When you have a serious skin condition, such as eczema, TSW, psoriasis, and acne, it can be hard to leave your skin alone due to intense itching, oozing, flaking, or discomfort. But such urges are normal under these conditions, and why such patients seek help to manage their symptoms – so they don’t damage their skin through picking or scratching.
However, some people have an overwhelming compulsion to pick, poke and scratch their skin, even when their skin is generally healthy. Rather than a physical condition, it is more akin to an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and treated much like compulsive hair pulling, nail-biting, or hand washing.
Dermatillomania – Do You Have It?
Also called excoriation disorder or skin-picking disorder, dermatillomania describes the condition where a person cannot stop picking their skin. They may use their fingertips or fingernails, they may use their teeth to pick, or even use tools like pins, tweezers, paperclips or scissors.
While all of us probably pick our skin from time to time, dermatillomania is a real problem for those who have it, as they may be so fervent about it, they can seriously damage their skin and be unable to stop.
Here are some symptoms to look for that point to dermatillomania:
- You find it almost impossible to stop picking your skin
- Your skin picking results in cuts, bruises, or bleeding
- You pick at birthmarks, moles, scars, or freckles in an effort to remove or smooth them over
- Sometimes you don’t even notice and find yourself picking your skin unconsciously, or in your sleep.
- You pick your skin when you are nervous, anxious, or depressed
How to Treat Dermatillomania
Like any harmful habit, it’s important to recognize and take steps to stop continually picking your skin. If you want to try on your own first, that’s great – but it’s important to take this seriously and give it everything you’ve got! No habit is easy to break and takes consistent effort over time.
First, think and observe what is going on when you find yourself picking your skin. Are you bored? Stressed? Tired? Nervous? Sad? What else can you do that will actually help take care of these feelings besides picking at your skin?
Second, find a constructive replacement. When you get the urge to pick at your skin, do something that is good for your skin instead, like applying moisturizer or cleaning your fingernails. Or find a stress ball to squeeze, or take up crochet or another hobby that keeps your hands busy.
Be sure to always keep your nails short and your hands clean, so that if you do end up picking at your skin, you have less likelihood of damage or infection.
When It’s Time to Get Help
If you can’t seem to get a handle on your skin-picking habit, it’s time to see a professional. First, visit a dermatology professional to rule out any true skin problems such as dermatitis, eczema or other condition that may be irritating your skin and causing you to pick at it.
If there’s no real skin condition causing your skin picking – it may be time to try cognitive behavioral therapy including habit reversal therapy. A therapist will give you effective strategies to cope with your urge to pick, as well as help you get to the underlying reasons why you may be using this behavior to manage other feelings, thoughts, and situations in your life.
We hope if you do have dermatillomania that you are able to overcome the habit so that your skin can stay naturally healthy and beautiful throughout your life.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.