Why does my skin flare up at night?

Student Herbalist, Reflexologist, Yoga Teacher, Writer & Product Trainer

17 March 2021

There are many reasons why itchy skin conditions get worse at night. There are external or environmental factors, like room temperature and bed clothes. But it actually has more to do with our body's internal rhythms.

Your body has lots of processes that happen each day. These rhythms keep things ticking over and running smoothly. The timing of some of these processes explains why itchy skin conditions flare up at night.

Hypothalamus-pituitary axis

The rhythm involving the hypothalamus-pituitary axis is one such example. Levels of anti-inflammatory corticosteroid hormones are at a low point in the evening. This means your body's ability to dampen skin inflammation is not working as well as it does during the day. Leading to inflamed and itchy skin.

Water loss

Another rhythm that influences your skin is the one that relates to trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Trans-epidermal water loss means water evaporates through the skin to the outside environment. This happens at a higher rate during the night. Meaning your skin becomes drier and has less of a protective barrier. Without a strong protective barrier, irritants from outside get in. Causing you to itch more than during the day. When drier, skin can be more sensitive too, so something that normally doesn't irritate you may set you off scratching.

Skin temperature

Similarly, your skin temperature rhythm can explain why your skin flares at night. Like TEWL, skin temperature peaks at night and dips in the morning. Higher room temperature can aggravate itching, so it seems sensible to suggest that higher skin temperature would aggravate itching too. It's thought that this is down to heat increasing the itch sensation through its effect on nerve endings.

Control the controllables

The reason behind your night time skin flare ups might be somewhat out of your control. After all, there are no creams that can change the internal rhythms of our clever bodies. But don't be disheartened. Now that you understand the natural ebb and flow of your body better, you can make choices that will swing it to your advantage. Control the controllables as they say! Let's look at some simple steps to deal with night time skin flare ups:

  • Keep it cool
  • Stay hydrated
  • Moisturise
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Minimise irritants

1. Keep it cool

Sleeping in a cool room benefits your skin as well as your sleep. If your bedroom is too hot, it will add to the dehydrating effect that night time has on your skin. So keep your room at around 18.3 degrees Celsius. If the air in your bedroom is particularly dry, you might think about using an essential oil diffuser. This will add a little humidity to your room. Plus it has the added benefit of releasing essential oils into the atmosphere. Choose a calming essential oil like lavender to keep you relaxed as you drift off to sleep.

2. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your skin plump and moisturised. At night, when your skin starts to loose moisture there will be more water available to keep it hydrated. The more water retained in the underlying layers of skin, the better.

3. Moisturise

Apply a rich and soothing cream before bed to keep your skin moisturised. This will also provide a barrier that prevents water loss and protects against itch-causing irritants.

My self-care tip: Neem cream before bed

4. Relaxation techniques

When we are stressed, a cascade of processes happen in our body. Some of these can lead to the signalling of itch messengers on our skin. We don't know why or how this happens exactly. But it suggests that relaxation techniques could help ease itchy skin. If you are suffering with night time skin flare ups, focusing on relaxation will have the added benefit of helping you drift off to sleep. My favourite relaxation techniques are guided meditations, deep breathing and relaxing herbal remedies.

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5. Minimise irritants

As we discovered, your skin is more sensitive to irritation at night so minimising irritants is important. Use soft, breathable fabrics for your bedclothes and pyjamas. Synthetic materials that scratch and overheat the skin will only make things worse.



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