What Causes Itchy Lower Legs?

It can be a real pain when your lower legs are itchy, especially when you’re experiencing persistent itching that doesn’t go away, no matter how much you scratch. Random itchiness can be annoying and uncomfortable, and getting stuck in the itch-scratch cycle can be disruptive to everyday life. 

Itchy lower legs can be caused by a variety of health or lifestyle factors, even if there is no visible rash. Read on to learn about common causes of itchy legs, as well as at-home treatments that may provide much-needed relief.  

White man scratching both legs while sitting on the ground.

Getty Images / Tharakorn Arunothai / EyeEm

Causes of Itchy Lower Legs

There are many different reasons that cause your calves to itch. Some common causes of itchy lower legs include: 

Dry Skin

Dry skin is one of the most common causes of itchy legs. If the skin on your legs feels rough and appears flaky, cracked, or scaly, dry skin may be the culprit. Dry skin is more common during the winter months when cold weather and low humidity can dry skin out. Frequent showering, bathing, and swimming may also lead to dry skin. 

Older adults are more prone to dry skin—particularly on their elbows, lower legs, and lower arms. This is because as we age, our skin loses fat and becomes thinner, making it more likely to get dried out.

Dry skin can often be relieved by applying lotion once or twice a day to the affected areas. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can also help keep your skin hydrated. 

Insect Bites

Insect bites from mosquitos, chiggers, fleas, and bed bugs can cause intense itching. Spending a lot of time outdoors or having household pets may make you more susceptible to getting a bug bite.

Insect bites can trigger an inflammatory response in the body, causing the location of the bite to itch. The itchiness may be accompanied by raised red bumps, small hives, or rash on your skin when insect bites are to blame. 

Though it’s tempting to scratch an insect bite, this may make it even itchier. Most insect bites stop itching after a few days’ time. Applying a cold compress (cloth soaked in cold water) or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on the bug bites may provide temporary relief. 

Allergic Reactions

When you come into contact with something that irritates your skin or causes an allergic reaction, this is known as contact dermatitis. If you have an allergic reaction to a substance, you may experience itchy skin and a red rash or blisters hours or days after touching something you are allergic to.

More than 15,000 different things can cause an allergic reaction on the skin. Personal care products like cosmetics, lotion, perfume/colognes, and certain soaps often contain ingredients that can lead to contact dermatitis. Contact with certain metals (e.g., nickel) may also cause irritation and itchy legs. 

To relieve the itchiness, it’s important to find out what’s causing your allergic reaction. You may need to keep a log of what products you are using or what has come into contact with your skin to determine the cause. 

Skin Conditions

There are a number of skin conditions that can cause itchy lower legs, including:

Treatment depends on which skin condition you have. Your healthcare provider or dermatologist (medical skin doctor) can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatments to provide relief.  

Medication

Some medications can trigger intensely itchy skin. Known as drug-induced pruritis, symptoms may appear within hours or weeks after you start taking the medication. In most cases, there is no rash with the itchiness, just scratch marks. 

The most common medications to cause itchy skin are opioids, chemotherapy medications, and Aralen (chloroquine), but certain antibiotics, cardiovascular medications, and psychotropics may also cause this reaction.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms. They may advise you to stop taking the medication and replace it with an alternative treatment. Your skin may continue to be itchy for days or weeks after you stop taking the medication, but will eventually subside.

Diabetes

Diabetes affects more than just your blood sugar (glucose) levels—it can affect many major organs, including your skin. For some people, itchy skin may be the first sign they have diabetes.

People with diabetes are more at risk of developing skin rashes, skin infections, and dry skin. Chronically high blood sugar levels may lead to poor circulation, causing itchy skin, especially on the lower legs. 

Carefully managing your diabetes can help protect your skin and prevent itchiness and infections. To reduce itchiness and prevent infections, use mild soap with moisturizer when you bathe, avoid very hot baths/showers, and apply moisturizer to your skin after bathing. 

Nerve Damage

Sometimes nerve damage can cause itchy skin. This is known as a neuropathic or neurological itch. Injury or damage to neurons in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or peripheral nervous system (nerves that branch out into organs, limbs, and skin) can result in chronic itching. Scratching does not tend to relieve a neuropathic itch, and can sometimes make it worse. 

Neuropathic itching is sometimes accompanied by painful sensations, such as burning, coldness, electric-like shocks, or prickling. There are several potential causes of neuropathic itching, including autoimmune conditions, infections, injury, multiple sclerosis, nerve damage, or stroke.

Other Health Conditions

Other health conditions that may cause itchy legs include:

At-Home Treatment

If your lower legs are itchy and you’re tired of scratching, you may want to try these at-home treatments to soothe irritated skin and reduce itchiness: 

  • Cold compress: Apply an ice pack or a wet (cold) cloth to the itchy areas
  • Oatmeal bath: Adding colloidal oatmeal powder to a warm (not hot) bath can help clean and moisturize the skin. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, colloidal oatmeal soothes and protects irritated skin.
  • Moisturize daily: Applying a fragrance-free lotion to your skin one to two times a day can help reduce itchiness and hydrate dry skin. 
  • Drink plenty of water: Ensure you drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day to keep your skin properly hydrated. 
  • Wear comfortable clothing: Avoid materials that may irritate your skin (e.g., wool) and aim to wear comfortable, loose clothing made of a material softer on the skin, such as cotton. 
  • Over-the-counter products: Antihistamines and topical steroid creams may provide much-needed itch relief for certain skin conditions (e.g., eczema, contact dermatitis, bug bites).

When to See a Healthcare Provider

While there are many home remedies and over-the-counter treatments that may stop your legs from itching, these treatments may fall short of providing the long-term relief you need. If you’ve tried at-home remedies and still have itchy legs, you may need to see your healthcare provider. See your healthcare provider if:

  • The itchiness persists for longer than two weeks 
  • Distracts you from your daily routine and/or prevents you from getting quality sleep (nocturnal pruritis)
  • Itchiness seems to be spreading to other areas of your body 
  • You have other symptoms, such as fever, sweating, and weight loss 
  • You have a rash that has blisters, pus, or bleeding

Summary

Itchy lower legs can be uncomfortable and disruptive to your day-to-day life. If you’re experiencing itchy legs at night, it may be bad enough to interrupt your sleep. Causes of itchy legs can range from dry skin to allergies to nerve damage. 

Home remedies such as oatmeal baths, topical antihistamine and/or steroidal creams, and keeping your skin hydrated by applying moisturizer may help stop itchiness. 

If at-home treatments don’t seem to work, talk to your healthcare provider about your itchy legs and any other accompanying symptoms. They will work to determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment to relieve the itch and reduce any other symptoms you may be experiencing. 

A Word From Verywell

Itchy lower legs may be relieved through simple self-care methods, such as using a daily moisturizer and avoiding substances and materials that trigger an allergic response. Itchy legs could also be a symptom of an underlying health condition, so if your itchiness is persistent and/or you are experiencing other symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is the itching only on my lower legs?

    Itching isolated to the lower legs may be caused by bug bites or an allergic reaction to plants, food, metal or other skin irritants. Skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis may also cause itchy lower legs. In some cases, nerve damage caused by injury or an underlying disease (e.g., diabetes) may by the reason for itchy legs. 

  • Can poor circulation cause itching?

    Poor circulation can lead to skin changes, including dry, itchy skin. Varicose veins and other vein and vascular-related issues can also cause itching in the legs and other parts of the body.

  • What does dermatitis look like on the lower leg?

    Dermatitis on the lower leg may appear as red and swollen plaques/patches of skin. In milder cases of dermatitis, the irritated patches may appear dry and scaly. Blisters may be a part of the rash in more severe cases of dermatitis. 

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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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