Gil Yosipovitch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and a world-famous itch expert, who has proven the pleasure ability of itching in his previous studies, has now published a new study online in the British Journal of Dermatology ,in which he analyses itch relief at different sites on the body and the associated pleasure, showing that how good scratching an itch feels is related to the itch’s location.

Yosipovitch explained:

“The goal of this study was to examine the role of the pleasurability of scratching in providing relief for itch. We first evaluated whether itch intensity was perceived differently at three body sites, and then we investigated the potential correlation between the pleasurability and the itch relief induced by scratching.”

Yosipovitch and his team examined 18 study participants who had cowhage spicules placed on their ankles, forearms and backs to induce itching. The researchers gently rubbed Cowhage spicules, a type of edible plant found in the tropics known to cause intense itching, in a circular motion for 45 seconds within a small area of the skin and removed it with adhesive tape once the itch was induced. They then evaluated the intensity of the itch and the pleasure of scratching the area in 30 second-intervals for a five-minute period with a Visual Analog Scale (VAS), which rates the intensity on a scale from zero to 10, with 0 representing no itch, and 10 for an unbearable itch.

According to the findings, the itch was perceived most intensely at the ankle and back, whilst the participants reported that itching and scratch relief were less intense on the forearm. Furthermore, Yosipovitch explains that “the pleasurability of scratching the ankle appears to be longer lived compared to the other two sites.” Yosipovitch’s research helps to gain a better understanding of itches and relief strategies for people who have skin disease.

He said:

“We see commonly involved areas such as the ankle and back in itchy patients with skin disorders caused by eczema or psoriasis. We never understood why those areas were more affected, and now we better understand that itch in these areas is more intense and pleasurable to scratch.”

He stated that whilst it is known that small nerve fibers have an impact on unpleasant sensations like itching and pain, he and other researchers now believe that there are also specific nerve fibers associated with pleasure, saying:

“If we could translate this to a treatment that induces a pleasurable relief sensation without damaging the skin, we may be able to help itchy patients.”

Written by Petra Rattue