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02nd Feb 2024

Dermatillomania: I pick my skin and this is what I’m doing to break the habit

Anna Martin


I pick my skin. Like. A lot

I do it when I’m nervous, I do it when I’m angry when I’m bored, and I even do it when I don’t actually know I’m doing it.

I’ll be very honest for a second, I hate it. For me personally walking around with angry scabs on my face and arms has done nothing to help my confidence.

I have generalised anxiety disorder and through working with my therapist, I learned that picking is a part of self-soothing behaviours.

If I see a pimple, a hive or just a bump before I know it I’ve pulled at it and now my milk bottle skin is red and angry.

Even when I allow it to heal to a point I can feel the ridges and contours and before I know it I’ve pulled the scab off and I’m bleeding.

Foundation doesn’t cover it, it just grips to the crusty parts making it look worse and when summer comes around long sleeves to cover where I’ve attacked my arms and chest just make me feel silly.

skin pick
Credit: Getty

It turns out there’s a name for what I considered to be just a bad habit has a name – dermatillomania or excoriation disorder – and it only took me to my early 20s before I had the word.

Armed with my new knowledge when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I made a promise to myself, this year I would get a handle on my skin picking.

So far I’ve found a few things that help me and might help you too but remember you’re not alone and dermatillomania is something that is taking over your life, don’t be afraid to speak to a professional.

Speaking to my therapist

skin pick
Credit: Getty

Surprise, surprise, as someone who has both anxiety and depression I have a trusted therapist.

She was actually the one who brought it to my attention that when my mood gets low my skin picking escalates so together we started trying something new in our sessions.

We started incorporating Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) into our talks, working to retrain my brain so that every time I felt like picking I would redirect myself and try something more constructive.

We also worked on self-love, realising that despite struggling with my mental health, I didn’t have to take out my negative emotions on my body and there are other grounding techniques I can use when I start to feel anxious.

Getting my nails done

It sounds strange but it’s super effective.

When I have a fresh set of acrylics a combination of the curved smooth edges and thicker nails means that it’s difficult to pick and pull.

Plus it’s both an act of self-love and care, making me feel more confident in my own body, warding some off that anxiety.

Hydrocolloid patches

pimple patch
Credit: Beauty Bay

Ever heard the expression “out of sight out of mind,” there’s a lot of truth to it.

I started wearing hydrocolloid pimple patches to bed as I found that when I do most of my picking and by god has it worked wonders.

It’s harder to feel where the bumps are to pull at them and it’s actually been helping my acne as I can’t get my grubby little fingers all over them.

Alongside this, I don’t keep mirrors in my room. It might sound sad but I promise it’s not, I can’t look for something to pick if I can’t see it.

Treating myself with kindness

I’ve never been one to have patience with myself when I struggle and I know I’m not alone in that.

I shame myself while looking at my scabs and declaring myself ugly after a particularly bad day with picking.

There’s nothing wrong with tripping while making process, I wouldn’t say such mean words to anyone else so why do I make myself the exception?

So, I’ve made the choice to treat myself like anyone else I love; with patience.