First For Women

SOS for itchy skin



All of a sudden, the skin around the tattoo I got decades ago is itchy. The skin there has always been slightly raised, but never itchy. What’s going on?


It’s possible the tattoo is the root of the problem. Tattoos are technicall­y a skin injury and can cause hypertroph­ic scars. These raised scars form as a response to a wound healing and are likely the reason the skin around your tattoo has always been uneven. Hypertroph­ic scars can contain high concentrat­ions of inflammato­ry mast cells, and any irritation to the area, like friction from clothing rubbing against it or any sort of injury, can trigger these mast cells to release histamine, the compound that brings on allergic reactions and can cause the itching you’re experienci­ng. The good news is that there are easy ways to relieve the itchiness.

First, I recommend applying an over-the-counter topical steroid, like a cortisone cream, to the area two to four times a day. Research published in the journal Itch found that doing so reduced the histamine output from mast cells to reduce itching by 91%. But you don’t want to use these creams for more than three weeks because your skin can become dependent on them, and that can lead to redness and burning when you stop using them. If you’re still experienci­ng symptoms after using the steroid cream, you can switch to a topical antihistam­ine, like Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream (available at drugstores), which will help alleviate the itch.

I also strongly recommend avoiding scented lotions or other products on the area, since they contain chemicals that can further irritate your skin.

If the itching persists after trying these remedies, your doctor may be able to provide prescripti­on-strength treatments that can help.

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