Dermatillomania: The Skin Picking Disorder

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Claire Miller is studying a degree in Aerospace Engineering and is currently battling with MATLAB for her dissertation. Snacks are welcome.

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Body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs for short) aren't particularly well-known, and yet, an estimated 3% of the population suffer from at least one BFRB. These behaviours include pulling, picking, biting or scraping one's hair, skin or nails. In this article, we will be focusing on one such BFRB that I struggle with, known as dermatillomania.

Dermatillomania (also known as compulsive skin picking or excoriation disorder) is a mental disorder that causes sufferers to feel compelled to pick at their skin to ease anxiety. This is often linked to OCD and perfectionism—picking at every little imperfection on the skin, such as scabs and pimples. The horrible irony is that the sufferer falls into a wicked spiral of creating more imperfections in the pursuit of perfect skin, which potentially leads to greater mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

While the hair pulling counterpart—trichotillomania—has finally started receiving greater awareness, thanks in part to the increasingly popular YouTube channels that talk about it, dermatillomania is still not so well-known. In fact, it was only because I was watching a video in which skin picking was mentioned that I realised I wasn't the only one who struggles with this compulsion. And it was just a matter of typing into Google for me to find the name for my odd habit.

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I have been picking at my skin for at least 15 years, and it has always been quite a big problem for me. It started as just running my fingers over my scalp and picking at any bumps in the skin or the odd scab, and now, I just pick everywhere. My back is a mass of scabs. When I don't have scabs to pick, I dig into my skin and make one. I don't even realise that I'm doing it sometimes, and when I do, I'm making deals with myself: "Okay, you can pick this one, and that's it... Okay, you can pick that one too, but that's it..."

You can tell when I'm most anxious because my face becomes a bloody mess in seconds. I can sometimes even find myself picking at work in front of customers (I work in retail now), and I just can't help myself. Keeping my nails short doesn't even really help because my fingers always find a way.

I have a couple of ways in which I can prevent myself from picking when I'm watching TV at home, but for when I'm working or studying I haven't found anything that works yet. At home, I can put these fingers to work by knitting, which gives me a similar sensation to picking due to the tugging of the wool and the clicking of the needles. I also turn to my adult colouring books, however, knitting is my go-to preventive method since it requires both hands.

A guilty pleasure of mine that seems to help to ease my compulsion is a YouTube channel started b. Dr Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr Pimple Popper. She is a certified dermatologist who films—with her patients' permission—the removal of cysts, blackheads and other dermatological problems that her patients have, and then posts them online for educational purposes.

Dr. Pimple Popper has over three million subscribers, and many of them have admitted that watching her videos helps to ease their anxiety or urges to pick. I am one of those viewers.

It may sound a little disgusting to watch videos of pimples being popped, but it's surprising how calm I feel when I do watch them. I experience a similar feeling of satisfaction that I do when I pick, only I'm not risking leaving myself with scars in doing it.

For more information about dermatillomania, please go to SkinPick.com. The site focuses on compulsive skin picking and provides further information on the disorder. They even have an online therapy program that could prove very useful to sufferers, so definitely check them out.

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To anyone who has dermatillomania and thought they were the only one like I once did, please know now that you are not alone. You are not gross or weird; you have a disorder that can be overcome. You just need to find a way to reach out and find one of the thousands of people who also struggle with this—there are more than you realise. Reach out, and we can all work together to beat this.

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    © 2018 Claire Miller

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