6 Reasons Why You Might Itch After Taking a Shower

Feeling itchy after a shower is usually due to dry skin. The soap and hot water of the shower wash away the natural oils that protect, moisturize, and soften your skin. As a result, your skin is left feeling itchy and tight, especially during the winter when humidity is low.

Post-shower itching commonly goes away after a few minutes. Applying moisturizing lotion can help to prevent and soothe itchy skin after a shower. In some cases, however, post-shower itchiness is a sign of a medical condition.

This article discusses common and uncommon causes of itching after a shower. It also explains how to resolve the itch and when to see a healthcare provider.

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Winter Itch

Xerosis is also called "winter itch." Xerosis happens when environmental conditions cause your skin to make less of an oily, waxy substance called sebum. Sebum is produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands to form a protective barrier that helps keep the skin moisturized.

If you have xerosis, your skin will be:

  • Very dry
  • Itchy
  • Flaky
  • Red 

Xerosis can also cause painful skin cracks on the hands and feet.

This skin condition is common in cold, dry climates. It can affect people of any age, but older adults are more likely to have it.

Causes of Xerosis:

  • Dry, heated indoor air can strip the skin of sebum during the winter.
  • Exposure to sun and wind can make the skin dry out.
  • Some people develop xerosis from using topical acne medications.

Long, hot showers or baths make the problem worse.

1:41

Click Play to Learn Why You're Itchy After Showers (This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD).

Xerosis typically only happens in the winter, but for some people, it can be a year-round problem. The chronic form of the condition is called asteatotic eczema.

Treatment

Winter itch usually does not need treatment other than skin self-care tips you can do at home.

You can also try over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, such as a corticosteroid cream, calamine lotion, or creams with menthol to help ease your symptoms.

Polycythemia Vera

Polycythemia vera (PV) is a chronic bone marrow disease. It causes the body to make too many red blood cells. People with PV have thicker blood and are at high risk for blood clots.

People with PV may have itchy skin, especially after a hot bath or shower. One reason why this may happen is that the body releases more immune cells that make histamine. This substance is linked to allergic reactions.

People with PV also have other symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Visual changes
  • Bleeding
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • A “ruddy” complexion (redness of the face)

The diagnosis of PV begins with a simple blood test called a hematocrit level. This test measures the proportion of red blood cells in a volume of blood. If this is abnormal, additional studies are ordered.

Treatment

There is no cure for PV but its symptoms usually can be managed.

The main goal of treatment is to lower the risk of blood clots. This may include having blood drawn from time to time and taking low-dose aspirin.

Some prescription medications can also help lower the number of red blood cells, including:

People with PV can usually get relief from mild itchiness by avoiding triggers like long, hot showers or high-temperature environments.

More severe itching or itching that does not get better with using home remedies may need to be treated with medication. One choice is an antihistamine, such as cetirizine, which you can get without a prescription (over-the-counter).

Hodgkin Lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes. It causes the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin, or within the chest to get bigger.

Itching can be one of the main symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma. The immune system makes cells called cytokines to fight cancer. When these cells get into the nerves in the skin, it can cause itching.

Certain activities, like drinking alcohol and showering, can trigger itching episodes. Some of the medications used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma can have itching as a side effect.

Other symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • Coughing
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Fever
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

The enlarged lymph nodes that are a key sign of Hodgkin lymphoma can be seen with X-rays and/or CT scans. A sample of tissue can be taken from the node and tested (biopsy) to diagnose the disease.

Treatment

Hodgkin lymphoma is typically treated with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell treatments.

Home remedies can help soothe the itching associated with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Cholinergic Urticaria

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Urticaria
 DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Cholinergic urticaria is a kind of hives that is caused by an increase in body temperature.

Hot showers, exercise, spicy foods, or too many blankets in bed at night can all increase body temperature. Strong emotions may also cause hives to occur in people with cholinergic urticaria.

The hives in cholinergic urticaria are smaller than a mosquito bite. Even though each hive is only the size of a pinpoint, they can group together and form a large hive.

People with cholinergic urticaria sometimes have asthma symptoms and low blood pressure.

Treatment

Cholinergic urticaria can often be treated with certain antihistamines you take by mouth (oral).

Antihistamines that do not make you feel tired are called non-sedating antihistamines. Examples of medications that can treat cholinergic urticaria include:

Some cases of refractory cholinergic urticaria improve with omalizumab.

Aquagenic Urticaria

Aquagenic urticaria (AU) is a rare kind of hives. The condition occurs when water comes into contact with the skin.

People with AU get hives within a few minutes of water touching their skin. The response happens no matter what the water's temperature is—it's not just from hot water.

The cause of aquagenic urticaria is unknown. Some researchers think that water reacts with sebum in the skin and makes a substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

AU is diagnosed by placing a drop of room temperature water on a person's skin. If a hive forms within a few minutes, the person is diagnosed with AU.

Treatment

AU can often be managed with non-sedating antihistamines. Other treatment options include:

  • Creams or other ointments that help “waterproof” the skin (e.g., petrolatum-based products and baby oil)
  • Ultraviolet light therapy (phototherapy)
  • Xolair (omalizumab), an FDA-approved treatment for refractory chronic urticaria (hives)

Idiopathic Aquagenic Pruritus

Idiopathic aquagenic pruritus (IAP) is a rare condition that causes a person’s skin to itch after it gets water on it. However, unlike AU, itching from IAP does not come with a rash.

IAP likely happens because the nervous system is triggered when chemicals are released by nerves in the skin after they come into contact with water.

Treatment

If you have IAP, it might take some trial and error to find the right ways to manage the condition.

Possible treatments include:

  • Corticosteroids such as triamcinolone
  • Non-sedating antihistamines
  • Topical capsaicin cream
  • Beta-blockers
  • B-alanine (an amino acid) supplements

At-Home Treatments

Each cause of itchiness after a shower has its own treatments. There are also some general tips that can help you manage most causes of itchy skin.

Skin Self-Care

The self-care you can do on your own to take care of your skin will work for most skin problems that lead to itching. Here are a few things that you can try that might be helpful.

When bathing:

  • Take short showers in warm, not hot, water
  • Add baking soda, oatmeal (inside a cloth or mesh bag), or bath oil to your bathwater
  • Wash your skin gently with a soft cloth
  • Gently pat yourself dry after a bath or shower and immediately put on unscented moisturizer

After bathing:

  • Reapply moisturizer often
  • Avoid products such as powders, soaps, or after-shaves that are scented or alcohol-based

In general:

  • Wear clothes that fit loosely and are made of fabric that does not irritate your skin
  • Drink plenty of water and get enough rest
  • Remember to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days
  • Humidify the air in your home if it tends to be dry

Generally taking care of your skin by keeping it clean and moisturized will be helpful for most causes of itchy skin. If you have a specific medical condition, there might be specific treatments that can help you manage your symptoms.

When to See a Provider

If you have itchy skin and other symptoms, the cause could be something more serious than dry skin.

Here are a few reasons that you would want to seek medical care:

  • Itchiness that is getting worse or not getting better with home remedies
  • Itchiness that comes with other symptoms like fever, night sweats, losing weight without trying, or shortness of breath
  • Rashes or sores on your skin or areas of skin that look infected or are bleeding

Even if you only have dry skin and not a more serious health condition, seeing your provider can be a helpful step. They can make sure that you find a treatment that works to relieve your symptoms.

Summary

Itching after a hot shower or bath is common. It's usually caused by winter itch, which happens when dry, cold air strips moisture from your skin.

However, there are also more serious conditions that can make your skin itch, such as polycythemia vera, Hodgkin lymphoma, cholinergic urticaria, aquagenic urticaria, or aquagenic pruritus.

While these conditions aren't as common as winter itch, you should see your provider if you have symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

If you have bothersome itching, and it does not get better with home remedies, or you start having other symptoms as well, it's important to seek medical care.

Even if your itchiness isn't from a serious health condition, it can still be difficult to deal with—especially if OTC treatments don't give you relief.

Your provider can help you find other ways to manage the itchiness and even prevent it.

10 Sources
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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  4. Ansell SM. Hodgkin lymphoma: diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(11):1574-1583. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.07.005

  5. Moffitt Cancer Center. What does a rash from Hodgkin lymphoma look like?

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  7. Altrichter S, Wosny K, Maurer M. Successful treatment of cholinergic urticaria with methantheliniumbromide. J Dermatol. 2015;42(4):422-4. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.12765

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By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.