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12 Causes of Itchy Legs (Including Photos and Remedies)

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

Let's look at the most common causes of itchy legs.

Let's look at the most common causes of 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.

Major Causes of Itchy Legs

  1. Dry skin
  2. Keratosis pilaris
  3. Folliculitis
  4. Runner's itch
  5. Acne
  6. Cholinergic urticaria (hives)
  7. Itchiness after showering
  8. Jock itch
  9. Poor hygiene
  10. New pants syndrome
  11. Eczema
  12. Stasis eczema

We will go into more detail about each of these potential causes below.

When to Consult a Doctor

  • Your leg has been itchy for two weeks or more.
  • The skin is red or inflamed even when you haven't been scratching.
  • The itchiness is keeping you up at night or making it difficult to go about your daily activities.
  • You have other symptoms, such as fever or fatigue.

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

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

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

1. Dry Skin

Dry skin is often itchy. Generally, dry skin can be controlled through environmental factors. It is usually a temporary condition, and it 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 it loses its natural oils. Bathing too frequently and excessive use of soap can bring on this condition. Other causes are dehydration, swimming, dry weather, cold weather, heating systems, excessive sun exposure, and laundry soaps containing perfumes or dyes.

There are also inherited conditions, including hypothyroidism and Sjögren’s syndrome, that can cause very dry skin.

Finally, 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 the use of soap, can prevent dryness.
  • Humidifier to add moisture to a dry room
  • Detergents without perfumes or dyes
  • Wearing gentle fabrics, including silk and cotton
  • Hydration. Drinking enough fluid (excreting at least 200 ml of clear urine in the morning can be considered a sign of good hydration).
  • Avoid direct wind and sun exposure.
Keratosis pilaris on an arm

Keratosis pilaris on an arm

2. Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris, sometimes called "chicken skin," is a condition in which the hair follicles on the thighs, upper arms, or elsewhere on the skin thicken and develop into itchy bumps. The rash looks like goose bumps that are skin-, red-, or brown-colored.

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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.
An isolated folliculitis, or infected hair follicle

An isolated folliculitis, or infected hair follicle

3. Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a condition in which 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. It can be a problem for 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. Runner's Itch

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.

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.

5. Acne

Acne is a cluster of pimples with occasional whiteheads or blackheads. When they appear on the thighs or buttocks, they may or may not be itchy.

Cause

Acne may occur due to psychological stress, dietary factors, poor hygiene, or hormonal causes.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Exercise at least several times weekly.
  • Increase water intake
  • Avoid fatty foods.
A hives reaction after contact with a conifer tree

A hives reaction after contact with a conifer tree

6. Cholinergic Urticaria (Hives)

Cholinergic urticaria, or hives, is a bumpy rash on the thighs, upper trunk, or arms that can be triggered by a range of different events or activities. Generally brought on by sweating, hives can appear after exercise, bathing, or staying in a hot environment. They can also be triggered by emotional reactions such as excitement, shock, laughter, and stress. The rash may appear a few minutes after the start of a run or shortly after a hot shower, and can be intensely itchy for 30-120 minutes.

Cause

Hives are thought to be caused by an allergy to one’s own sweat.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Avoid running in hot weather and stop running when itchiness appears.
  • If possible, do not scratch, as scratching will aggravate the itching.
  • Oral antihistamines, taken at least 30 minutes prior to shower or exercise, may prevent hives.

7. Itchiness After Showering

If your skin loses too much of its natural lubrication during bathing, it may become itchy and tight.

Causes

Too-frequent hot showers and overuse of soaps that remove the protective skin fat and oils.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Shower with lukewarm water instead of hot or warm water.
  • Use soap sparingly.
Tinea cruris, or jock itch

Tinea cruris, or jock itch

8. Jock Itch

Jock itch, also known as tinea cruris, is a fungal infection of the skin. Most often this condition affects the inner thighs, genitals, or buttocks. Jock itch appears as an extensive red or brown itchy rash.

Cause

Moisture and warmth encourage the growth of fungus.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Use antifungal ointments or, in persistent cases, oral antifungal medications
  • Keep the groin area dry.
  • Wear light and comfortable clothing.
  • Wash with an antifungal soap.

9. Poor Hygiene

When dried sweat and dust remain on the skin, they are broken down by bacteria and yeasts that can irritate the nerve endings in the skin. Heat and friction caused by trouser fabric and socks can aggravate this sensation.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Bathe regularly.
  • Use lukewarm water. Avoid hot water that can remove the protective fat layer from the skin.
  • Use mild soaps.

10. Itchy Pants Syndrome

This fancy term describes itchiness from wearing new, unwashed pants or trousers.

Cause

Irritating substances in new, unwashed fabric.

Treatment and Prevention

Wash new clothing before wearing.

A case of complex eczema

A case of complex eczema

11. Eczema

Eczema is a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation and irritation. Nearly 20 percent of infants are afflicted with eczema but most outgrow it by their tenth birthday.

Causes

The cause of eczema is unknown, but it is thought to be an overactive immune response to irritants.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Untreated, an itchy eczema rash may become infected. Lotions and creams, applied when the skin is moist, can help the skin retain moisture.
  • Cold compresses also relieve itching.
  • Hydrocortisone (1%) cream, or prescription creams and ointments containing steroids, may also be prescribed to reduce inflammation.

12. Stasis Eczema

Stasis (gravitational) eczema appears as rough, reddish, purplish, swollen, itchy skin on the lower legs. It is most common in cases where there are circulatory problems, including varicose veins, vein thrombosis, or other blood vessel-related disorders.

Causes

Inflammation from circulatory disorders allows for fluid build-up. Fluid leaks out of the veins into other tissues, causing itching and irritation.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Corticosteroids, including hydrocortisone, can help to treat the rash.
  • Wearing compression stockings and avoiding standing may help prevent this condition.
Wool and certain other fabrics can irritate legs and feet.

Wool and certain other fabrics can irritate legs and feet.

Other Causes of Leg Itchiness

  • Fabrics: Certain fabrics, like wool, when worn as trousers or socks, can sometimes irritate the legs or feet.
  • Mineral and vitamin deficiencies: Certain deficiencies can be associated with generalized itch: iron deficiency (anemia), vitamin C deficiency (scorbut), deficiency of one or more vitamins from B-complex, and rarely, vitamin A or K deficiency. Note: if you have normal blood levels of these nutrients, it is unlikely the nutrient supplements will help relieve itch.
  • Irritants in skincare or hygiene products: Soaps, shampoos, lotions, creams, and cosmetics can irritate the skin or cause contact or allergic dermatitis.
  • Allergies: Allergies can cause itchiness that can affect legs. Typical symptoms are bumpy or patchy red swollen rash (hives) or more rough, scaly rash (eczema of contact allergies).
  • Prolonged exposure to moisture: If your feet are exposed to moisture for a prolonged period of time, it can enable yeast to grow between the toes. This can lead to extreme itchiness.
  • Prolonged sitting, standing or walking: This can cause blood to pool in leg veins, which can cause itching and discomfort in the lower legs, especially in people with varicose veins.
Several mosquito bites on a leg that have been scratched and inflamed

Several mosquito bites on a leg that have been scratched and inflamed

  • Mosquito and other insect bites: Insect bites can cause local redness and ithcing, which usually goes away in several hours to a few days.
  • Nettles: Contact with a nettle plant causes a burning sensation, redness, and slight swelling, which can be followed by an itch that lasts for several hours.
  • Small cuts and scratches: These small abrasions may itch while healing.
  • Swelling: Leg swelling of any kind (which could be caused by heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, venous thrombosis, elephantiasis, etc.) can be associated with itchiness.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is associated with a number of issues that can cause itchiness. One is diabetic kidney disease (nephropathy), and persistent itch is one of its symptoms.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): This is a little-understood neurological disorder that strikes more women than men. The sensation is a tingling more than an itching that creates an urge to move the legs. The sensation comes on when the legs are at rest, especially at night, and can make sleep difficult for some. It is not known what causes RLS, but it is a neurological, not dermatological, condition. Magnesium or iron deficiencies may cause this syndrome. Movement and avoiding caffeine and alcohol may ease symptoms.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on September 10, 2020:

Thank you for this information it is very beneficial. My legs often itch when I'm nervous.

Rotsucht from Everywhere on July 19, 2019:

This article doesn't just give you a great overview of itchy legs, it also lists most differential diagnoses. I like that you mention serious systemic diseases such as liver disease. Itchy skin in pregnant women should always be taken seriously!

Brad on April 05, 2018:

Jan

Interesting article and pretty detailed with photos.

I grew up in Manhattan, and Long Island.

I had eczema when I was a child, and my doctor said as you have mentioned that I would grow out of it.

While that didn't happen, until I was in my 30s, and had move to S CAL, and got divorced.

The move to CA lowered the frequency of attacks. The only thing that actually work were the cortisone pills. But you can't take them more than several weeks with a reduction in dosage each week.

Anyway, my divorce and possibly that I was in my thirties really ended the Eczema.

I am disappointed that Eczema has no real cure, and that skin doctors rake in the money providing the same treatments we can find on the Internet.

Thanks

Andy on October 28, 2017:

My legs just started itching recently. At first I thought it was from a case of fleas since I cat sit regularly, but I've done multiple flea tests and all of them came back negative. I don't experience any tingling in my lower legs, but the itch is so extreme it's causing me to scratch the skin off patches of my lower legs. However, lately I have been in intense emotional distress && imbalances in moods due to things happening around me. Is there any link between the intense itch and my emotional state?

Fred mulsop on March 23, 2017:

I don't run anymore

Jim Laughlin from Connecticut on March 19, 2017:

my itchyy legs are from a disease called complex regional pain syndrome. It is an absolute nightmare. I wrote a Hub about it.

GreenMind Guides from USA on December 25, 2016:

Great hub, really informative, on a subject I never realized was a problem for people! Now I know, thanks!

Heather on November 11, 2016:

My lower legs have been itching for almost 2 years. If I scratch it, I can't stop scratching because it itches so bad. I went to the Dr. & they prescribed me some steroid cream. The cream works, but every time I stop using the cream the itch comes back. I hate having to depend on steroid cream all the time, plus it is expensive. Is there a way I can make this go away for good.

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on November 03, 2016:

I'm not sure - itch is aggravated by heat and sweating.

Sahana from India on October 15, 2016:

Very informative. I experience itchiness in skin especially at night. There are no rashes or anything. Why does it happen?

Zieg on October 09, 2016:

I have very itchy balls and they always itch when I am out and around other people and I cannot scratch them. When I get home I take my pants down and really give them a good scratching. It is quite a relief I can tell you that. I sometimes use my wife's comb to scratch them it feels really good and the itch goes away. Anyone else have itchy balls?

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on September 22, 2016:

I also don't know. Sometimes it's from clothes. If it goes away with walking, it may be the blood congestion in the leg veins.

Aleruiz on August 31, 2016:

Hi, I recently started itching for a couple days now. Something I've never dealt with before until now. The itching is on my hips, inner thighs and the bottom part of my things. This usually happens when I'm sitting or sometimes when I'm doing nothing. I scratch so much on my hip to where I have a bruise now. The only way I could calm down the itching is by putting lotion. I read your article but can't seem to figure out which one it could be.

gepeTooRs on April 02, 2016:

Hello, Neat post. There’s an issue with your website in web explorer, might test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a huge part of people will miss your great writing because of this problem.

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on March 22, 2016:

student, in diabetes, itch is more likely in the groin and in armpits, because of fungal infection. Itch in lower legs is more likely from vascular problems.

student on March 15, 2016:

This is way more common then I expected it be. My legs itch from my knees down so bad sometimes and there is no stopping it when it starts. The only remedy I have found is a tube of antihistamine cream. Nothing else helps, not medicated gold bond, not hemps lotion, not aveeno, or eucerin. I have wondered if it has to do with diabetes... I've never been diagnosed with it, but wander if thats the problem.

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on March 07, 2016:

Ahlam, I don't know, it can be a mild fungal infection, for example.

Ahlam on March 05, 2016:

Hi, I mainly itch on my thighs and sometimes legs but it's uncontrollable on my thighs, it's happened ever since I was in elementary-middle and Stopped for a while in high school and just started to occur again ....

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on January 01, 2016:

Great hub, Jan. No wonder this is a popular hub. It's so very useful with tips on how to prevent dry itchy skin. Thanks for sharing.

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on November 13, 2015:

Geegee, tingling usually has a neurological origin - so if you think this is different from itching, you may want to see a neurologist. The underlying problem could be a nutrient deficiency....If the tingling started in feet it could be peripheral neuropathy...

Geegee on November 12, 2015:

About 3 weeks ago my legs started itching uncontrollably at night... Now they itch all the time. There is no rash, and the only redness is from my scratching my legs. They also tingle. I've had allergic reactions before, so I know this is something else. I've tried lotions, cream, and ointments. Nothing seems to help. Do I go to a dermatologist or is this something else?

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on October 06, 2015:

Cynthia, calf itch without rash is common. I was experiencing it after showering from no obvious reason. I believe it may be related with the level of physical activity (maybe to little?) or with stress or food, in the sense that when you eat a certain type of food in excess or if something bothers you, it can irritate the skin. This does not mean, you need to check for food allergies or intolerances or to do some blood tests; it may be just some diet imbalance, which you would be probably aware of, if it was the case.

Cynthia on October 05, 2015:

I have recently noticed that the back of my left leg more especially the calf area is itchy. It's something recent and I don't know what causes it. I read the info above and the comments too, and I don't think it's soup, detergent. If it was then why would it target one area continuously and what puzzles me more is that there's no bumps, redness or any other abnormalities on my skin. What could be the cause, please help. Campus clinic probably wont tell me what is the cause

Jan Modric (author) from Europe on October 01, 2015:

If the bumps come and go within hours, it may be hives, which speaks for allergic reaction. This may be either psychological or reaction to a certain food or drug.

CG on Septemb