We know, we know. You’re not supposed to scratch—but your brain is telling you otherwise.
Ever wonder why scratching an insect bite or other itch can feel so satisfying? Researchers at Temple University set out to answer this question by looking at the brains of patients with chronic itch. The results, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, identified something surprising—areas of the brain involved in processing reward were activated during scratching. So your brain actually views scratching as a reward (even though it isn’t technically good behavior).
Researchers in the university’s Department of Dermatology investigated 10 chronic itch patients and 10 healthy patients, and found that chronic itch patients had higher reward response to scratching, which scientists think explain why it can be so addictive.
Even if you don’t suffer from chronic itch, this research probably applies to you, too.
The results of this research as well as previous research that I have conducted help to explain why it feels satisfying for patients with and without chronic itch to scratch an itch,” study author Dr. Gil Yisopovitch said in an email. “We have found that scratching an itch and the effects it has are related to areas of the brain associated with reward and satisfaction.”
No matter how good it feels, though, the researchers warn against the dangers of constant scratching.
“Despite being pleasurable at first, ongoing scratching can lead to an increase in the intensity of itch as well as pain and permanent skin damage,” study author Dr. Hideki Mochizuki said in a statement. If your skin is feeling extra-irritated, try these all-natural soothing remedies.