Itchy skin is a common problem during menopause. People may notice itchiness on their body, face, or genitals.
This article explains the cause of itching, or pruritus, during menopause. It also gives information on how to treat itching during menopause, including possible home remedies, diet tips, medical options, and prevention methods.
During menopause, levels of the hormone called estrogen begin to decline.
Estrogen is important for skin health. It helps the skin to stay moisture by stimulating the production of natural oils and collagen. Collagen is a protein that maintains the strength and elasticity of the skin.
A decrease in natural oils and collagen can cause the skin to become drier and thinner than it was before menopause, which can make it feel itchy.
People may experience different types of itching during menopause:
Because the skin becomes drier and less elastic during menopause, people may be more sensitive to products, such as soaps and detergents, which can irritate the skin and cause inflammation and itchiness.
Some people experience itching in addition to tingling, prickling, or numbness of the skin. This is known as paresthesia.
Others experience a rare type of paresthesia known as formication during menopause. Formication is having the sensation of insects crawling under the skin.
The intensity of itching may range from mild to severe. In more severe cases, pruritus may cause significant disruption to sleep, as well as daily life.
Other skin changes may accompany pruritus. These can include:
- dry skin
- skin rash
- reddened skin
- small bumps on the surface
People should see a doctor if their skin is visibly irritated to rule out other forms of skin irritation, such as bacterial or fungal infections.
Reduced levels of estrogen mean that vaginal problems may arise or get worse during or after menopause.
People may notice vaginal itching more often during menopause. Vaginal itching is called vulvar pruritus. This type of itching may occur more often if a person also experiences vaginal dryness, which is another common symptom of menopause.
Low levels of estrogen can make the vaginal tissues drier and thinner than usual. When this happens, it is called vaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis, which can make the vagina or vulva feel itchy and painful. It may also make sex more painful.
The following factors can also cause vaginal itching:
- irritation from soaps or detergents
- vaginal, vulvar, or rarely, cervical cancers
People are more likely to develop certain cancers after menopause. A person should see their doctor promptly if they notice any vaginal discharge or vaginal bleeding after menopause.
People can often prevent or treat itchy, irritated skin by following a new skin care routine or making specific diet and lifestyle changes.
The following home remedies may help to relieve itchiness during menopause:
Use a cool compress
Applying a cool, wet compress to itchy areas can help to soothe irritation. Covering the area with a damp towel overnight may be particularly helpful if the itching disturbs sleep.
Take an oatmeal bath
Bathing in colloidal oatmeal can help to alleviate itchy skin.
Colloidal oatmeal is oatmeal that is in a fine powder form. Suspending this powder in water enables skin to absorb the cellulose and fiber contained within the oats easily. These substances soften and soothe the skin.
Use colloidal oatmeal in a warm bath. Avoid using hot water, as hot baths can make the itchiness worse.
People can find colloidal oatmeal in most drug and beauty stores or online.
Moisturizing the skin after a bath or shower can help to lock moisture into the outermost layer of the skin. This helps to alleviate dryness and associated itching.
Those with pruritus should choose a perfume-free moisturizer suitable for dry, sensitive skin. Natural moisturizers, such as aloe vera gel or coconut oil, are renowned for their skin-soothing properties.
In some cases, pruritus may persist despite home treatment. Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments or prescription medications may be necessary.
Mild steroid creams are available over the counter or on prescription. These contain at least 1 percent hydrocortisone that works to soothe itchy and inflamed skin when applied directly to affected areas.
Steroid creams are for short-term use only. Using topical steroids for more than a week can cause adverse effects, such as skin thinning, redness and blistering.
Topical anesthetic creams, such as Benzocaine cream, numb the skin and provide temporary relief from itching. They are for short-term use only and should not be applied to broken or visibly damaged skin, as this can make any irritation worse.
Although antihistamines are used to treat allergies, some people find that they provide relief for menopause itching. Antihistamines can be applied topically as a cream or taken in tablet form.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used during menopause to help replenish declining hormone levels. It can help with menopause symptoms, including hot flushes, vaginal dryness, and bone mineral loss.
Though menopause itching is not a primary reason for people to use HRT, increasing estrogen levels may reduce the itching.
HRT may come with some risks and side effects. Anyone considering HRT should consult a doctor who will assess whether it is an appropriate treatment for them.
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in plants. Although they differ from estrogen produced by the body, they can bind to estrogen receptors and work in similar ways.
Research into the efficacy of phytoestrogens for treating menopause symptoms is still relatively new. However, a review article from 2014 suggests that phytoestrogens may provide some similar benefits to HRT, but with fewer or less severe side effects.
People can reduce the likelihood of itchy skin during menopause by doing the following:
- Avoid hot baths or showers. These can strip the skin of essential oils. Using lukewarm water is better for those with irritable skin.
- Pat yourself dry after bathing. Rubbing skin dry after a bath or shower can further irritate sore or itchy skin. Patting the skin lightly with a soft, clean towel should prevent further irritation.
- Avoid scratching. Although tempting, scratching the itch can tear and damage the skin, especially if it is already sensitive or inflamed. Instead, apply a cool compress to relieve itchiness. Wear gloves at night to stop itching in your sleep.
- Use scent-free skincare. Scented soaps and perfumes contain harsh chemicals that can further irritate the skin. Perfume-free soaps and cleansers marketed for those with 'dry and sensitive skin' are a safer option.
- Reduce alcohol and nicotine intake. These substances have a drying effect on the skin and can cause premature skin aging.
- Wear soft, loose fabrics. Cotton and loose-fitting clothes are less likely to irritate skin than wool or synthetic fibers that may also cling to the skin.
- Avoid strong sunlight. Harmful UV rays from the sun can further irritate dry, itchy, or sensitive skin. Use a high SPF sunblock suitable for sensitive skin.
- Stay hydrated. Water is essential for keeping the skin healthy and preventing dull, itchy skin.
Itchy skin during menopause may be the result of a fall in estrogen levels. People can often treat the itchiness with home remedies, OTC medications, and by avoiding certain products.
If someone's skin is very itchy and does not get better with home remedies, they may need prescription medication. A doctor will also be able to advise as to whether HRT is an appropriate treatment option.
Menopause symptoms improve over time and should not usually continue into the years following menopause.