Living with Dermatillomania

By: Lauren Eve Scheff

Imagine this: you’re sitting on your bedroom floor, filling out the study guide for your final test of the year. There are so many components and questions to it, and you already struggle greatly with that subject. You feel overwhelmed and can not remember anything you have read. Your heart begins to race, and anxiety starts to hit. You just sit and glare at your study guide until you realize that you haven’t written anything down in an hour. You think, “What have I been doing all this time?” Then, as you pull your hands up from behind you, you realize that you have been digging and tearing up your back with your nails. You run to the bathroom and look in the mirror to find a bloody mess underneath your favorite shirt. You didn’t realize you were picking at your back and are now embarrassed to go to the summer pool party this weekend because of the scabs and scars that will be present on your back, so you cancel your RSVP.

This is a scenario that I, along with many others, have found myself in multiple times. It is a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRD) known as dermatillomania, or skin picking disorder (SPD). Those who suffer from dermatillomania often find themselves repeatedly touching, rubbing, scratching, squeezing, picking, or digging into their skin, whether they know they are doing it or not. Some do it out of anxiety or boredom, while others are obsessed with making sure that there are no bumps on their body, and pick at them to make them go away (which does not help their motive). 

Those who have dermatillomania usually have a designated spot where they pick at. The most common area for picking is the face because of acne, but the back, chest, arms, legs, stomach, lips, shoulders, and scalp are also common areas, to name a few. The person may not realize they are picking, and some days they may pick for a few minutes; other days they may pick for hours.

Dermatillomania has several negative effects: shame, embarrassment, depression, helplessness, guilt, and even more anxiety. It can cause people not to wear certain clothes that expose the designated picking area, and can even cause people to refuse to go out into public and enjoy life with friends because of fear of judgment. On a more physical note, however, dermatillomania can lead to scarring, infection, discoloration of the skin, and in extreme cases, tissue damage. 

Skin picking affects between 2% and 3% of the general population. Most people are too embarrassed to admit they have dermatillomania. In fact, only between 30% and 45% of people who have it sought treatment. In a recent study, over 47.5% of people who were interviewed said that their dermatillomania began before the age of ten. Another study reports that 11.5% of those with dermatillomania will make suicide attempts.

While there is no exact cure for dermatillomania, there are some methods that have been proven to help. Visiting a dermatologist to talk about any acne that you may have is a great place to start. They can help clear up the acne where you pick so you have fewer bumps to pick at. Behavioral and Pharmacological Therapy has also been proven to help. My grandmother always suggested carrying around a fidget toy to keep my hands occupied during the day, and it has helped me, and many others, resist the urge to pick.

If you suffer from skin-picking or think you might have dermatillomania, I encourage you to speak up about it and get help. Like me, it may never go away, but with proper treatment, you may get your picking under control for the most part.

Gabby Frost4 Comments