Scratching an itch might seem like a meaningless, harmless reaction to an irritation on your skin.
But what occurs when you feel an itch and then scratch can be more than skin deep.
The latest research shows that scratching your skin can damage your immune system. Scratching can shift the balance of immune cells in your digestive tract and set you up for food allergies, along with a leaky digestive tract that releases toxins into your bloodstream.
But if you can’t leave that itch alone, you can try out a natural formula for itch relief. Here’s the story…
A study at the Boston Children’s Hospital reveals that scratching your skin can set off a series of immune responses that activate mast cells – immune cells involved in allergic reactions — in the small intestine.
Itching, Allergies and Leaky Gut
As mast cells expand, their actions can lead to leaky gut syndrome, a condition that compromises the intestinal walls and allows toxins and allergens to enter the body more easily.1
According to these scientists, this is particuarly a problem for people with atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema that causes dry, itchy skin. The researchers explain that atopic dermatitis has been known to be related to food allergies.
Their lab tests show that scratching dermatitis produces a protein in the skin called IL33 that seeps into the bloodstream and travels to the digestive tract. Once there, IL33 interacts with the cells that line the intestine in ways that expand mast cells.
Once mast cells expand, they make the lining of the small intestine more permeable, leaving bigger spaces in the intesintal wall that allow allergens and other undesireable substances entrance into the body.
An Irresistible Itch
Of course, a wide variety of conditions can make it hard to resist the temptation to scratch.
What’s more, a study at the Washington University School of Medicine shows that scratching can be socially contagious – sort of like yawning. If you see another person scratch, you may feel powerless to resist the urge to scratch.
This research indicates that the social contagion of scratching is hardwired in the brain. These lab tests demonstrate that when you see someone else rub their skin, a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) sends out a chemical signal that actually creates the sensation of itchiness in your skin.2
“It’s an innate behavior and an instinct,” says researcher Zhou-Feng Chen. “We’ve been able to show that a single chemical and a single receptor are all that’s necessary to mediate this particular behavior. The next time you scratch or yawn in response to someone else doing it, remember it’s really not a choice nor a psychological response; it’s hardwired into your brain.”
Finding Real Relief
If you’re looking for a natural way to ease itchy skin and scratch less, consider one of these natural techniques:
- Apply an ice pack or cold wet cloth for about five to ten minutes.
- Try an oatmeal bath. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, oatmeal is soothing and can be helpful for rashes caused by hives, poison ivy, chickenpox or sunburn.3
- Apply menthol, calamine or aloe vera, all of which may produce cooling sensations. You can also put on moisturizer that’s been refrigerated.
- For an itchy scalp, try apple cider vinegar diluted with water in a one to one ratio.4 But take care, if you have a severe irritation or have scratched open your skin, because the vinegar may burn.
- Try peppermint oil diluted with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or sesame oil. One study found that sesame oil infused with a 0.5 percent concentration of peppermint oil can relieve itchiness.5
Of course, if you have a rash or other skin irritation that persists, consult with a knowledgeable healthcare professional. They might be able to help, although my personal experience with this is not encouraging.
In any case, remember to use caution if you’re enthusiastically scratching since you could be sending the wrong signals to your immune system.
I’ve found that scratching just intensifies an itch. So – hard as it is – if you can resist the temptation to scratch, the itch that’s driving you nuts will probably be more tolerable than if you give in. Easier said than done!