Dermatillomania: the Skin Picking Disorder

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, and potentially leading 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 that 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 a name for my odd habit: dermatillomania.

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, and picking 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 even sometimes find myself picking at work in front of customers (I work in retail now) and I just can’t help myself. It doesn’t even really help keeping my nails short 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. But at home I knit, 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 ease my picking is a YouTube channel started by Dr Sandra Lee, aka 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 reasons. She has over 2.5 million subscribers, and many of them have admitted that watching her videos help ease their anxiety or urges to pick. I am one of those viewers.

For more information about dermatillomania, please go to And to anyone who has dermatillomania and thought they were the only one like I did once, 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 just 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.

5 thoughts on “Dermatillomania: the Skin Picking Disorder”

    1. Thank you for your comment. That’s the thing about dermatillomania: it’s actually quite common, however sufferers are ashamed to talk about it, and so it’s not well-known as a condition.

  1. I can’t believe I came across your site. I started doing this at age 6 due to an abusive childhood and a need to control my emotions and anxiety to lessen my pain. I only do it to my right hand, which still seems strange to me..but also my feet at times. This has been 39 years now. I am VERY self-conscience of my hand.

    1. Shaylah, I’m so sorry you had such a terrible start to life, and have been struggling with this condition for nearly forty years. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Please, do not be self-conscious of your hand. You have been through a huge ordeal and the marks on your hand signify the battles that you have fought and won. I don’t know if you’ve tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for your anxiety, but if not you may find it a helpful tool to keep your anxiety and dermatillomania in line.

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