For as long as I can remember, I have been a ‘picker’. As a kid, it was scabs and grazes. As I got older, it was spots on my face and legs. Developing into an adult, it became more regular for me to pick my arms. I never really understood why I did it, and most of the time I didn’t realise I was doing it.
‘Skin picking’, also called dermatillomania or excoriation disorder, is where you can’t stop picking at your skin. It is believed to be linked to stress, anxiety and OCD, as well as negative thoughts about yourself and other blemishes that you want rid of. This behaviour may seem abnormal, but (and I’m speaking on behalf of myself here), I do not realise I am doing it, and can literally spend an hour at a time in some kind of trance, searching and picking for any blemish or imperfection.
Most people pick at their skin from time to time, but you may have skin picking disorder if you:
- can’t stop picking your skin
- cause cuts, bleeding or bruising by picking your skin
- pick moles, freckles, spots or scars to try to “smooth” or “perfect” them
- don’t always realise you are picking your skin or do it when you are asleep
- pick your skin when you feel anxious or stressed
Over the years, dermatillomania has really gotten to me. I would try everything to cover them up and hide them from people, and even sometimes now I wear tops to cover them up, to stop people asking questions and to stop people looking at me strangely. I’ve found that covering up can sometimes help, as for me if it’s out of sight – it’s out of mind! However, it does cause a lot of self-consciousness when it comes to the Summer, when everyone is wearing vest tops and shorts, and I’m covering up with hoodies and jeans.
I have learnt to also embrace it! I have spent the last year and a half over coming my anxiety and OCD issues, and while I will never be 100% better, I know my head is in a much better place. I have days where my confidence sky rockets, and I am proud to show my marks and scars. They’re who I am as a person, and they almost tell a story – while it is a time I’d like to forget, it also made me who I am today, and the skin picking is a massive part of that.
- keep your hands busy – try squeezing a soft ball or putting on gloves – I have found that having acrylic nails helps a lot as it’s harder to grip, and I don’t want to ruin my nails!
- identify when and where you most commonly pick your skin and try to avoid these triggers – My main trigger is a mirror in my house that I am almost drawn to. If I catch myself in that mirror, I will end up spending 30-40 minutes stood there picking.
- try to resist for longer and longer each time you feel the urge to pick – generate a thought that distracts you, watch a video or play a game on your phone until the urge settles.
- care for you skin when you get the urge to pick it – for example, by applying moisturiser – I love to use a nice sweet smelling moisturiser, when my skin is soft and slippy its really hard to pick.
- tell other people – they can help you recognise when you are picking – my other half is my full on support, and will distract me, hold my hands etc to stop me.
- keep your skin clean to avoid infection – I actually shave my arm hair as I suffer badly with ingrown hairs, but I moisturise them daily to help keep them soft.
- let your nails grow long – keep them trimmed – for me, I found long nails better, although super short nails does make it impossible to pick.
- keep things like tweezers and pins where you can easily get at them – Safety pins and needles are a huge trigger for me, as I make myself believe the spot will be popped easier and better if I use the needle. These are now hidden!
People who pick skin often repeatedly make unsuccessful attempts to stop on their own. The shame and embarrassment associated with dermatillomania may prevent them from getting help from a doctor. In fact, fewer than one in five people with dermatillomania are thought to seek treatment. Treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) linked with self-help interventions such as habit reversal therapy, have been shown to reduce symptoms of dermatillomania.