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.