Updated: Dec 26, 2022
Dermatillomania is a big word, one which isn't commonly used and lacks public information. This OCD/anxiety-related disorder is more common than previously known, 1 in 20 people suffer from Dermatillomania (with research claiming women are more affected by the disorder). So... what is Dermatillomania? Keep scrolling for my own (meet Kay) personal experience with Dermatillomania, and how I treat/manage it.
Dermatillomania is commonly referred to as the "skin-picking" disorder (SPD); it involves the involuntary, uncontrollable, or even conscious urge to pick, rub, touch, scratch, squeeze, dig, or generally mess with skin. This could be skin on your face, arms, legs, torso, etc. and can range from repetitive pimple-popping to digging into the skin causing open wounds.
Dermatophagia is similar to Dermatillomania, however won't be discussed in this article. Dermatophagia is the "skin-eating" disorder, involving biting the skin around your hands, nails, etc. and most-likely consuming the dead skin or cuticles.
What Causes Skin-Picking?
It's hard to determine the causes of anxiety-related disorders because stress and worry are a natural part of everyone's lives. The obsessive-compulsive nature of this disorder usually indicates specific stressors or triggers that cause skin picking, however, the repetitive activity usually takes over and skin picking runs its course automatically/unconsciously.
What Dermatillomania Isn't
Simply popping pimples isn't a form of Dermatillomania. The skin picking disorder is characterized by excessive picking at the skin, caused by or causing extreme distress. People with Dermatillomania feel as if they have no control over the repetitive behavior, and many times it happens unconsciously. Dermatillomania doesn't have to be associated with breakouts, someone may have clear skin and only pick at other skin on their body. Or, someone may start off with very little breakouts and make them much worse with skin picking. Talk to your psychiatrist or general doctor if you're worried about skin picking.
Aside from psychotherapy and medications prescribed by your psychiatrist for skin picking, there are other treatment options that can aid professional treatment. It's very hard to treat Dermatillomania, however, listed below are a few options for sufferers of skin picking. Before starting any new treatment options that could interfere with professional treatment, always consult with your psychiatrist or general doctor.
This book from Barnes and Noble is a best-seller for sufferers of Dermatillomania.
"Annette Pasternak, Ph.D., the Stop Skin Picking Coach, teaches you everything you need to know about why you pick your skin and how to break free of this frequently devastating behavior. Step-by-step she leads you through: 1) exercises to help you to break the habit of the behavior, 2) techniques to reduce stress and anxiety naturally, thus reducing the body’s need to pick, 3) how to release negative thoughts and emotions holding you back and 4) lifestyle changes to restore physiological balance, including which foods to avoid, which to eat more of, and natural supplements to help you stop. This comprehensive guide is a lifesaver for those suffering from skin picking and is invaluable also for health professionals interested in learning how to help their patients who pick."
Personal Experience with Dermatillomania
I have personal experience with Dermatillomania. Read below for more information about the disorder and treatment options.
My personal experience with Dermatillomania has been one of the biggest secrets I've kept, not just from the public but for a long time, myself. I have always struggled with my skin, I used to take Accutane for acne in high school (seriously do not recommend) and it messed with my moods to the extreme. I started noticing breakouts when I was about 12, and ever since I have had problems keeping breakouts under control and managing my uneven complexion.
I wasn't even aware of my mental health problems in high school (although I knew something was wrong) so I had even less information about Dermatillomania and what skin picking was. When I found out in college that what I was doing to my face and skin was because of anxiety, depression, and OCD, I almost felt relieved.
I had been destroying my face during times of stress, and I knew I didn't want to mess up my face or skin, but I felt I had no control over this annoying, distressing, and physically-altering disorder. I would become devastated after an episode because I couldn't recognize myself when I looked in the mirror, and I definitely couldn't let people see the embarrassing and unflattering results of skin-picking.
"What if people think I'm gross?"
"What if they don't know I can't control it?"
"Don't they know all I want is clear skin?"
I used to cake on All-Nighter foundation, with full coverage and tons of pore-clogging ingredients (which just made things worse). This made me break out more, causing me to touch my face more, and in turn, use more of this heavy foundation so I could feel comfortable leaving my house. If you're looking for the foundation I use now (still with great coverage, but with healthier ingredients) see Self-Care Essentials for Beauty and Wellness!
This vicious cycle ended when I spoke with my psychiatrist about Dermatillomania and finally was able to work on treatment options for myself. I tried switching antidepressants which didn't work and also adding new medications that were more harmful than helpful.
I'm going to share a before/after of my skin after using all of the treatments below. Please be kind when commenting below, and remember that Rose-Minded is a safe place to speak about mental health. If there are any rude comments towards myself or anyone on the site, know that they will be removed.
After a lot of trial and error, this is how I manage/treat my Dermatillomania:
My nails were a big problem when I would pick at my skin, they would cause cuts and wounds on my face, arms, and legs that hurt for weeks after. I tried using fake nails (just for fun) and noticed the almond shape nails made it so I couldn't harm my skin like before. I could still try and touch/pick at my face, but I wasn't causing as much damage. When they started falling off, I invested in acrylic nails and now I can't cause wounds on my face!
*This may not work for everyone, try with fake nails before you invest in acrylics and see how it affects the picking. If the nails make your skin worse, try cutting them down with clippers as short as you can.
2. N-A-C Supplement
I take N-A-C, a natural supplement scientifically-proven to surpass Luvox (a common antidepressant used in high doses to treat anxiety/OCD disorders) in treating Dermatillomania (as well as Trichotillomania). As soon as I started taking the vitamin every day, I noticed my urges and impulses were drastically reduced. They aren't gone completely, but there are some nights I don't touch my face at all now!
3. Time Yourself
Another way I tried to stop skin picking was timing myself when I went to wash my face, as this was the time I was most likely to start messing with my face. I'd set a timer for about 5 minutes so I would be more mindful of how much time I was actually spending touching my face and in the bathroom. Getting acrylic nails was more helpful for me, but if that's not an option for you or doesn't work, try setting a timer!
4. Essential Oils
I've spoken a lot about the benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy on the site, and for good reason. Aromatherapy dates back to ancient times when Egyptians would add essential oils to their baths and on their skin topically. Smelling certain fragrances is scientifically proven to help with physical, emotional, and cognitive imbalances, and I can say first-hand essential oils are a great addition to any skincare routine or aromatherapy routine.
5. Skin Care
I've always been a huge advocate of skincare because of the problems I've had with mine, but once the other treatments began to help I was so excited I began to really focus on good skincare. This, in turn, made my scars heal faster, prevented new breakouts (preventing touching), and gave me the confidence to go out with less/new makeup! Here are the products that have helped the most with my Dermatillomania and healing the results of past episodes:
This light healed my acne scars from picking faster than any topical product could. With bad scars and acne, you can use this light up to 3 times a day, and for maintenance about twice a week. It's one of the pricier treatment options available, but it's worth the investment.
Vitamin C Serum, combined with Vitamin E Oil, has evened out my complexion and healed cuts/scabs without clogging my pores like many heavy lotions.
I had no idea the Rose Essential Oil and Rosehip Oil were completely different things! I use rose water spray on my face every day, but Rosehip Oil contains tons of antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamins that are the perfect blend for healing scars and adding moisture to your skin. Occasionally I combine it with 1 drop of Tea Tree Oil (any more dries out my face) if I have clogged pores or breakouts.
Hopefully, any of these treatments can help with your symptoms of Dermatillomania like they helped mine. If you know someone who suffers from skin picking, share this article with them! Also, feel free to share your own tips for reducing skin picking or managing Dermatillomania in the comments below.
This page includes affiliate links, for more information see my Disclaimer.
References from Fact Sheet.