You can feel them. They’re crawling up your neck, across your thighs. And woah, hold on a minute, where do they think they’re going?! It’s so tickly and you scratch and brush them off but there’s more. Ahhhhhh!
No, you’re not in the midst of a Bushtucker Trial on I’m A Celeb. You’re experiencing ‘itchy crawly skin’ – another delightful treat, courtesy of the menopause.
This strange condition does have a medical name. ‘Pruritus’ often first occurs in the perimenopause, and may continue shortly after you enter the menopause.
Our friend oestrogen is to blame for this one. She’s the hormone responsible for collagen production, an essential building block of healthy skin. Researchers believe she also plays a role in making the natural oils that keep your skin moisturised.
So it makes sense that as oestrogen levels fall, our skin can become thin, dry and itchy. Most women find that this symptom occurs on their neck, chest and back but it can affect all of the body.
Next time you’re ready to shout ‘get me out of here’ because of itchy crawly skin, come back to this page for some simple but effective hints to send those imaginary creepy crawlies packing.
SPEAK TO YOUR GP
There are many causes of itchy skin, but it’s always worth chatting to a doctor about your symptoms to make sure it’s not a sign of an underlying issue or a separate skin condition entirely.
If they think you’re experiencing this because of hormone fluctuations caused by the menopause, they may talk to you about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). This treatment replaces the hormones your body is naturally losing due to the menopause and can help reduce some symptoms.
MAKE SOME CHANGES TO YOUR BATHROOM CABINET
The first thing you’re going to need is a good quality body moisturiser. Choose something designed for sensitive skin, and preferably it should contain Omega 3 and other oils to nourish and lock-in moisture.
Check your shower gel too. Buying a mild or even soap-free version can help stop your skin from being stripped of all its natural goodness.
You should use a cream with SPF protection on your face every day no matter the weather. If the sun does put his hat on, make sure you’re wearing at least Factor 30 on any exposed skin to avoid damage.
RELAX IN AN OATMEAL BATH
If you’re imagining yourself sitting in a tub full of porridge, fear not. Colloidal oatmeal is made from finely ground oats and is a common ingredient in a lot of natural bathing products, known for its soothing effect on dry skin.
Run a bath and add the oatmeal but don’t get in until the temperature has cooled – scalding hot water will only dry your skin out more. When it’s just right, hop in and soak for a relaxing 10 to 15 minutes.
When you get out, pat yourself dry rather than rubbing and slather body moisturiser on damp skin.
EAT YOUR GREENS (AND ORANGES)
As we get older, we produce less collagen – the magic sauce which keeps skin elasticated and hydrated.
Vitamin C plays a vital role in the creation of collagen, so it makes sense to boost your intake if you’re going through the menopause, and especially if you’re struggling with itchy, crawly skin.
As well as being found in loads of types of fruit and veg, you can take it as an oral supplement or apply it directly to your skin via face and body creams.
CONSIDER HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS
Dong quai, commonly known as ‘female ginseng’, is promoted by herbalists as being great for period pain, skin and hair, and even hot flushes<link to symptom>. It sort of acts as a pretend oestrogen, which may help replenish falling levels in the short term.
Another is maca root, which may encourage hormone production.
As with any kind of supplement, always consult your doctor before taking it. It’s important you understand the potential side effects and if there’s a risk of it interfering with other medication you’re taking.
SLEEP IN COTTON GLOVES
Many eczema sufferers swear by cotton gloves – and not only for making their hands lovely and soft if you pop them on after applying handcream.
If you wear cotton gloves to bed and get itchy during the night, it’s much harder to scratch and damage your skin if your hands are wrapped up.
You can pick a pair up from most high street pharmacies and beauty shops from as little as £1. For such a small investment, we think it’s well worth a try.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
What on earth can you do when they say they have itchy crawly skin? Do some homework, feed them well – and, above all, listen.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
We’ve recommended that they invest in soap-free and sensitive skin creams and washes – particularly those containing Omega-3 or colloidal oatmeal. It might also help them to sleep in cotton gloves if they are very scratchy.
They could consider talking to their doctor about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) too as this can help alleviate this symptom.
SUGGEST A SUPPLEMENT
Some people find taking maca root, dong quai or a vitamin C supplement helps improve the condition of their skin.
Why not gently ask if they have tried anything like that?
ASK THEM TO EXPLAIN
You may know what it’s like to have an itch, but have you had this menopausal symptoms?
Don’t assume you know what it feels like. Gently ask them to explain the effect it is having on her physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make them feel better. But they may not want answers, they may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give them your full attention.
CREATE A WEEKLY MEAL PLAN
With itchy crawly skin, it’s really important people get enough vitamin C in their diet.
Plan meals ahead and you’ll be able to build plenty of fruit and veg into your dinners. Share the healthy eating load by grocery shopping together and sharing the cooking.
The last thing someone needs when they’re dealing with this symptom is for someone to draw attention to it by asking loudly in public: “Are you OK love, are you a bit itchy?”
Instead, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help before any social situations. And please, don’t try to lighten the mood by making a joke about it. They might put on a brave face, but nine times out of 10 it’s not funny for them.
RUN THEM A BATH
Hold the bubble bath – what she needs right now is a nice soothing tub of oaty water.
Buy specialist products containing colloidal oatmeal or simply pop a cup of oats into a cotton bag and run it under the tap.
If you’re worried about itchy crawly skin, you should see your GP who can discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you: