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What Causes an Itchy Scab?

By Angela Farrer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The most common causes of an itchy scab can be traced to the natural healing process as new skin forms over the injured site and gradually separates from the scab. An itchy scab can also result from certain skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, or from a herpes viral infection. Some people who are prone to contact dermatitis from skin allergies may experience rashes that later turn into patches of itchy scabs. Dermatologists frequently advise that time is a key factor to successfully heal a scab resulting from any of these conditions, so they also usually caution their patients to resist the urge to scratch or pick a scab regardless of how badly it may itch.

A scab forms over a variety of surface skin injuries such as cuts, deep scrapes, minor to moderate burns, or shallow abrasions. Some people report that milder skin scrapes can itch worse than more serious ones during the healing process. Soon after the skin injury happens, the body's natural immune defenses cause bacteria-fighting white blood cells to travel to the wound site and begin forming the protective scab. Many cuts, burns, or scrapes involve microscopic nerve damage just below the skin's surface, and a scab allows these tiny fibers to begin rejoining with a lower risk of bacterial invasion. Itching at the wound site is a common side effect as these severed nerves exchange confused signals with certain receptors in the brain.

Newer scabs are frequently raw in appearance due to the presence of clotted blood and lymphatic fluid that actively fight infections. Caring for a scab often involves keeping the wound clean and covered with a bandage or piece of gauze dressing. Scabs resulting from allergic rashes or certain skin conditions often need additional treatment, such as a prescription topical ointment designed to counter the inflammation. These kinds of medicines also usually have an added benefit of relieving a persistently itchy scab.

An itchy scab can sometimes be noticeably bothersome as the scab dries out several days after the initial injury. Healthy scab colors can range from yellow-brown to nearly black, and this appearance is normally not a cause for concern. One of these scabs on a joint such as a knee or elbow often heal better with the regular application of antibiotic ointment that prevents them from cracking and reopening the wound. An itchy scab with a red ring around its edge usually indicates an infection that may require a physician's attention.

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Discussion Comments
By StarJo — On Feb 11, 2012

If you are looking for a more natural way to lessen the itching of your scabs than a medicated ointment, you could try aloe vera gel. It works wonders for relieving itching caused by a number of things, like insect bites, sunburns, and even the healing process of wounds.

I use aloe vera on any scabs that I have right after getting out of the shower and drying off with a towel. I let the gel air dry for a minute before putting clothes on over it, so my skin has a chance to absorb it.

It works really well for awhile. I have to reapply whenever the itching returns, but there really is no harm in using it often. Some anti-itch creams should only be used a certain number of times a day to avoid side effects, but you can use aloe vera as often as you like.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 11, 2012

@orangey03 – Hydrocortisone itself is a steroid. To me, it is the most effective type of itch treatment on the market. I have used antihistamine cream, but unless I am suffering from a skin allergy, it does nothing to stop my itching.

I once got sunburned so badly that scabs formed on my arm. One spot where I had been applying an acne medication burned worse than the rest of my body, and the scabs that formed after a few days turned black. This was the itchiest area I have ever had on my body.

I went to my dermatologist, and he gave me a high dose of hydrocortisone. It lessened the inflammation, and it also sped up my healing process. I really was afraid I might scratch all my skin off in that spot, but the steroid cream kept me from being so tempted.

By orangey03 — On Feb 11, 2012

I have had shallow abrasions on my knees that formed the itchiest scabs imaginable. Also, these scabs are tiny dots that look so insignificant. It's hard to believe that they could cause so much agitation!

Often, I have scratched them off, knowing that I shouldn't. The little scab dots just formed again and again, until I finally got some hydrocortisone cream to put on them. This was the only thing that stopped the itching.

I have heard that hydrocortisone anti-itch cream contains steroids. Is this true? Are steroids what soothe the itching and allow the area to finally heal?

By Perdido — On Feb 10, 2012

I recall having extremely itchy scabs while I had chicken pox. Even though my doctor and my mother told me not to scratch them, I just couldn't resist.

Having an itch that intense and being unable to do anything to get relief from it is just the worst! My mother told me that if I scratched the scabs, then I would be left with scars for the rest of my life.

I gave in and scratched one above my eyebrow before she caught me, and I still have a scar twenty years after the fact. She put oven mitts on my hands after she saw me scratching, and that kept me from causing scars all over my body.

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