Intense, distracting irritation or tickling sensation in the skin may be generalized (felt all over the skin’s surface) or local (confined to one area).

What is Itching?

From Modern Western Medicine

The cause of itching is not understood. Though it is the most prominent symptom of skin disease, it does not itself necessarily indicate an underlying skin disorder. People differ widely in their tolerance, with thresholds altering according to stress levels and emotions. Warm conditions and few distractions—such as occur at nighttime—make itching worse.

Itching can occur all over the body or at a specific site. Generalized itching can occur from excessive bathing or the use of harsh soaps, both of which remove the skin’s natural oils and may leave the skin excessive dry and scaly. This is a very common cause of itching. Pharmaceutical drugs, including antibiotics, can cause itching. Certain illnesses, such as chicken pox, produce generalized itching; the elderly sometimes suffer from itching for no apparent reason. Itching can also be caused by diabetes, disorders of the thyroid, and those of the blood.

Local itching can occur for many reasons (see the section on Anal Itching). The most common cause is, of course, insect bites. Other common causes include worm infestation, lice, scabies, candidiasis, hormonal changes, and the use of spermicides, ointments, and deodorants.

Scratching an itch provides only temporary relief and makes it worse in the long run. Treatment includes cooling lotions such as calamine to relieve irritation and emollients to reduce dryness. Apply a soothing lotion, salve, or wet compress to the affected area.

From Traditional Medicine

Itching occurs because the body is attempting to discharge waste products that the kidneys and liver have not been able to remove from the blood. The skin is an eliminative organ and will attempt to rid the body of toxins when the liver and kidneys are either overworked or sluggish.

Liver stagnation, a major cause of skin irritation and itching, is referred to in Chinese medicine as liver wind, which refers to the presence of excessive heat and turbulence within the liver, both caused by stagnation. Traditional Chinese healers characterize the imbalance as “heat gives rise to wind.” Sufficient yin fluids would help to stabilize the liver and inhibit the generation of yang influences such as wind and heat. (See list of Foods to Eat below.)   



Food to Eat

  • Soybean products, including tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
  • Spinach
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Persimmons
  • Loquats
  • Seaweeds
  • Black and white fungus
  • Almonds
  • Pine nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Honey (cooked)
  • Barley malt
  • Rice syrup
  • Eggs
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Herring
  • Dairy products (good-quality dairy may be appropriate for those with signs of deficiency)


The following foods nurture yin fluids:

  • String beans
  • Black beans
  • Mung beans and sprouts
  • Kidney beans
  • Kudzu root
  • Watermelon and other melons
  • Blackberries
  • Mulberries
  • Blueberries
  • Water chestnuts
  • Spirulina
  • Chlorella
  • Black sesame seeds


Foods to Avoid

  • Spices (especially hot spices will warm the body and dry the person)
  • Herbs (many herbs are warming)
  • Animal foods (warming foods will dry the person)
  • Bitter foods can be depleting if the person’s condition is deficient


Herbs to Treat Itching


  • Cocklebur: decoction, 3 – 12 g
  • Caltrop: 6 – 12 g
  • Burdock root: tincture, 30 – 60 drops, three to four times daily; infusion (leaves), 1 cup, three or four times daily; decoction (roots and seeds); 1 oz. root to 1½ pints of water, boiled down to 1 pint, take 3 oz., three or four times daily



  • Goldenseal as fomentation
  • Buckthorn as fomentation for itchy skin
  • Alum as fomentation