Review on March 19, 2009
While chronic itchy skin may be attributed to external factors such as hydration and humidity, in truth a spate of recent research suggests that genetics contribute more than any other cause to this uncomfortable condition. It is true that allergens such as detergents, wools, certain foods, and insects may aggravate the preexisting conditions, however if the underlying problem is genetic, a deeper treatment is needed to staunch itchy skin.
One research study of note, conducted at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City, looked at the incidence of itchy skin in twins. If one twin exhibited itchy skin, or "atopic dermatitis," there was a high correspondence in the same condition being experienced by the other twin, as well. This study led many researchers and scientists to believe in a genetic cause behind itchy skin, something that had previously been speculated about.
More recently came the proof of this cause. A breakthrough study (conducted in Brazil, South Africa and Japan), published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in early 2008, announced the exciting discovery of the precise gene abnormality that causes itchy skin in so many people. Those people with this mutant gene, which is quite common, react differently to muscle-stimulating molecules called cytokines. In tests which isolated the skin cells carrying this mutant gene, those skin cells affected failed to produce the necessary anti-inflammatory agents that would ward off itchy skin.
With this first step of discovery, surely a precise cure for itchy skin is around the corner. Luminaries in the field such as Professor John McGrath, president of the European Society for Dermatological Research, were extremely excited by the discovery, stating that the "next step" would be to look for a common way to address the problem directly in those with itchy skin.
In the meantime, there are a number of tried-and-true tactics that can be utilized. It's important to keep the skin well-hydrated; which can be accomplished by drinking the suggested 6-8 cups of water per day. In addition, those suffering from itchy skin can make use of the multitude of lotions and skin creams invented for just this purpose, from calamine to Aveeno. Avoiding hot showers and making sure to eat a balanced diet can also help to ease the pains of itchy skin.