How to stop picking at your skin

Although there is currently no “cure” for Dermatillomania and no guaranteed way to stop picking at your skin, below is a list of tips and strategies that may be helpful in reducing and/or stopping your skin-picking compulsions. Not all of them may work for you. The idea behind this is to try as many as you possibly can in order to create your very own “stop picking tool-kit” that is unique to you.

Tips you can try straight away:

  • Keep your nails trimmed as short as possible or invest in acrylic nails as they not only make it more difficult to pick but they also reduce the “feel-good” sensation of scabs underneath the nail.
  • Wear Band-Aids or finger puppets over your fingers or gloves over your hands. Every time you go to pick the physical barrier will remind you that you are trying to stop.
  • Paint your nails in a bitter nail polish if you also chew at the skin around your nails. The bitter taste will certainly remind you to stop chewing!
  • Moisturise your hands and skin in order to eliminate dry patches that can contribute to picking.
  • Invest in some fidgets that you can reach for every time you feel your fingers wandering. Fidgets can include beaded bracelets, silly putty, play dough, stress balls, bubble wrap, spinner rings, bottle caps with the plastic liner in them, etc.
  • Remove, cover up or place a positive reminder on all mirrors in the house.  Mirrors can be triggering for some sufferers, removing this trigger may help alleviate the picking.
  • Shower, bathe and toilet in either dimmed light or the dark as this reduces the ability to see and search for “imperfections”.
  • Start a hobby that keeps your hands and fingers occupied such as painting, drawing, sketching, writing, knitting, sewing, playing a musical instrument, etc.
  • Set a timer when using the toilet or bathroom (or wherever else you tend to engage in the picking behaviour). When the timer goes off, immediately stop what you are doing. A simple distraction may be all you need to snap you out of your “trance” if you dissociate when picking.
  • Cover up your skin as much as your own comfort allows – this could include wearing long pants and long sleeves to act as a barrier between your skin and your urge to pick. If the weather is hot, wearing sheer stockings can still create a barrier while allowing your skin to breathe.
  • Try to avoid touching your skin as much as possible – use a washcloth, sponge or loofah in the shower; use cotton pads to remove makeup and apply toner; use makeup pads, sponges or brushes to apply makeup; use a washcloth or a facial brush when cleansing your face.
  • Keep an elastic band around your wrist and snap it whenever you feel the urge to pick. You can also try other distraction methods such as clenching your fists for 20 seconds and then letting go, clenching a cube of ice or deep breathing.
  • If you don’t use “tools” to pick at your skin then don’t start. If you are already using “tools”, such as tweezers, to pick at your skin then slowly reduce the amount of time you spend using them until you feel you are ready to throw them out.
  • Remember to: Stop, Look, Ask & Listen.

 Strategies for the long term:

  • Start seeing a psychologist, particularly one who specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Habit Reversal Training. Psychologists can help you come up with healthy strategies to use when you feel the urge to pick. They can also help you with associated symptoms of Dermatillomania, such as depression and anxiety.
  • See a doctor if you also suffer from other conditions that make the picking worse, such as eczema, acne, Keratosis Pilaris (KP), allergies, drug addiction, etc. A doctor may be able to prescribe something to help with underlying conditions and they can also prescribe oral and topical antibiotics if your skin becomes infected.
  • Get a referral to see a psychiatrist if your Dermatillomania is having a severe impact on your life or if you are also experiencing symptoms of other forms of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. Medication, usually prescribed by psychiatrists, has proven helpful for some sufferers.
  • See a hypnotherapist if you would like to try an alternative form of therapy. This has proven really helpful for some sufferers as it encourages greater awareness of our bodies and our actions.
  • Keep a journal/diary detailing when you pick, where you pick, how long for and what triggered you to pick. Recording details of your picking behaviour will allow you to identify certain triggers and any patterns your skin-picking may follow.
  • Identify your triggers. They can include both physical triggers (mirrors, tweezers, sight of skin, bathroom, toilet, etc.) and emotional triggers (anxiety, stress, boredom, excitement, etc.).
  • Take steps to slowly eliminate your triggers – cover up mirrors, throw out picking tools such as tweezers, cover up skin, limit time spent in the bathroom & toilet (set a timer!), find positive ways to manage your emotions and de-stress (get creative, meditate, enrol in a yoga class, exercise, get a punching bag, etc.).
  • As hard as this step may be to take – start telling people about your skin-picking. Having to hide the fact you suffer from Dermatillomania can increase your anxiety which in most cases will only cause you to pick more. The more you accept your condition and come to terms with it, the less anxiety you will have over it.
  1. Thanx for this, I pick and bite my cuticles and found that if I keep my nails painted then I don’t pick them that often… its a long journey. Good luck!

    • Thank you for stopping by my blog 🙂 I pick and bite around my nails as well. Glad to hear you have found something that helps. It sure is a long journey, wishing you all the best on yours as well!

  2. Thank you for this!!! I have only glanced through it briefly, but I plan on printing this off as a reminder of things I can do. I am CONSTANTLY picking at my scalp. It’s full of scabs and sores. Good thing no one can see the damage, but I’m sure they think I’m crazy as I’m digging into my hair to retrieve a scab. I keep trying to stop, but can’t seem to.

    • Hi Meagan,
      Sorry for my super late reply… thank you for stopping by my blog and I am glad this list can be of some help to you! As well as picking all over my whole body I also pick a lot at my scalp and so I know the feeling of it being full of scabs and sores. I always wonder if people think I have nits or something with the amount of time I spend fidgeting and itching at my scalp. I don’t know if it’s the same for you but with my scalp I have a condition that requires cortisone treatment. The picking over the rest of my body is purely Dermatillomania related but with my scalp there is something there for me to itch first. Thought I should mention it in case you also might have an underlying scalp condition that could get treated by a doctor. And good luck on your journey to stop picking 🙂 you are definitely not alone!

  3. I think you and Angela are just fabulous and supportive in many ways 🙂 .. I am on my most exhausting battle with myself over just trying to keep positive or desire me that I know the consequences and risks this time round so should be able to take back control!!.. not a chance of that and its come back full force, UN expected and just as hard and life destroying routine that it was before.. only this time it started of harsh and mentally winning the battle and I’m so sore with back and neck pain too.. I’m just not coping with my work duties or my social life ..I’ve ignored every.. my supportive and long suffering partner looks all disappointed and in despair due to last time when it just swamped our lives for years.. I’m already depressed and have long term stress and anger problems that I’m now feeling the effects of with high blood pressure and anxiety with chest pains etc.. I just don’t feel strong enough to take on more than I was coping with and I’m not in a good place attal!!.. never have I been so negative or defeated to this low level!!.. sorry but had to share the truth…. I do remember the name defensively from a while back I think.. well done for all you do for ppl like us 🙂 xxx

    • Hi Karina, thank you for your kind words and I’m so sorry to hear you are going through this at the moment. It is hard when you’ve experienced improvement to all of a sudden relapse, it is one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. I can understand the back pain (I have a workplace injury I’m currently in physiotherapy for) and I always experience stress and anxiety problems (especially during university exam time when I also get the chest pains with it). It is hard, really hard I know this, to try and get out of that negative mind set but start off with baby steps if you can. Find one thing you love about yourself, whether it be something physical or something personality wise and focus on that. Focus on what achievements you have made. Find something to do just for you that eases the stress. I HATE exercise with a passion but I find if I go for a 20 minute walk I really start to enjoy myself and I feel the stress trickle away. Watch a funny movie, take a bath, paint your nails. Do something in the moment to make yourself feel better. In the long term try and see a doctor you feel comfortable talking to. I see a doctor and a psychologist regularly who haven’t been able to help me with the picking but sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to talk to. Also with the people close to us I have often found that it is not disappointment they feel but rather a complete lack of knowing how to help and it hurts them to see someone they love in so much mental/emotional/physical pain. Hang in there hun, it’s a tough battle I know and I hope you start to feel better soon!! Xx

  4. I have been a scalp picker since I was in middle school and I am now in college. I stopped during high school and now it’s bad again. I never knew that it was a problem though…I am going to try these strategies because it’s coming to the point again where I am getting bleeding spots in my head :(. It’s so hard though because no matter where you are, watching tv, sitting in the dark, talking on the phone, or studying.. your hand just finds itself on your head. I also find that I find myself in a trance… like lost in space sometimes because it feels good. It’s like a slow release of comfort. I bite the side of nails, scratch the front of my chest, my back, and pick at my leg hairs! But the most soothing still has to be my head.

    • Hi Anne,

      I also pick at my scalp, although lately I’ve been managing to keep it under control. In saying that though, I still pick everywhere else on my body. And I know how it feels to go into a trance, it is something a lot of derma sufferers say they experience. It’s hard because it is so satisfying until you snap out of it and then realise the damage you have done. I hope that some of the suggestions work for you. I know that always having a fidget toy on hand is helpful, especially if you find yourself picking when you are distracted by things such as the TV, the computer or a phone conversation. Half the struggle is about making ourselves aware of when we are doing it or when we are about to do it, so we can try and stop ourselves. Wishing you all the best and thank you for writing in!

      Samantha

      • Wow, I had no idea other people experience the exact same thing! I do the scalp thing too and thumbs and finger picking, to hear it described as a trance that you snap out of and realise the damage matches exactly what i’ve been experiencing over the last 17 years. It’s crazy because I have really good willpower and can do so much that i put my mind to but this has always seemed completely impossilbe, i feel like ive tried everything!!

        Thanks for this page, it’s good to know i’m not the only one and it gives me an extra push to keep trying.

      • Hi jsara 🙂 Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I’m glad you have found out that there are others out there who suffer from this disorder. I too have really strong willpower and have successfully been able to overcome many challenges. This is the only struggle I just can’t seem to beat but maybe one day we will!

  5. Heeeey , please put your text with a spanish version… i understand but not at all pleasee, i havent found this information in other place 😉 thnxs

    • Hi Fer,

      I’m not quite sure how to translate my page into another language. Perhaps an online translator might work, if you copy and paste the text? Otherwise if you haven’t already, join the Dermatillomania Support Group on Facebook as you might be able to find someone near you that you can connect with and talk to about this. Sorry I can’t be of much help at this stage but I will look into this in the future. Thank you for the suggestion. 🙂

      Samantha

  6. Hi.

    I am a scalp picker. I do it all the time. I try not to in front of people but I guess I am in denial that I can kind of disguise it by looking like I’m playing with my hair sometimes. I am very comfortable in front of some people picking but it’s bad. I definitely have more than one spot that is now hard like a callus and seems to have stopped growing hair. You can’t really tell unless you part the hair right but I KNOW that if this keeps going then eventually it will be very noticeable physically.

    The weird thing is that I don’t really want to stop. I know it’s gross and looks disgusting and damages me but I find it so relieving. I can sometimes let hours go by where I sit there.in a trance watching tv. Being a teacher off from school for the summer right now is not helping!

    I don’t understand why I don’t really want to.
    I know it’s a problem but I guess I just find so much relief in it…

    • Hi there,

      Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment! I can totally relate to what you are experiencing. I am an all over body picker but my scalp is also a target for me and I find it incredibly indulgent because it’s so much easier to hide the damage on my scalp than anywhere else. I also completely understand about the wanting to stop but not wanting to stop. I too feel a great deal of relief when I pick and I am unsure how else I would cope with stress, anxiety and other negative emotions if I was to give up the picking. I think the key is to find a healthier habit/practice/activity to replace it with like yoga, meditation or exercise. It’s just finding the motivation to do those things unfortunately. Wishing you all the best in your battle with this and nice to meet a fellow teacher 🙂 I have 2 more years left of my teaching degree and then I too will be facing the same problems in how to keep myself occupied over the holidays!!

      Samantha

  7. Thank you so much for this it has helped a lot. I have had this problem my whole life and it is painful, physically and mentally. It’s embarrassing, and makes me feel shame. My skin constantly hurts and I always get looked at like I have 3 heads anytime someone sees my picking spots. I just want to be normal instead of looking like I have a severe case of chicken pox allover my body.

    • Hi lovecandy. I am so glad that you found this helpful. I know exactly how you feel. It is very hard, both physically and mentally, living with this disorder and I have been experiencing those stares and questions ever since I was a little girl. We just have to keep fighting the fight! Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

  8. I’ve had this since about the time I started high school, and I’m about halfway through college now. It started with my scalp, and then, I somehow stopped doing that and started picking at the acne on my face. My acne has really slowed down since I was in high school, but the scabs stay on my face for so much longer than the pimples would since I continue to pick at them. I don’t know how to stop, and it’s constantly frustrating for me. I just want to feel beautiful again.

    • Hi Charity, I completely understand how you feel. I am currently suffering from eczema, psoriasis of the scalp and adult acne. My skin used to heal so quickly as a child and as a teenager but now that I’m in my late twenties my scars are taking months to years to fade. It’s very frustrating and I long for clear skin. In the meantime I try and make myself feel beautiful in other ways… trying out new makeup, buying myself a new outfit, and focusing on skin care (so moisturising myself with coconut oil, exfoliating my skin, using scar serum, etc.). Every little bit counts when it comes to making myself feel better. The more I focus on what I like about myself, the less I notice the damage I have done to my skin.

  9. Hi dermagirl,

    It’s nice to see support, encouragement and openness for this huge issue! I have been biting/picking my knuckles since I was in maybe 1st or 2nd grade and it’s spiraled out of control since then. I am now in my early 20s and my hands are monstrous. it’s hard to hide them and i hate getting them wet because they practically glow from all the raw skin. I’m sure you don’t want to hear all this haha. Somehow I managed to find myself a future husband and I am terrified of the wedding photos and don’t even get me started on showing people my ring!!!! However I am slowly but surely getting this under control and have started seeking help.
    I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for being transparent about your journey to stop picking. No matter what you think, this helps. A lot! 🙂

    • Hi jaybee,
      I am so glad that you are finding this blog helpful. I too started picking around the 1st grade so I completely understand how you feel and don’t worry I’m more than happy to hear it all! Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! I too have two events coming up that require me to dress smart – an award ceremony and a friend’s wedding so I am feeling just as nervous about my appearance in public. Something that is helping me is to shift my mindset from one of perfecting by picking to one of perfecting by caring. So instead of focusing on the sores on my legs and trying to perfect them I am instead focusing on the scars on my legs and trying to fade them. That way I still have something to focus on, I still feel like I’m ‘perfecting’ something but I am not making my old wounds any worse. Perhaps this is something you could try in the short term with your knuckles? Also coconut oil works wonders! 🙂

  10. Oh my goodness I never knew this was a thing! I pick at absolutely everything, but especially my lips and the inside of my cheeks. I do it with my teeth and fingers constantly. I knew it was associated with my anxiety, but knowing other people experience it makes everything clearer. I’ve tried heaps of things to try and stop, but I haven’t taken the step to see a professional about it yet. My boyfriend and mum are worried because sometimes I pick at moles accidentally. I think I’m going to try a hypnotherapist when I can afford it. Gah I’m doing it right now.
    This is a super awesome blog.

    • Hi Danica 🙂 I’m so glad you have discovered this is indeed a real thing with quite a lot of people suffering in silence. I run a ‘Dermatillomania Support Group’ on Facebook where you can chat to others with this disorder. Quite a few of us have had positive experiences with hypnotherapists and you’re definitely not the only one who picks at moles. I do it too! I’m glad you enjoy my blog, thank you for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment. Sorry about the late reply (super busy semester at uni!) x

  11. Thank you for this post =) I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but I’ve had this problem for many years now. It has recently got worse especially around my shoulders and legs, which is really bad timing because as a Physiotherapy student, my course requires me to wear shorts and strappy tops for practical classes. So thank you for this post, I shall definitely be using this to try get this problem under control =)

    • Hi Ruby, Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I completely understand the worry regarding Physiotherapy… I was a physio patient last year and was mortified at the thought of stripping down to a pair of shorts and a sports bra! I hope some of these tips help you manage it in the meantime. 🙂

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