Itching powder

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Itching powder is a powder or powder-like substance that induces itching when applied onto human skin. This is usually done as a practical joke or prank to an unsuspecting victim.

Description and uses[edit]

The cause of the irritation can be mechanical, such as products containing ground rose hips.[1][2] Another common ingredient is Mucuna pruriens,[3] a type of legume that produces seedpods coated with thousands of detachable spicules (needle-like hairs), the spicules contain an enzyme (mucunain) that causes severe itching, and they have been sold commercially as itching powder.[4] Mucuna pruriens has been used to test the efficacy of anti-itch drugs.[3]

The term "itching powder" is colloquial; there is no one specific source of the powder. For the safety of the maker and of the victim; gloves, dust mask, and glasses are worn as itching powder is a mouth and eye irritant and caution is strongly encouraged whenever handling the processed powder. Rose hips contain prickly hairs that are used as the active ingredient,[5] whereas the body (rather than the wing) of the bigleaf maple samara is covered with spiny hairs that cause skin irritation,[6] and are used to make itching powder.[7][8]

Itching powder was created from Mucuna pruriens in the early 19th century as a cure for lost feeling in the epidermis. When a person would lose feeling on their skin in conditions such as paralysis, the powder (mixed with lard to form an ointment) was used as a local stimulant believed to treat the condition.[9][10]


A mucuna pruriens seedpod.
The inside of a rose hip. Prickly hairs surround the fruits.
Bigleaf maple samara with spiny hairs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albert MR. Novelty shop "itching powder." Australasian J Dermatology. 1998 Aug;39(3):188–89.
  2. ^ "Itching powder prank affects dozens of Cobb County students". Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  3. ^ a b G.V. Joglekar, M.B. Bhide J.H. Balwani. An experimental method for screening antipruritic agents. British Journal of Dermatology. Volume 75 Issue 3 p. 117. March 1963
  4. ^ "Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Mucuna pruriens- Associated Pruritus – New Jersey". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 6 December 1985. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  5. ^ Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products. John Wiley & Sons. 27 April 2015. p. 324. ISBN 9781118543566.
  6. ^ Hebda, R. "Plant profile: Acer macrophyllum" (PDF). NPSBC, menziesia. Native Plant Society of British Columbia. p. 14. Archived from the original (pdf) on 26 January 2007.
  7. ^ "Itching Powder". MicrolabNW Photomicrograph Gallery. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Maple Seed Hair". MicrolabNW Photomicrograph Gallery. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  9. ^ Blatin, M (1853). American Journal of Pharmacy and the Sciences Supporting Public Health, Volume 1; Volume 25. Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. p. 471.
  10. ^ Grieve, Maud (1 Jun 1971). A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Volume 1. Courier Corporation. p. 229. ISBN 9780486227986.