Itchy Legs: Causes and Treatment

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Itchy legs may be annoying but are not typically a cause for concern. Itchy skin (pruritus) on the legs is commonly caused by dry skin. However, itchy legs can also be a sign of more serious conditions such as  poor circulation, nerve damage, and diabetes.

It's important to avoid scratching your itchy legs, as this may cause further damage to the skin and can make the area feel even more sensitive.

This article discusses itchy legs. It explains the common causes of itchy skin on your legs, how to relieve itchy legs, and when to see a healthcare provider.

A person sitting on the ground itching their legs.

Tharakorn Arunothai / EyeEm / Getty

Causes of Itchy Legs

The causes of itchy legs can be broken up into four categories:

  • Neurogenic: This type of itch is driven by issues with the nervous system, which is the body’s communication pathway.
  • Psychogenic: This feeling of itchiness is caused by a psychological disorder.
  • Neuropathic: Nerve damage in the body causes this itch.
  • Pruriceptive: Itchiness is generated in the skin itself. For instance, the skin may become itchy and irritated in reaction to an insect bite. 

The following causes of itchy legs fall into one of these four categories. 

Dry Skin

Dry skin is the most common cause of itchy skin. Known medically as xerosis, dry skin belongs to the pruriceptive category of itching.

Dry skin occurs when the skin lacks moisture and becomes dehydrated. It can occur for many reasons, including age, climate, exposure to dehydrating chemicals, and other skin conditions. For example, swimming in chlorinated water can contribute to dry skin.

Signs of dry skin include: 

  • Ashy or grey-hued skin on people with dark skin tones
  • Cracks in the skin, which may hurt or bleed
  • Flake or scales on the skin 
  • Itching 
  • Rough patches

Dry skin is sometimes an indication of dermatitis, a type of inflammation of the skin that may indicate another skin condition. Dermatitis often also causes a rash or red, irritated skin. 

Allergic Reactions

Certain allergens can lead to extremely itchy legs. The most common allergen that people come into contact with is nickel, but other irritating substances found in hygiene products, nail polish, and latex are also common. When an allergic reaction occurs, the skin will feel intensely itchy, and a rash will develop.

Products That Contain Nickel

In today’s world, it’s hard to avoid contact with nickel because the substance can be found in many products that are used every day. Products with nickel include eyeglass frames, zippers, belt buckles, jewelry, and cellphones.


Diabetes isn’t often thought to be associated with skin ailments. However, the disease does have several skin manifestations. Some of the skin issues associated with diabetes can cause itching, such as:  

  • Necrobiosis Lipodica Diabeticorum (NLD)
  • Granuloma Annulare (GA)
  • Scleroderma

People with diabetes are also more likely to have dry skin due to high blood sugar levels that, over time, can damage the nerves in the legs. This, in turn, can cause the legs to become itchy.  

Related Health Conditions

Various other types of disease can also cause itchy legs to occur. Some include:

Itchy Legs as a Warning Sign

Sometimes, having extremely itchy legs can alert you to an underlying health condition. If you have chronic and intense itchy legs that are not relieved by removing allergens, changing moisturizers, or keeping the skin hydrated, you should see a healthcare professional.

Skin Conditions

Skin conditions are another likely culprit behind the itchy sensation in your legs. There are several types of skin conditions that lead to itch. The symptom itself may be mild or severe and can be accompanied by a rash. Skin conditions that lead to itchy legs include:

  • Various types of eczema
  • Chickenpox and shingles, which are both caused by the same virus
  • Folliculitis, which develops because of inflammation of hair follicles on the skin
  • Hives
  • Psoriasis
  • Neurodermatitis, a skin condition that causes intense and chronic itchy skin that worsens when it is scratched
  • Ringworm, which is a type of fungal infection that affects the skin and causes a ring-like rash


Certain medications can cause your legs to become itchy, such as:

  • Prescription-strength painkillers like opioids
  • Antimalarials, which are designed to treat or prevent malaria
  • Hydroxyethyl starch, which is a drug that is used to help prevent shock after a person loses a significant amount of blood
  • Some blood pressure drugs
  • Aspirin
  • Anticancer drugs

Insect Bites

There are many insects that bite and leave behind a feeling of itchiness. For example, mosquito bites typically cause an itchy sensation, but this feeling tends to fade once the bite heals.

The itchy feeling can be intense and may become chronic if the culprit is not identified, which can sometimes be the case with bed bugs, mites, or lice.

If you suspect that you have been bitten or infected with any of these insects, it's best to seek out immediate treatment to remove the bugs from your skin, scalp, and home.

How Itchy Legs Are Diagnosed

Your healthcare provider will examine your skin and look for bumps, hives, irritation, rash, or redness. They will also ask questions that may provide clues to the cause of itching, such as: 

  • Changes to your skincare routine, laundry detergent, or diet
  • Duration (how long you’ve had symptoms)
  • Frequency (how often your legs itch)
  • Other preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes
  • Triggers, such as shaving or spending time outdoors 

If your primary healthcare provider is unable to diagnose the cause of your itchy legs, they may refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin conditions).

How to Treat Itchy Legs

Treating itchy legs depends highly on the cause. If your itchy legs are caused by dry skin, restoring moisture and hydration can help to relieve the symptom.

Home Remedies for Itchy Legs

Itchy legs can often be relieved using items you have on hand. Try these common home remedies for itchy legs:

  • Apply aloe vera: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe itchy skin.
  • Ditch hot showers: Hot water dries out the skin. Use lukewarm or cool water instead.
  • Moisturize skin daily: Apply lotion to your legs daily, preferably after a shower or before bed.
  • Take an oatmeal bath: Colloidal oatmeal is an anti-inflammatory. Epsom salts or baking soda baths may also help soothe itchy legs.
  • Try a cold compress: Apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes, using a towel or other cloth between your legs and the ice pack to prevent ice burns. 

Over-the-Counter Treatments

If at-home treatments and moisturizers fail to bring relief for itchy legs, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may help. These include:

  • Benedryl (diphenhydramine), an antihistamine, for night-time itching
  • Hydrocortisone cream, a steroid itch-reliever
  • Lotions that contain ceramides, a wax-like substance that hydrates skin
  • Pramoxine, a topical anesthetic that relieves itching
  • Second-generation antihistamines—like Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin (loratadine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine)—for daytime itchiness

Prescription Medication

If home remedies and OTC treatment do not bring relief to itchy legs, you may have a more serious skin condition or underlying health issue.

Professional treatments may include a topical prescription to help manage and control flare-ups that cause itching. If the itch stems from a systemic (whole body) disease, other treatments you will need to talk to a healthcare provider for treatment. 

Can Itchy Legs Be Prevented?

Some causes of itchy legs are preventable. For example, itchy skin caused by an allergic reaction can be prevented by avoiding allergens. Razor burn and ingrown hairs can be prevented by using proper shaving techniques.

Other tips for preventing itchy legs include:

  • Avoid scented soaps, lotions, and laundry detergents. 
  • Check package labels for known allergens, such as nickel in a copper compression brace.
  • Do not use expired sunscreen, sprays, or lotions.
  • Exfoliate your legs before shaving, use a sharp razor, and shave in the direction of hair growth.
  • Moisturize your skin after bathing and shaving.
  • Use insect repellant and keep your legs covered when spending time outdoors.
  • Wear loose clothes and breathable fabrics to prevent chaffing, heat rash, and irritation.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Many cases of itchy legs can improve significantly with over-the-counter products and at-home remedies. However, there are some cases where you will need to see a healthcare professional:

  • Intense itching that does not go away with the use of moisturizers or other at-home treatment methods
  • Itchiness that is accompanied by a rash that continues to get worse
  • Itching that interferes with your ability to get a good night’s sleep

Any symptoms of another type of disease, along with itchy legs, could be indicative of an underlying health condition. In this case, you should book an appointment with your healthcare provider. 


Since dry or irritated skin is the most common reason a person's legs might itch, it's typically not a cause for concern. However, underlying diseases, such as diabetes, as well as other skin conditions, can sometimes be a cause of itchy legs.

You'll likely be able to treat the itch at home using moisturizing agents to help heal dry skin. However, if you are experiencing other symptoms, like a rash or an itch that does not resolve over time, this warrants a trip to your physician.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are my legs so itchy at night?

    There are various things that can cause itchy legs at night. Insect bites such as bed bugs, for example, could cause worsened itchiness during the nighttime hours. That being said, restless leg syndrome is often the culprit behind nighttime itchiness.

  • Does poor circulation cause itchy legs?

    Poor circulation occurs when the body isn’t circulating blood as it should. Although itching isn’t a typical symptom of poor circulation, it can be. Poor circulation often occurs in people who have diabetes, which is a condition that can drive the symptom of itchy legs.   

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.