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Itching powder works by irritating the skin. Actually, more than one type of itching powder exists and skin is affected by those powders in more than one way. To fully understand how itching powder works, you need to look at the common types.
Some itching powder ingredients cause skin irritation through a reaction to the skin, called a contact dermatitis. Dermatitis is a generic name given to skin rashes caused when an irritant touches the skin and the skin reacts with itching and inflammation. Some itching powder ingredients produce this reaction. The irritation is worsened as the affected area is scratched because the chemical is rubbed into the skin. Itching powders such as these can have lasting effects, especially if the reaction is allergic or the scratching causes scarring.
A tropical bean called mucuna pruriens makes a strong itching powder. The orange hair outside the pods is used to make the powder, which causes a contact dermatitis reaction. An herb called rosehips has the same effect when crushed. However, the reaction usually isn't as severe. An enzyme inside an okra pod also causes severe irritation when placed on the skin.
Not all itching powder ingredients react with the skin to cause irritation. Some have a physical make-up that induces an itch when it's rubbed against the skin. The irritation gets worse with vigorous rubbing. Some itching powder ingredients caused minor irritation simply by sitting on the skin, no itching required. Other must be moved across the skin to cause the irritation.
Made from the seed pods of a maple tree, whirligig powder is the least severe of the itching powders. It is made by taking the top off the maple tree seed pod and rubbing it in a napkin until you have enough little slivers to make a small amount of powder. When rubbed against the skin, an irritation is created. The thorns of a prickly pear produce a stronger itch in the same manor.