Skin Picking

Do you find yourself repetitively touching, rubbing, scratching, picking, or digging into your skin?

Most people pick their skin to some degree, even though their parents probably told them they shouldn’t. The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with occasionally picking at cuticles, acne, scabs, calluses or other skin irregularities.

But for some people, the compulsion to pick at their skin is much more significant.

This condition is known as Skin Picking Disorder (SPD) or Excoriation Disorder. A recent US study indicated that 2-5% of people pick their skin to the point where it causes noticeable tissue damage, anxiety or impaired daily functioning.

Skin Picking Disorder is a serious, yet poorly understood problem that can develop at any age. People who suffer from Skin Picking Disorder will repetitively touch, rub, scratch, pick at, or dig into their skin, often trying to remove small irregularities or perceived imperfections. This behaviour may result in skin discoloration or scarring. In more serious cases, severe tissue damage and visible disfigurement can result.

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Skin Picking Disorder can occur when someone experiences emotions like anxiety, fear, excitement or boredom, but the individual is usually unaware of these triggers. Some people report that the act of picking at their skin is actually pleasurable or satisfying. Many hours can be spent picking at the skin, and this repetitive behaviour can negatively impact a person’s social, work, and family relationships.

Usually, but not always, the face is the primary location for skin picking, although any part of the body can be the focus.

People with Skin Picking Disorder may pick at normal skin variations such as freckles, moles or acne, or at imagined skin defects that nobody else can see. Individuals with Skin Picking Disorder may use their fingernails, as well as their teeth, tweezers, pins or other instruments.

Symptoms of Skin Picking Disorder include:

  • Repetitively scratching at skin on the face, back, arms or other parts of the body, even in public
  • Using specific implements (tweezers, pins, needles) to pick at skin
  • Eating skin that’s been picked off
  • Picking at skin to alleviate anxiety or depression
  • Picking at skin due to boredom
  • Being unaware they are picking at skin
  • Having noticeable scabs, sores or scarring related to picking
  • Wearing hats, makeup and clothing to hide damaged skin
  • Avoiding social situations due to embarrassment about their skin

Skin Picking Disorder can also contribute to severe isolation. The social embarrassment of picking at skin, and the scars it leaves behind, can lead people to stay indoors and avoid friends. It can also cause problems at work, including lateness due to time spent picking at skin and trying to hide it, and absence, when the poor state of the skin makes the sufferer reluctant to be seen in public.

Conditions like Skin Picking Disorder are not usually considered self-harm because the intent is not to harm oneself. The intention is to fix, correct or otherwise make better some aspect of physical appearance, such as removing a blemish or a hair that doesn’t seem to belong. It may also be a coping mechanism for overwhelming emotions, but once again the intent is not to cause damage. Any physical damage done is usually a by-product of the behaviour.

Those with Skin Picking Disorder often feel highly embarrassed about the behaviour, which only makes the obsession worse. The more they try to solve the problem, the worse it can become. For this reason, Skin Picking Disorder falls into the family of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders and is linked quite closely with OCD, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and the hair pulling disorder, Trichotillomania. It is not uncommon for a person to suffer from a combination of these disorders.

Many experts believe that Skin Picking Disorder is more aptly considered a Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour (BFRB), where a person causes harm or damage to themselves or their appearance. Other BFRBs include Hair Pulling Disorder (trichotillomania), biting the insides of the cheeks, and severe nail biting.

Most people develop Skin Picking Disorder in their teens or early 20’s, but how the disorder progresses will depend on many factors, including personal stress and anxiety. It can also depend whether or not the person seeks and finds treatment.

Get a Professional Opinion to find out if you have Skin Picking Disorder:

Though skin picking often occurs on its own, unconnected to other physical or mental disorders, it is important to identify whether it’s a symptom of another problem that needs treatment.

Skin picking could be a symptom of conditions like:

  • Dermatological disorders
  • Autoimmune problems
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Substance abuse disorders (such as opiate withdrawal)
  • Developmental disorders (like autism)
  • Psychosis

Determining whether skin picking is an independent problem, or a symptom of another disorder, is an important first step in creating an appropriate treatment plan.

If you’re dealing with Skin Picking Disorder, or wonder if it could be affecting your life, please get in touch with us.

It is possible to return to a life where you feel confident and proud about your skin.

Get help to overcome the burden Skin Picking Disorder it’s placing on your life and reclaim your ability to accept yourself as you are.

The Next Step is Yours – Take It!

A Personal Letter To YOU,

It takes courage to initiate a change in your life – especially one that has been weighing you down for a long time. It is almost as if that which you want to get rid of, is a familiar friend. In reality it is your enemy, that undermines and restricts you everyday.

Isn’t it time to finally throw the enemy out and live the rest of your life free?

The expertise we have at the Alpine Counselling Clinic is unsurpassed. The thousands of clients we have helped to make significant changes in their lives over the past 30 years, bears good testament to our professionalism and commitment.

If you are hesitant in any way about taking the next step, call the number below and ask for me personally – so we can talk. I guarantee your satisfaction. 

Claire Maisonneuve, director Alpine Clinic.

Call 604-732-3930

request an appointment

Text 778-871-4076