What It Means When You Have An Itchy Cheek

Whether you're itching to explore or simply scratching an itch with your fingernails, persistent tingling and tickling — whether physical or mental — can be one of the more frustrating sensations.

As noted by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Melanie Palm, via Healthline, "An itch can feel like a burning sensation, a slightly electrical or periodic non painful sensation, or like something is crawling along the skin." Scratching, rather than resolving the source of the itch itself, works by providing a temporary distraction.

Oftentimes, the source of an itch can be traced back to wintertime dryness. "Itching is caused by a complex interaction between cells of the skin and our nervous system," Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil explains to Healthline."Chemicals released in the skin send a message to the spine through nerves in the skin, then the spine communicates with the brain, and we become itchy." 

However, itchiness on your face can be caused by a lot more than just wintertime weather — acne, allergic reactions, rusty razors, or even heat, to name a few. Before scratching at spots with too-sharp fingernails or applying a topical treatment, it's important to understand the root cause of your discomfort.

Reexamine your skincare routine

Factors like low humidity — usually a symptom of the wintertime — and drying cleansers with ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can quickly deprive the skin of much-needed moisture. "Using [drying ingredients] in the setting of pre-existing dry skin can exacerbate the issues people with dry skin already have," dermatologist Dr. Brendan Camp told Sunday Edit. If your skin is already sensitive, it's important to reintroduce moisture back into your barrier with fragrance-free gentle cleansers, facial creams, and (as always) plenty of SPF. 

Sometimes, acne — the result of anything and everything from dirty makeup brushes to hormones — can create itchy bumps on your cheeks. Although it's tempting to pick and pop, resist scratching these annoying spots. Introducing the bacteria on your hands into the mix will only serve to make the problem worse. Alternatively, talk to your dermatologist and treat particularly-itchy zits with pimple patches

If the bumps on your face look more rash-like than pimply, this could be indicative of a condition like psoriasis, rosacea, or perioral dermatitis (via Healthline). If you've recently used a new product on your face (or crawled through some poison ivy) that itchiness might be allergy-related. Sensitivities to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin can also lead to visible skin discomfort. Always consult your doctor about possible side effects.

What does it means if the itch doesn't go away?

If you haven't noticed zits or evidence of a rash, and the itch persists for an extended period of time, your sensitive skin might be the result of a larger issue. According to Medical News Today, blood, kidney, and liver conditions — like cirrhosis — can cause excessive itchiness on the cheeks. Of course, an underlying illness will be accompanied by other symptoms, too. Itchiness alone isn't enough to justify a diagnosis, so stay on the lookout for evidence of jaundice, any unusual aches and pains, and nausea. Damage to the nerves, sometimes the result of a stroke, can also lead to scratching.

Although unusual, sensitive skin without a rash can occur during pregnancy. This condition — obstetric cholestasis — typically affects the liver during the final trimester (via Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists).

More than likely, however, your cheeks are simply dry. Invest in a stylish scarf to keep your face warm during the winter and always moisturize after cleansing.