Why Does Skin Itch When Healing?

Whether you scrape your knee, cut yourself, or are recovering from surgery, you might experience the same annoying side effect: itching around your wound. So why does skin itch while healing? Scientists are still investigating, but it's believed that as the skin heals, it stimulates nerve cells that can leave you feeling itchy.

Continue reading to learn more about why skin itches when healing, how to relieve an itchy wound, and when to see a healthcare provider. 

person itching their arm

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

What the Science Says 

To understand why wounds itch, it’s helpful to learn a bit about how wounds heal. When you’re injured, your body goes through four stages of wound recovery, which are:

  • Hemostasis: This is the bleeding stage, which occurs immediately after injury. The blood flushes debris and germs from the wound, then clots to prevent unnecessary blood loss. 
  • Inflammatory: During this stage, your immune system kicks in, releasing an array of chemicals to attack any germs at the site. The chemicals released include inflammatory proteins known as cytokines that are associated with itching. This stage lasts for up to two days.
  • Proliferation: The wound is closing and the skin is regrowing in this stage, which lasts between two days and two weeks. Often, this is when itching is most intense. Researchers believe there’s so much happening at the wound site during healing that the nerve cells become stimulated. Your brain interprets that stimulation as itchiness.
  • Maturation or Remodeling: This phase begins two to three weeks after the injury and can last a year or longer. It’s when the skin becomes more mature and takes on its final appearance, often as a scar. 

Does Scratching Slow Down Healing? 

No matter how itchy your wound gets, it’s important not to scratch it. When you scratch, you damage the surface of the skin. That can slow down healing. It also puts you at risk for infection, since your fingers and nails can introduce bacteria or other germs into the wound.

You shouldn’t rub either, since that can disturb scabs, reopen wounds and undo the healing progress your body has made. Although itching can be annoying, you have to just let your body do its work. 

How to Stop a Healing Wound From Itching

Unfortunately, itching is a normal part of the healing process. Luckily, there are some things you can try to stop itching, including:

  • Apply a topical anti-itch cream: Ask your healthcare provider about your options.
  • Use an ice pack or cold compress: This often feels soothing, but talk to your healthcare provider about it if you have a major wound. 
  • Moisturize: Moisturize the skin around the wound with a lotion that has no added fragrances. Talk to your healthcare provider about what might be best for you. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

If you are unable to stop scratching or rubbing your wound, you should see your healthcare provider. They can help you make a plan for managing the itch. In addition, you should see your healthcare provider if:

Summary

It’s normal for skin to itch when it’s healing. The wound healing process releases an array of chemicals that are part of your body’s natural immune response but can promote itching. In addition, a lot is going on around a wound site when your body is healing.

Your nerves interpret all that commotion as itchiness when it's really just your body repairing itself. Scratching can slow down healing, so try other techniques to deal with the itch, like cold compresses. See a healthcare provider if your itching is intense or your wound becomes infected.

A Word From Verywell 

Itchiness is normal in most cases, but it’s always a good idea to practice good wound care. If you have any questions about taking care of your wound or controlling itching, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. They’re there to help you, even with seemingly small things. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do scabs itch more at night?

    At night, you have less to distract you from itchiness. That can make the itch more noticeable, making you think it’s gotten worse. 

  • Why does my skin itch when it’s healing from a sunburn?

    After a sunburn, your nerve cells are damaged, which your body interprets as an itch. It's also common to experience itching when a wound is healing—and your body goes through much of the same healing process after a sunburn as it does after a wound.

  • Is itching a sign of nerve healing?

    Itching is generally a sign of healing. Your nerves are stimulated by all the action at the wound site, and your brain interprets that stimulation as itchiness.

5 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.
  1. Gonzalez AC, Costa TF, Andrade ZA, Medrado AR. Wound healing - A literature reviewAn Bras Dermatol. 2016;91(5):614-620. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20164741

  2. Lerner E. Why Do Wounds Itch?Wounds. 2018;30(1):1-3.

  3. Paul J. Characteristics of chronic wounds that itchAdv Skin Wound Care. 2013;26(7):320-334. doi:10.1097/01.ASW.0000431203.64591.2f

  4. Nemours KidsHealth. What's a Scab?

  5. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC). Itchy Skin After Burn Injury.

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.