Why Do My Shins Itch?

Having itchy shins and legs is not an uncommon problem, but it could have several causes. Dry skin, irritants, cold weather, or a number of underlying medical conditions can all make you want to scratch your shins.

This article will explore some of the more common causes and what you can do to get some relief.

Person itching their legs

Ildar Abulkhanov / Getty Images

Common Causes for Itchy Shins

There's lot of reasons to have itchy skin, whether it's on your shins or any other part of the body. Below are some of the most common reasons for the itching.

Dry Skin

Dry skin can develop anywhere on your body, and it can cause extreme itching. Your legs may be more at risk of becoming dry if you wear shorts, skirts, or dresses that leave your legs exposed to cold air, wind, and sun.

Pants and other leg coverings can irritate dry skin by causing friction. Deposits on the clothing from detergents or soaps you use can also contribute.

Cold Weather

Cold weather can slow blood circulation, and this alone can make you itchy.

Some people have an extreme reaction to the cold, and their legs are a common site for this reaction. Cold urticaria is a condition in which hives may develop when exposed to cold temperatures. Aside from extreme itching, these hives can appear with the following symptoms:

  • Burning
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Light-headedness
  • Swelling on your lips or in your throat

Age

Chronic itch is a common problem in people age 65 and up. As you age, your skin changes, and there are several ways this can lead to an increase in itching, including:

  • Change in the structural makeup (physiology) of the skin itself
  • Reduction in the barrier that helps your skin retain moisture
  • Neurological and immunological changes that cause itching
  • Multiple medications that cause itching as a side effect
  • Decreased self-care abilities, including moisturizing skin

Menopause

Hormonal changes play a big role in itch development. This can happen during pregnancy, and menopause. Decreases in estrogen are mostly to blame, but changes in other hormones and body systems during this life stage can also contribute to itching.

Environmental Issues

There are many environmental causes that produce allergens or irritants. These substances can be encountered virtually anywhere, including at home, at work, and outdoors. Allergens and irritants in these places can trigger a flare-up that causes an itch in certain people.

Being aware of your tolerance to irritants like animal dander or seasonal pollen can help you take steps to prevent a reaction that may cause itching.

People in certain lines of work or who live in highly polluted areas, however, may find it difficult to avoid certain irritants that cause itching. This is particularly true of people who do not wear protective clothing when working outdoors, such as in landscaping and construction.

Treating Itchy Shins

There are a few ways to treat itchy shins, and they are the same steps you can take to avoid other allergic reactions.

First, you need to identify what substances or situations, like the cold, may be causing your itch to get worse. If possible, reduce or prevent your exposures. When that's not possible, you can try over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines or itch-relief creams. In some cases, prescription-strength medications may be required.

It's also important to moisturize. Hands and arms are easy to apply lotion to, but it can be easy to forget about your legs. A little moisturizer can go a long way in reducing dryness.

Less Common Causes for Itchy Shins

More often than not, dryness, irritants, or temporary issues cause your itchy shins. In some cases, though, itchiness on the shins or elsewhere on the legs can be a sign of a deeper issue.

If you have itchy legs that just won't go away, talk to your healthcare provider. You may need to be screened or tested for underlying conditions. Some of these are discussed below.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition that develops when your thyroid gland produces little to no thyroid hormone. This hormone plays an important role in your metabolism but can affect so many areas of the body.

The following skin problems are all associated with hypothyroidism:

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Itch
  • Dry skin
  • Red skin

Other symptoms that might signal hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Slow speech or movement
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Sluggishness
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Brittle nails
  • Swelling of the hands and face

Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition in which your body is not able to regulate the levels of sugar in your blood.

In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune malfunction reduces the ability of your pancreas to produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, your body develops a tolerance to normal insulin levels, requiring much more insulin than your body would normally make.

Insulin is the substance your body needs to move sugar into your cells to provide nutrition. Without insulin, your cells will starve while sugar builds up in your bloodstream.

This can lead to a number of complications like poor circulation and kidney disease. End-stage kidney disease often requires hemodialysis to help filter different substances out of your blood in the absence of working kidneys. Dialysis and kidney disease both lead to severe itching, but there are lesser diabetes complications that produce a similar effect.

Dry skin, fungal and bacterial infections, and poor circulation are all common complications of diabetes, and each could lead to itching and other skin problems.

Venous disease

"Venous disease" is the term used to describe any loss of function in your veins.

This is the system of blood vessels that returns blood to your heart and lungs for replenishment. While your heartbeat powers blood through your arteries to bring oxygen-rich blood to your tissues, a series of valves throughout your veins helps move it back. When the vessels and/or the valves that make up your veins can't move blood effectively, venous disease can develop.

One type of venous disease that is particularly effective in making your legs and shins itchy is venous stasis, or stasis dermatitis. In this, poor circulation in your legs can cause blood to leak out of your vessels and pool in your legs. Swelling and inflammation may follow, and these conditions along with slow circulation can all lead to an itch.

Aside from swelling and itching, you may also notice the following skin symptoms if you have venous stasis or stasis dermatitis:

  • Changes in skin color
  • Scaling
  • Dryness
  • Aching or heaviness in your legs after standing for long periods
  • Sore or ulcers

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You might be tempted to avoid making a trip to see your healthcare provider for "just an itch," but an itch that doesn't go away or causes you to create sores or open wounds from scratching could be much more than it appears.

Your healthcare provider or dermatologist (a specialist who diagnoses and treats conditions of the skin, hair, and nails) can test for other causes, or at the very least, offer you treatment that could bring you relief.

Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider if you:

  • Have an itch that lasts more than six weeks
  • Have other symptoms with your itch
  • Develop a rash or swelling
  • Develop a fever
  • Create open sores or wounds from scratching
  • Become dizzy or faint

Summary

There are several conditions, irritants, and diseases that can make your shins itch. Finding the right treatment depends on getting the right diagnosis.

If the itching on your legs doesn't get better with at-home remedies like moisturizers and good skin care, talk to your healthcare provider about other possible solutions. On occasion, itchy shins may be related to more serious conditions including diabetes and hypothyroidism.

A Word From Verywell

Itchy sensations on the shins can be frustrating. Keeping skin moisturized may help lessen the sensation. However, not all itching on your shins is just an itch.

Itching in your legs can be a sign of a number of other underlying medical problems. If you have an itch that isn't going away, talk to your healthcare provider about potential causes and what you can do to find relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are my shins so itchy at night?

    People with chronic itching often report their itch gets worse at night. There are many reasons this could happen, one of these being the increased attention you give your itch when you lie down to sleep for the night. Other possible causes include hormonal shifts and sweating.

  • When should I be concerned about itchy shins?

    If you have an itch that doesn't go away with strict skin care, it's a good idea to see your healthcare provider. There are some forms of chronic itching that are harmless, but if your itch is caused by a condition like diabetes or thyroid disease, you will need additional treatment before you find relief.

  • What does diabetic itching feel like?

    Diabetic itching feels like other types of itching, but you may also notice some numbness or tingling if you develop peripheral neuropathy, as well. Circulation and nerve damage are common in untreated or uncontrolled diabetes, and you also run the risk of not healing well if your scratching causes an open sore.


9 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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  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Welts on skin due to cold temperature could be hives.

  3. Szepietowski JC, Weisshaar E. Itch management in clinical practice. Curr Probl Dermatol. 2016;50:192-201. doi:10.1159/000446094.

  4. Nair PA. Dermatosis associated with menopause. J Midlife Health. 2014;5(4):168-175. doi:10.4103/0976-7800.145152.

  5. Kantor R, Silverberg JI. Environmental risk factors and their role in the management of atopic dermatitis. Exp Rev Clin Immun. 2017;13(1):15-26. doi: 10.1080/1744666X.2016.1212660

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Thyroid disease: A checklist of skin, hair, and nail changes.

  7. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes and skin complications.

  8. MedlinePlus. Venous insufficiency.

  9. National Eczema Association. Stasis dermatitis.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.