Prickly Skin Menopause Guide - Stella
Dryness & itchiness
6 mins

Prickly skin and menopause: A guide to managing weird skin sensations

byEmily Turner

Prickling and skin-crawling sensations during perimenopause have made me flail my legs and arms so much at night, I’ve often wondered if someone is stabbing a voodoo doll! For a long time, I had no idea that skin irritations can be linked to menopause. Find out more about menopause and prickly skin conditions in this guide and the things that have worked for me.

I first experienced weird sensations across my skin and especially my feet during my mid-20s, just when I changed jobs and industry. I went to the doctor, they ran some tests and nothing was unusual. After a couple of months, the sensation went away as quickly as it arrived and it seemed related to the job change. I didn’t think about it again. 

It was only when I reached my 40s that the prickly skin sensations came back with a vengeance during perimenopause. It changed and spread from my feet to all over my body. I would find it hard to get to sleep and often woke up in the night. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gathered a go-to list of things to do when the prickly skin sensation demon strikes.

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Can menopause cause prickly skin?

I’ve always had great skin, not too dry or oily. It doesn’t get irritated easily unless I wear costume jewellery, such as earrings made of nickel. It is highly tolerant of cold winds, central heating, late nights, lotions, make-up and perfume. I have been super lucky.

Yet, I am not infallible to weird skin sensations across my feet, legs, back and neck. They feel like sharp, electrical shocks as if someone is pricking me with a pin. Or I will be unable to sleep because I am so itchy and nothing satisfies it. I’ve even had a weird feeling that there is something on me and turned on the lights looking for invisible bugs. 

Is it a coincidence that I am in my late 40s and this is happening? No. Welcome to the world of menopausal skin sensations.

As you can imagine, it’s like sleeping next to someone playing a game of nocturnal Twister by themselves.”

How collagen keeps skin healthy

Hormones fluctuate during menopause with a gradual and non-linear decline in oestrogen, a hormone key to the production of collagen and our skin’s natural oils. Healthy joints, skin elasticity and plumpness rely on collagen, which is in our bones, muscles and skin. 

With the double whammy of ageing and oestrogen decline, collagen starts to break down and can cause skin thinning and dryness. These are the perfect conditions for itching, skin-crawling and prickly skin during menopause.

Read more about itchy skin in menopause.

What weird skin sensations can happen during menopause?

Every woman’s experience is different and you might be lucky and escape this pesky symptom (I am jealous if this is you!) or you may experience a few different types, even in combination. Common menopause skin sensations can include:

  • Itching
  • Skin crawling, known as formication
  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • Tingling, known as paresthesia
  • Prickling
  • Burning
  • Electrical impulses or shocks

What does prickly skin in menopause feel like?

I will lie in bed and suddenly the skin pricking will start in one place, usually my feet, and then move all over my body. A right thigh, a left buttock, my shoulder, an arm or inner thigh – it could be anywhere. It can happen rapidly as if you are being stung by an invisible jellyfish.

Skin pricking can feel similar to an itch but you cannot scratch it away as the sensation is deep below the skin. It can feel similar to an electric shock, jerking your legs or arms and happening without warning.

What is formication?

It’s not always just skin pricking, sometimes it can be an unbearable itch or skin-crawling, feeling like there is something on my leg, like a fly or an ant. If I touch the area (or slap!) I can usually get rid of the feeling but then it returns somewhere else pretty quickly. If I can’t reach the affected area, I will have to wake my husband to scratch it. As you can imagine, it’s like sleeping next to someone playing a game of nocturnal Twister by themselves. 

It is random and doesn’t happen every night, week or month. It comes and goes and is pretty hard to pin down to a pattern or a trigger.

It turns out that this skin crawling feeling is known as formication – not to be confused with fornication, which is entirely different! Just like in my experiences, it’s described as feeling like phantom insects are crawling on your skin, usually your hands, feet, arms, legs and scalp. It’s a form of “tactile hallucination” which is irritating and unpleasant – it’s also hard to fight the urge to pick at or scratch your skin, potentially leading to infection.

Doctors aren’t sure if it’s the drop in oestrogen which causes the feeling of formication to flare up for some people during menopause. There may be other possible causes too, such as anxiety, diabetic neuropathy or fibromyalgia, along with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as low iron and B12.   

Take a look at our symptoms library for more information on skin changes.

What works to treat prickling skin during menopause?

  • Walking really helps and gets me off to sleep quickly with a deeper sleep
  • I avoid extreme temperatures on my feet before bed. Cold or hot feet can trigger it. I try to keep them at room temperature
  • I make sure I don’t overheat in bed by keeping my feet out of the bedclothes or having a fan on me
  • I keep my skin moisturised as it is worse when my skin is dry. Try simple, oil-based moisturisers where possible, as the oil helps your skin to retain moisture – products designed for the extra-dry skin seen in eczema are a good place to start. Common brand names include Epaderm, Diprobase and Aveeno.  If you aren’t sure where to start, ask your local pharmacist for advice.
  • I use a cooling spray and gel at the first sign of weird skin sensations
  • I try not to get angry when it happens. I accept that it comes and goes – sometimes just doing this has helped me fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Speak to your doctor if you are still struggling despite taking these sensible measures – they may be able to recommend medications to help.

Start your free online menopause assessment to see if HRT is right for you

Does HRT help prickly skin?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help ease many menopause symptoms, including prickly skin. If you’re having a really tough time, talk to your doctor to decide if HRT is right for you. Read more about the HRT debate.

I am using 0.5mg oestrogen gel in combination with a Mirena coil and it has eased the skin pricking sensation.

How to avoid prickly skin during menopause

  • Really try not to scratch – I know just how hard that is! If you have long nails you may tear the skin and make it worse
  • Try patting the area – I’ve often found myself slapping the affected skin
  • Avoid perfumed bath products
  • Wear loose clothes and natural fibres but avoid wool
  • Stick to cool or warm baths or showers but keep them short
  • Buy detergents that are kind to sensitive skin

When to see your doctor

If this is a new symptom or it is keeping you awake at night so much you cannot function the next day, talk to your doctor.

There are other possible causes of prickly skin besides menopause, and your doctor will be able to help you rule these out. They may want to do some blood tests (to check your iron levels, liver and kidneys among others) or to examine you in person (to check for other skin conditions).

Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter anti-itch creams from the pharmacist or other medications on prescription.

Final word on lifestyle

If you are experiencing prickly skin during menopause then it’s also a good idea to overhaul your lifestyle choices:

  • A well-balanced diet with plenty of lean protein, vegetables and healthy fats are essential to keeping skin healthy
  • Increase your exercise and get out walking
  • Drinking plenty of water can also help to keep skin moisturised
  • Reducing alcohol and smoking will help as they can dry out skin

Find out more about menopause on our blog or learn more with our symptoms library.

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