Skin Barrier Damage and Itch: Review of Mechanisms, Topical Management and Future Directions

Acta Derm Venereol. 2019 Dec 1;99(13):1201-1209. doi: 10.2340/00015555-3296.


Barrier damage, dry skin and itch are intricately linked and form the basis of many common skin diseases. Damage from environmental insults, or genetic or inflammatory causes, can impair the skin barrier, resulting in an increase in transepidermal water loss and activation of itch-associated nerve fibres. The itch-scratch cycle can perpetuate skin barrier damage and itch. Topical therapeutic strategies are utilised to overcome dry skin and itch, primarily in the form of emollients. Recent advances in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying itch have enabled the development of new topical therapies, which may be incorporated into existing treatment regimes. Ultimately, treatment of dry skin and itch must be highly tailored to the individual according to their needs.

Keywords: dry skin; emollients; skin barrier; pruritus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Emollients / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pruritus / drug therapy*
  • Pruritus / physiopathology
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin Absorption / drug effects
  • Skin Absorption / physiology
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases / physiopathology*


  • Emollients