Is Skin Picking a Mental Disorder?

guy picking at pimple on his face

For some people, skin picking is a minor, nervous habit. But for others, picking at the skin turns into something much more harmful and serious. During the teen years, it’s not uncommon for adolescents to pick at blemishes. But compulsive skin picking that turns into self-mutilation is an impulse control disorder known as dermatillomania.

Characteristics of a Skin Picking Disorder

 There are certain signs that indicate that skin picking isn’t just a harmless habit, but instead a mental disorder.

  • Repeatedly picking at sores, scabs or cuticles until they bleed
  • Picking at unblemished skin because of perceived imperfections
  • Having noticeable sores, scars or bruises from skin picking
  • Avoiding going places where people might notice sores or scabs

This disorder may start by picking just a few scabs, but becomes worse when you notice that the repetitive behavior involved in picking at your skin relieves stress. You may find that the behavior worsens when you feel anxious or depressed. The habit of skin picking falls into a category known as Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB), which also includes hair pulling. Skin picking is sometimes considered a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Healing From a Skin Picking Disorder

While occasional skin picking may not be a problem, compulsive skin picking can lead to more serious problems like risk of infection or tissue damage. But compulsive skin picking can be treated with therapy and medication. When you work with a therapist, he or she can help you to recognize what triggers the urge to pick at your skin. You will learn to focus on discontinuing this habit by replacing it with other ways to occupy your hands, such as squeezing a rubber ball, etc. It may also help to wear gloves in order to make it difficult to pick at your skin.

No medication has been approved to treat this disorder; but antidepressants may help relieve some of the urge for repetitive behavior when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.  Researchers are also considering whether anticonvulsants may be useful for this purpose.

If you recognize that you have a problem with skin picking, don’t ignore it. Most likely, this type of compulsive behavior isn’t going to go away on its own. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. It is possible to heal from a skin picking disorder.



“Skin Picking Disorder” – WebMD

“Skin Picking Disorder Fact Sheet” – International OCD Foundation

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