and psoriasis, are more likely to experience post-shower itch," explains Dr. Yadav. Itchy skin is also more commonly experienced when people with skin conditions take hotter showers because the heat can trigger neural signals that cause itch, according to Dr. Yadav. Exposing the comprised skin to hot water can also "worsen the inflammation that is already present in the skin," explains Dr. Yadav.
How to Prevent Itchy Skin After a Shower
ICYMI, post-shower itchy skin can be caused by a number of factors, but it’s important to note that there are a few steps you can take to avoid itchy skin completely.
The best way to stop itchy skin after a shower is to change your shower routine to one that is better suited for your skin type. "Limit the length of [your] shower (you really don't need more than 10 minutes if you're efficient with your regimen), and use lukewarm water to cleanse as it'll help a lot, as well as carefully selecting your cleansers and exfoliators," recommends Dr. Yadav. Shortening shower time will help you avoid over-cleansing the skin, as well as keep a balance in the natural oils needed to keep the skin barrier intact.
Also, take stock of the body products that you’re using to ensure that they’re not too rough or abrasive for your skin type; for example, microbeads in body scrubs. Ensure that your skin can handle the ingredients in your hygiene products as well because shower gels can contain powerful ingredients including salicylic acid to fight body acne and retinol to help even out skin tone, which can result in irritation and dryness for some. When using the wrong (for you) products in the shower, your skin can be left feeling really dry, rough, and tight, which can lead to itching post-shower. Furthermore, when getting in a good scrub, avoid over-cleansing or over-exfoliating your skin, as your skin barrier needs its natural oils (aka sebum), to function properly, and these processes can excessively strip those oils from the skin.
Furthermore, instead of using those harsh scrubs or chemical exfoliants, switch your body wash to a creamy and nourishing formula and use a loofah instead of a washcloth. This combo will provide a gentle but effective exfoliation via the loofah while leaving skin smooth, cleansed, and most importantly, moisturized. Look for formulas that contain moisturizing ingredients such as shea butter and cocoa butter, as they're designed to be very gentle and support the skin barrier. You can also prioritize products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid to seal hydration and nourishment into the skin, which will help relieve and prevent itching, according to Dr. Yadav.
After the shower, "simply slathering your body with a rich moisturizer can go a long way toward comforting the skin," says Dr. Yadav. You want to use a post-shower lotion, cream, or moisturizer that’s rich in hydration to lock moisture into the skin and prevent it from further drying out. A thick body moisturizer provides a layer of protection on the skin that helps the skin stay smooth, hydrated, and free of dryness that can lead to itching.
If you've implemented these steps and the itch is still persistent or severe, "using a topical product with cortisone can help provide relief, as can moisturizers with soothing ingredients [such as] colloidal oatmeal," explains Dr. Yadav. These calming ingredients are proven to reduce itch, inflammation, and irritation in the skin and provide some much-needed relief. Colloidal oatmeal, in particular, can be found in a wide variety of products, ranging from shower gels and bar soaps to body lotions and moisturizers. Consult a dermatologist if the post-shower itch worsens or becomes unbearable to figure out the right treatment plan for your skin.
Although it may be hard to quit long, hot showers cold turkey, it’s important to do so for the long-term health of your skin as well as to avoid itchy, dry skin. By switching up your shower routine and body products, you should see an improvement (and stop the itching altogether) over time.