Capsaicin (trans-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is thought to produce analgesic and possibly also antipruritic effects when applied topically. Capsaicin 0.05% was applied three times daily over a 5-day period to the same infrascapular region. The effects of the pretreatment upon the pruritogenic and wheal and flare reactions to subsequent histamine iontophoresis (20 mC) were evaluated on the following day. The antipruritic effects of the pretreatment were compared with the effects of placebo pretreatment and no pretreatment. Wheal and flare areas were evaluated planimetrically. Itch or pain were rated every minute over a 24-min period. The areas of alloknesis, i.e. the induction of perifocal itch sensation by usually nonitching (e.g. mechanical) stimuli, were also evaluated. In control subjects, but not in atopic eczema (AE) patients, capsaicin pretreatment significantly reduced the flare area. Compared with control subjects, AE patients showed a lack of alloknesis or significantly smaller areas of alloknesis in pretreated and nonpretreated skin. In control subjects, capsaicin pretreatment significantly reduced itch sensations compared with nonpretreated skin, whereas in AE patients no differences were seen. Itch sensations in capsaicin-pretreated skin were significantly lower in control subjects than in AE patients. We conclude that capsaicin does effectively suppress histamine-induced itching in healthy skin but has less effect in AE. The diminished itch sensations and the absence of alloknesis in atopic individuals indicate that histamine is not the key factor in itching in AE.