Itching, otherwise known as pruritus, is a common symptom of menopause. The same hormonal fluctuations responsible for hot flashes, night sweats, and loss of libido can also give us the urge to scratch at the skin on our arms, legs, face, body, and genitals.
But why do so many women experience this unpleasant symptom, and what treatments and home remedies can help?
In this post, we’ll delve into the reasons behind itchy skin during menopause to find out why it happens and what to expect.
Then, we’ll examine various ways to treat the problem, including home remedies, medical interventions, and lifestyle tweaks.
So, if itching is driving you to distraction, keep reading till the end.
Itching and Menopause: What’s the Connection?
As with all symptoms of menopause, itchiness during this transitional time is caused by hormonal shifts.
The driving force behind this particular symptom is a drop in the body’s levels of estrogen. Most of us think of estrogen as a sex hormone that regulates our reproductive system. But estrogen is responsible for a whole host of other bodily processes too. One of those processes is maintaining the health of our skin.
This powerful hormone stimulates the production of collagen, a naturally occurring protein that maintains skin elasticity, thickness, and strength. It also helps to boost the blood supply to the skin and stimulate the production of natural oils.
So, when estrogen levels drop off during perimenopause and menopause, many of these skin benefits also disappear.
Without an abundant supply of collagen and natural oils, our skin can quickly become dry, thin, and less elastic. This can lead to itchiness because thinner, dryer skin is more sensitive to the outside environment.
When the skin is no longer as robust as it once was, products like soaps, shampoos, and laundry detergents can irritate it in a way they never have done before. So, along with itchiness and irritation, many women find they develop redness, bumps, and rashes.
Another much less common skin affliction is formication. Formication is characterized by the feeling of tiny insects crawling on or under the skin when in fact, there’s nothing there. It’s rare, but the hormonal shifts during perimenopause have been known to trigger the condition in some women.
The Impact of Menopause Itching
Pruritus doesn’t affect every woman during perimenopause, but it is common.
Some women only experience mild symptoms. But for others, the itching can be so severe that it interferes with daily life. If the itchiness is bad enough, it can keep you up at night, causing insomnia and having a further impact on your health.
And if you scratch the itch too much, it can lead to serious problems such as bleeding, scarring, and infection.
During menopause, many women experience vaginal dryness and atrophy. This is due to, you guessed it, a sharp reduction in estrogen. One of the side effects of this dryness is vulvar pruritus, otherwise known as vaginal itching.
Vaginal itching can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, and it can interfere with your sex life. Intercourse is likely to become more painful as the tissues in and around the vagina become inflamed and sore.
When to see a doctor
After menopause, the risk factors for certain cancers increase. So, it’s important to take note of any changes in your genital area.
Itching due to dryness is common. However, if you notice vaginal bleeding or discharge after your periods have stopped for more than 12 months, book an appointment with your doctor right away.
How to Treat Menopause Itching at Home?
Itchy skin anywhere on your body can be debilitating. It’s not only uncomfortable; it can impact your self-esteem and stop you from doing the things you love.
But thankfully, there are several interventions, both natural and medical, that can help relieve the symptoms of menopause itching.
Cold Water or Ice
Applying an ice cube or a cold, wet compress to the itchy area can provide immediate relief. Plus, it can lessen the urge to scratch.
If itching is interfering with your sleep, try placing a towel soaked in cold water over the affected area and leave it on overnight.
Oats are a breakfast-time staple but can also work wonders to relieve itching skin. Colloidal oatmeal is essentially finely powdered oatmeal that can be added to water and used topically. You can buy it over the counter in drugstores or health food stores or make your own at home with a blender.
Powdering the oats first helps to release the cellulose and fiber contained within. When mixed with water, these compounds have a deliciously soothing effect. They form a protective barrier across your skin, easing irritation and inflammation and holding in moisture.
The best way to harness the power of colloidal oatmeal is to add it to lukewarm bath water and soak your whole body for 10 to 15 minutes. If regular baths aren’t possible, you can mix up a solution of colloidal oatmeal and apply it to the affected area with a clean washcloth.
A reduction in estrogen during menopause leads to drier than normal skin. So, it’s essential to moisturize regularly.
When choosing a moisturizer, there are several perfume-free, skin-sensitive brands out there. But the most effective, safe, and affordable options come straight from nature.
Aloe vera gel, coconut oil, mango butter, avocado oil, jojoba oil, and neem oil are all great options. They help to hydrate the skin and form a protective layer, locking in moisture and soothing the itch.
Research shows that peppermint essential oil can banish even severe cases of pruritus. The cooling effect of menthol compounds works to soothe inflamed, itchy skin, giving almost immediate relief. Plus, menthol is a natural analgesic (pain killer.) So, it works to gently ease discomfort in the affected area.
To use peppermint oil on the skin, dilute it with a carrier oil, such as almond oil, coconut oil, or olive oil, first.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a natural medicine powerhouse. It’s used to treat everything from acne and bug bites to acid reflux and arthritis. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s also a well-known and effective remedy for pruritus or itchy skin.
Apple cider vinegar can help to lower inflammation in the skin. Its primary active compound is acetic acid, a natural antiseptic and disinfectant. Acetic acid also helps to restore the skin’s natural ph balance. When used regularly, this rebalancing effect can help to improve itching and dryness in the long term.
Apple cider vinegar is an acidic solution, so it can cause a mild burning sensation on the skin. So, always dilute it with water before applying it to the affected area. The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) recommends a ratio of ACV to one part water. They also warn against applying the solution to open wounds or cracked or bleeding skin.
Medical Treatments for Menopause Itching
More severe cases of menopause-related pruritus may require over-the-counter or prescription medication.
There are several options available, including:
Hydrocortisone cream is a type of mild steroid treatment that can quickly relieve inflamed, red, itchy skin. It’s available over the counter in low doses of 1%. For more severe cases of itching, your doctor may offer prescription-strength hydrocortisone or another variety of topical steroids.
While these creams are very effective at relieving irritation and itching, they’re not a long-term solution. When used for more than 7 days, they can cause unwanted side effects, such as blisters and thinning of the skin.
Anesthetic creams and lotions work by numbing the skin. While they don’t treat the root cause of menopause-related itching, they can provide relief from pain and irritation in the short term.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT works by rebalancing the hormones in your body. So, it’s an effective treatment for a whole host of menopause symptoms, including itchy skin.
Many women prefer this form of treatment, as it can also help to relieve hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and many other unpleasant side effects of menopause.
However, HRT comes with a long list of potentially serious side effects, and it’s not suitable for everyone. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits so that you can make an informed decision.
While there’s no guaranteed way to avoid itching during menopause, there are certain lifestyle changes that may reduce the chances of it occurring. These include:
Eating a balanced diet. Focus on foods rich in skin-enhancing vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids. You might also want to consider adding phytoestrogens to the menu. These plant-based compounds mimic estrogen produced in the body. So, they can help to balance a wide range of hormonal issues during menopause, including itchy skin.
Staying hydrated. Dry skin is the number one cause of itching. So, keep your fluid levels up to keep your skin as supple and moisturized as possible.
Stick to natural scent-free skin care. The harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances in many creams, gels, and lotions can irritate already inflamed and itchy skin. So, where possible, stick to soothing natural skin care options, such as coconut oil and aloe vera.
Get regular exercise. Exercise during perimenopause can help to balance your fluctuating hormones and ease all of the symptoms of menopause, not just itchy skin.
Itching, by definition, is a sensation that triggers a reflex to scratch. But scratching an itch, as satisfying as it feels in the moment, can cause all kinds of problems.
Here are a few tips to help you resist the urge to scratch.
Cut your fingernails: If your fingernails are short, this minimizes damage to the surface of the skin. It also makes it more difficult to scratch in the first place.
Scratch elsewhere: Lightly scratching another area of your body, or pressing the area surrounding the itch, can be an effective way of distracting your mind. Some people also find success by snapping a rubber band against their arm or wrist.
Distract yourself: When the urge to scratch becomes unbearable, do something to keep your mind and your hands busy. A fidget spinner or stress ball is a good option. Or, you can take up a new hobby such as knitting or sewing.
Like many of the signs and symptoms of perimenopause, itching skin is likely to taper off after you officially reach menopause. However, genital itching caused by vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy may continue longer into post-menopause.
Itchiness during menopause is a common complaint. Some cases are mild and go away by themselves. But sometimes, home remedies or medical treatments are needed to solve the problem.
If you’re suffering from menopause-related itching, try not to panic. Many people manage to reduce their symptoms or even cure their itching entirely using the treatments discussed in this post.
But if menopause-related itching is still causing you issues, speak to your doctor. They can confirm the cause and come up with a treatment plan that works for you.
Remember, menopause itching isn’t permanent. Once you enter post-menopause and your hormones have settled down, this, and many other menopause symptoms, are likely to disappear.
- Estrogen and skin: The effects of estrogen, menopause, and hormone replacement therapy on the skin – Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (jaad.org)
- Collagen: What is it and what are its uses? (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Formication: Anxiety, Menopause, Treatment, Causes, at Night (healthline.com)
- Vaginal Dryness & Atrophy Treatment, Symptoms, Remedies, Cause (medicinenet.com)
- What Is Colloidal Oatmeal? Benefits, Uses, and Safety (healthline.com)
- Oatmeal Baths – Skin Conditions They Help and How to Make One (webmd.com)
- The Effect of Peppermint Oil on Symptomatic Treatment of Pruritus in Pregnant Women – PMC (nih.gov)