Dr Anthony Bewley, a consultant dermatologist at Barts Health and co-chair of PsychodermatologyUK, a society that raise awareness of the psychosocial impact of skin disease, says: “Research has shown itchiness is the most bothersome symptom of dry skin and eczema. The ‘itch-scratch cycle’ (dry skin and eczema leads to itching, which leads to even drier skin and even more eczema, and so on) can lead to sore, uncomfortable skin that can have a big impact on wellbeing. While scratching provides immediate relief at the time, it can cause the skin to become itchier and worsen symptoms.
“Regardless of this, it’s never a good idea to tell someone to stop scratching. It’s like telling someone with a broken bone to stop hurting. The first step of taking back control of itchy skin involves improving skin barrier function, with better use of emollients and avoiding irritants, such as soap. Making sure the barrier function of the skin is re-established when the skin is inflamed is important, but it’s important to maintain this, even when the skin appears to be OK, especially in those prone to dry skin and eczema.
“But there are also many other important lifestyle changes (getting a good night’s sleep) and other steps (using anti-inflammatory and anti-itch ointments) which can help manage physical dry skin symptoms and any inflammation.
“Sometimes the temptation to scratch is a habit. The habit reversal technique suggests swapping scratching with an alternative action, for example, you could encourage him to turn his ‘claws into paws’ by clenching his fists whenever he gets the urge to scratch his skin.”