What is Dermatillomania?

Dermatillomania, (also known as excoriation disorder or skin picking disorder) falls under the category of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and is characterised by a compulsion to pick or scratch your own skin. Some people create new wounds while others may focus on already damaged areas of skin such as spots, cuts or scars. This can be done with fingernails, teeth or with the help of tweezers, pins, razors or scissors. People with dermatillomania experience growing tension and anxiety until they are able to satisfy the intense urge to pick. 

There are two different types of picking:

Automatic: This kind of picking often happens without a person thinking about it. They tend to run their hands or fingertips over the skin to find any areas that feel different, which might then become an area for focused picking.

Focused: This kind of picking is “focused” on a specific area, and can be intense causing more serious damage to the skin.

What causes Dermatillotillomania?

Dermatillomania is a symptom. The cause may vary but can range from things such as:

  • A learned behaviour from a family member.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trauma

Some things that might help relieve the anxiety until the urge passes are:

  • Use grounding techniques.
  • Squeeze a stress ball 5 times in the left hand followed by 5 times in the right hand and repeat.
  • Do something with your hands to keep them busy such as crafting, jigsaws, Rubik’s cube.
  • Wear gloves
  • Care for your skin by creating a care routine by applying moisturiser or body lotion.

Overcoming Dermatillomania

No one is born with dermatillomania so it doesn’t have to be a lifelong affliction and can be completely overcome. 

To start with, it is vital to address and alter your perception of the event or events that created the dermatillomania in the first place.  Understanding what actually happened to trigger the picking is the key. You might like to use our timeline to help you find the origin so you can start to challenge, positively condition and alter the negative schemas (beliefs) you have created. Try these tips to get you started:

  • Locate the origin of your belief. You can do this by writing a timeline.
  • Challenge the origin of your belief: what you believed then may not be true now, or perhaps never was.
  • Practice and rehearse being confident. You might like to try our Mirror Therapy Resource.
  • Break down challenging situations by setting yourself small goals.
  • When you find yourself in challenging situations, use our Grounding Techniques to help you through.
  • Learn to love yourself because you are amazing and deserve to live your life to the full.

Living with Dermatillomania can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their mental health issues if given the right help and support. Read more…