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12 Causes of Itchy Legs

Jan has been researching and writing about health and nutrition for several years.

Itchy Legs

Itchy legs

Itchy legs

Many things can cause itchy legs. Itchiness is the skin’s way of letting us know that some kind of irritant is present, but irritants can range from minor hygiene issues to fungal or bacterial infections.

When trying to identify the cause of skin irritation it is important to distinguish between itching, pain, and tingling. Itching can have a number of causes. Pain may be due to an injury, and tingling may be a neurological condition.

Below are some of the major causes of itchy legs. If your itchiness is persistent, consult a physician.

When Itchiness Is a Concern

If your legs itch, it is more than likely due to dryness or some other mild irritant. Consult a doctor, however, if you experience any of the following:

  • Your leg has been itchy for two weeks or more.
  • The skin is red or inflamed even when you haven't been scratching.
  • You have other symptoms, such as fever or fatigue.

Otherwise, read on for common causes of itchiness in the legs.

1. Dry Skin

Dry skin is often itchy but it is usually a temporary discomfort.

Dry skin is often itchy but it is usually a temporary discomfort.

Dry skin is often itchy. Generally, dry skin can be controlled through environmental factors. It is usually temporary and appears in response to a dry, hot environment. Severely dry skin is divided into a series of inherited disorders called ichthyosis.

Causes

Skin becomes excessively dry when its loses it natural oils. Too-frequent showering and excessive use of soap can bring this condition on. Other causes are dehydration, swimming, dry weather, cold weather and heating systems, excessive sun exposure, and laundry soaps containing perfumes or dyes. There are inherited conditions, including hypothyroidism and Sjögren’s syndrome, which can cause very dry skin. As we age, our skin becomes dryer, so itchiness is a common problem for older people.

Treatment and prevention

  • Creams containing lactic acid and urea as well as ointments containing petroleum jelly, applied immediately after bathing, will help the skin retain moisture
  • Limiting baths and showers, as well as use of soap, can prevent dryness
  • A humidifier to add moisture to a dry room
  • Detergents without perfumes or dyes
  • Wearing gentle fabrics, including silk and cotton
  • Hydrate. Drinking enough fluid (excreting at least 200 ml of clear urine in the morning can be considered as a sign of good hydration).
  • Avoid direct wind and sun exposure.

2. Chicken Skin (Goose Bumps)

Keratosis pilaris on an arm.

Keratosis pilaris on an arm.

These are not the same goose bumps that people experience when they are cold. With this rash, the hair follicles on the thighs, upper arms, or elsewhere on the skin thicken and develop into itchy bumps. The condition, medically known as keratosis pilaris, appears as goose bumps that are skin-, red-, or brown-colored.

Cause

Keratosis pilaris is a build-up of keratin. It is a hereditary condition but generally disappears by the age of 30.

Treatment and prevention

  • Keratosis pilaris bumps can be treated so they disappear, but they almost always reappear. Dryness can worsen the condition.
  • Creams containing alpha-hydroxy acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, or urea may help by both moisturizing the skin and loosening the dead skin cells to help clear hair follicles.
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3. Folliculitis

An isolated folliculitis, or infected hair follicle.

An isolated folliculitis, or infected hair follicle.

With folliculitis, the hair follicles on the skin become infected. The resulting bumps are usually red and itchy. They can also be painful and may be filled with pus. Generally they appear on the thighs or buttocks, often in athletes who wear tight sportswear.

Cause

This rash is usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection).

Treatment and prevention

  • With proper hygiene, the bumps should heal on their own within several days.
  • If the rash persists, over-the-counter anti-bacterial soaps or ointment (containing the antibiotic mupirocin) may help.
  • For widespread infections, oral antibiotics may be the most effective treatment.

4. Leg Itch in Unfit Runners

When we take a long break from exercise and then go for a run, we may notice intense itchiness in our legs and abdomen. This condition is called "runner's itch" and usually affects the thighs and calves the most.

Cause

Runner’s itch occurs when arteries and capillaries have collapsed due to inactivity and then re-open when we exercise. The blood vessels opening up can irritate the nerves adjacent to the capillaries.

Treatment and prevention

The condition should dissipate with training.

5. Acne

Acne vulgaris, in this case on the arm, can also appear on the thighs or buttocks.

Acne vulgaris, in this case on the arm, can also appear on the thighs or buttocks.

Acne is a cluster of pimples with occasional whiteheads or blackheads. They can appear on the thighs or buttocks and may or may not be itchy.

Cause

Acne may occur due to poor hygiene, psychological stress, or inappropriate diet.

Treatment and prevention

Increasing exercise and water intake and avoiding fatty foods will help get rid of acne.

6. Cholinergic Urticaria (Hives)

A hives reaction after contact with a conifer tree.