Do You Have Dermatillomania?

When reading about the condition Dermatillomania, many people begin to worry that they too have this disorder. So how do you know if you suffer with it? At what point does picking at your skin become equivalent to having a disorder? The following questions were ones I created for everyone to assess if picking at their skin is problematic.

  • Do you pick at your skin enough to cause you emotional distress?
  • Does your skin picking prevent you from engaging in social activities?
  • Do you feel that you are being held back in life because of your skin picking?
  • Do you keep your obsessive skin picking a secret for fear of judgment?
  • Do you feel ashamed that you are unable to stop picking at your skin?
  • Does this make you feel alone?

While these are questions are not official diagnostic tools, they can help determine if skin picking is a problem in your life. The DSM-5 will have criteria to diagnose the disorder, although I’m not convinced from proposals that the criteria is specific enough yet, but it’s a start! The OCD Center of LA provides an online assessment to test if your skin picking is an issue to be worried about.

Also from the OCD Center of LA comes a GREAT article outlining the “ABC’s of Dermatillomania” by Karen Pickett, MFT. Please read the article for an in-depth look at this concept but in short, here’s what A, B, and C stand for:
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“An “A” is something that almost “Anyone” would pick. This could be a piece of dry skin hanging off your arm, a pus-filled whitehead on your chin that pops at your mere touch, or a scab that’s barely hanging on which you easily detach.

A “B” is a “Bump”, pimple, scab, etc. that only a skin picker would pick. This is something that would either become an “A” over time or go away on its own if left alone. But, a skin picker will frequently start picking at it and make it significantly worse. It may then bleed, ooze, scab, and possibly become infected.  This in turn will cause two additional problems – it will cause the picker significant distress, and it will give him or her something new to pick at later. In my experience, I have found that clients with CSP classify at least 50% of their picking as “B’s”.

C” stands for “Create”, meaning the individual with CSP is not picking at anything objectively “real”, but in the process of picking at her skin, he or she “creates” something such as a blemish, scratch or scab.  A “C” is something that only someone with Dermatillomania would pick. There is often nothing apparent on the skin, but the picker starts picking or scratching, and in the process creates a wound.”

Karen Pickett, MFT

As always, please see a trained practitioner if you believe your skin picking is interfering with your day-to-day activities and causing you emotional distress. Other tests may need to be taken to determine if your skin picking is the root of a skin disorder or psychological affliction. Having Dermatillomania isn’t cut and dry because there are many reasons and triggers, so many types that I believe will become unraveled once more research uncovers the details.

Check out the five- star documentary Scars of Shame and Angela’s ground- breaking memoir FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary. Like Angela on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and join her on Tumblr.
Learn about Angela’s surprising recovery from Dermatillomania here!
  • I pick at my sores until they bleed where ever I see a sore I pick at it what do I tell my doctor is there help

  • clare griffith

    I have only just found out its called Dermatillomania after suffering from it for 30 years. What help is out there that specialises in this area? Doctors dermatologists and even C.b.t hasn’t helped as i don’t think they realised what they were dealing with and didn’t take me seriously enough.As its very real and deeply upsetting as it controls everything i do. I don’t feel confident enough to find a boyfriend who is my equal so choose the wrong ones. I feel ugly and down about it, i can’t sleep at night due to the discomfort and suffer back problems from stretching to reach areas to pick. It causes depression and anxiety. When i stop picking for a few days my life is so much better, its a big weight to carry and would love to stop altogether but how?

  • Tilly

    I have been picking my skin for over 5 years. I started when I got depression, but as that has been dealt with, the picking is worse. I pick my face until it bleeds and also create sores on my breasts that are just so painful and embarrassing. I’ve only just heard of this diagnosis as of late but I am so terrified to tell my family or go and see a doctor about it because it is just too embarrassing. They are getting very painful and some are infected, and it keeps me from going out and doing normal things. What should I do?

  • Ale

    I’ve been picking at my skin for years, not so bad that it would affect my social life, but enough for people to notice. I think it would be the “B” kind… I just feel some irregularity in my skin and I cannot stop picking it, scraching until it bleeds, it’s just in that moment when I realize what I’ve been doing and stop. Sometimes my friend or family notice it because it’s usually in my arms. My mom always gets angry, but don’t do it in porpouse, I honestly don’t realize what I’m doing until I see my fingers with blood or I feel pain.
    It’s kind of nice to know this has a name.

    • sarah

      i am exactly the same so you shouldnt feel like the only one out there but my mum allways shouts at me aswell for picking my skin but its not going to help because it just makes me more aware that i have done dammage and i am more likely to go to the mirror and ‘investigate’. however over the years i have learnt that life still goes on even if you have a good or bad day so what i am saying is eventhough you have a really bad skin picking moment and you step back from the mirror regretting what youve just done, you cant turn back time so eventhough you will feel bad about yourself i have learnt to get out there and have fun because no body is getting any younger so there is nothing that should stop you doing what you want to do even your skin! i hope i have helped because it is so much easier giving advise rather than doing it yourself because eventhough i still pick my skin i still make myself go outside and enjoy life, thats why we were born in the first place, right?

  • Sam

    I am only 15 and I’ve had this disorder for a few years now, unknowing that it was a disorder. I am actually a “C” I pick at the perfectly fine skin by my fingernails until it bleeds and hurts like crazy. I often pick at my heels too which has gone to the point where I couldn’t walk on one of my feet because it hurt too much. I have severe depression and ADD so I think that’s a big portion of the problem. I would get help, but I’d hate to take another pill I already feel messed up enough.

    • Jess

      i’m 15 and I am almost exactly the same way! (minus the ADD) whenever i get out of the shower, the damage is more easily visible because my skin is wet, and i start to pick at my heel until there is this huge gash-like indentation in my heel. twice i have done it until it bleeds. as i was reading this article, i was unconsciously picking at a scab from one of my ‘C’s on my arm and didn’t notice until i felt the blood making my finger slippery (i know gross). same thing happened when i was watching a movie, i started scratching at my thumb and when the movie ended, my fingers were covered in blood. have you told your parents? i want to stop doing this, but i’m afraid to tell my mom because i feel like she would just brush it off and ignore me.

  • sarah

    ive only just found out that the condition has a name, it kind of means alt of people have i, which is gppd because i thought that i was the only one and im getting very depressed and angry in everyday life because i cant stop picking my skin. when i have oicked my skin i didnt realise i had done it then i stepped back out of the mirror remembering that i need to stop by this time it was to late.i dont know what to do because only when i have a special occasion coming up or something and my face has to look good i will keep away from the mirror but as soon as i get past the special occasion thats it, the process startes again an im back to squuare one all over again. i think i really need to tell my friends as they might understand why i wear so much make up to cover up all the scars and marks i have left on my face but dont want them to judge me because there is a name for it meaning it sounds like there is something wrong with us.

  • Maddie

    Wow. I didn’t think I had a disorder with a formal name. I picked my face 20 minutes ago and I’ve been struggling for 2 years now and finally I decided to search for help. I think I have found it. For such a long time I thought it was only me. I would (and still) look at other people’s skin to find any imperfections to make me feel better. I feel like society on beauty has a big impact on that. We all want to look our best when we can’t. It’s unrealistic. We all have some sort of flaws but have brilliant qualities too, to balance our spirit. That’s what makes us beautiful.

  • anon

    I have picked at my skin for over 8 years and my arms,shoulders and my chest.are covered in the scars. I cant stop either. Everyone yells at me but that makes me want to do it even more. my fiends say i need to go to a mental hospital.ill do it when im bored,depresses,or anxious. Idk if i need help. I covor them up as much as i can but i still get looked at.my lips are ruined bevause i pick at them alot. When i look in the mirror i see a discusting thing and mostly because i pick. It helps me from harming but iys the same thing. I also often peel at my skin. I peel at things and i cant help it. I get the strong urge to pick and peel. my parents dont understand and they tell me im fine and that ill grow outta it and i know i wont. Do i need help? Im scared to get help tho. But if i need to i will

  • Mira

    I’ve been picking at my skin for over ten years. It started in middle school. I spent so much time alone and had major self-esteem issues. I have permanently scarred my arms from picking at them. At one time, my entire arms, legs from hip to ankle, chest, shoulders, and face looked like raw sores. I always thought it was the acne. People have asked me what’s up, and I always made excuses: I cut myself in the bushes, I have a rash, I got sunburned, etc. They think I stopped, but I just discovered cover-up. I still do it, all the time. I just find a way to do it without leaving so many marks, and cover up the marks I do leave. I have even started picking at my husband who has beautiful skin. I’m worried that I’m going to scar him. My head screams at my fingers to stop, but it’s like my thoughts are in a box, tucked away, not heard. The funny thing is, I don’t have body image issues. Today, I don’t have self-esteem issues or any type of depression. This is more of an annoying impulse that I can’t stop, but it doesn’t interfere with my social life (that is, if I can hide it). If I can’t hide it, I still go out, but I make up excuses to why my skin looks so bad.

  • jazzy11jw@gmail.com

    I am only 12 and have more than 100 sore scars and scabs on my body that I
    pick till they bleed. My mom has helped me a little by letting me peel and pick of her dry skin on her feet. But sometimes I will pick other people if I cant do so to myself it has happened over 15 times to 6 people. People ask me what im doing and I say nothing and feel ashamed. My bff asked me why I do it , and I give her a shrug and say yes it does hurt. Sometimes I will take knives or razors to cut and pick myself shen my nails are too short. I grow them out to pick myself and everyone is scared of me. What do I do?

  • I started doing it when i got bullied as a 12 year old at school and to this day some ten years later. I think it revolves around some self critical narcism, we internalise the objectification we receive from others, girls and men and become super critical of ourselves. It was a huge relief to me when somebody said “Stop trying to be perfect” it helped me identify there is an insecure narcissist there somewhere, it is a great relief to accept imperfection rather than try to “fix” it. I put myself off doing it when i tell myself how self indulgent and narcissistic i am being – i hate how much society objectifies and sexualises young girls and women, and when i objectify myself in the mirror and attack my “imperfections” i am perpetuating and condoning that behaviour.

  • Shannon

    I am 37 years old and have picked at my scalp for as long as I can remember. To my own scalp, I would say I am a “C”. I also find myself being a “B” towards my own children. I might just be rubbing their back, and start to pick loose skin. I know I mostly do this when I’m anxious or stressed, but it’s gotten out of control. What do I do?

  • Mari

    I’ve picked at my skin for as long as I can remember. If I have a scab of some kind, it bothers me unless I rip it off. But worst of all are my feet. Which I suppose would fall under the “C” category, since there’s nothing wrong with the skin, but I’ll tear and scratch at it till I can get purchase with my nails and fingers and then I start tearing at it. It gets to the point that its entirely red and raw 98% of the time. I hate being barefoot around ANYONE and I’m extraordinarily self-conscious about it. My family is always yelling at me about it, and I’ve been called a freak for it a good share of times when someone finds out. I always thought I was the only one until my best friend (honestly the only one who knows and doesn’t judge me) sent me a couple links about Dermotillomania. I can’t say how great it feels to not be alone and to know that its actually commonplace enough to have a real name.

  • Tiffany

    I feel weird BC I do pick myself but mostly my husband. I didn’t realize that I had a problem until he finally, after years of it, started voicing his concerns and now we have full on arguments about it. We will be sitting side by side almost anywhere and I can’t stop myself. Most of the time I will just be touching his back or face and if I feel something “uneven” that doesn’t belong I pick it. Then I see if there is anything visible I guess that would be “a”s then I keep picking whether there is anything there or not. If he tells me i cant do it and makes me stop i get so upset and i feel so much anxiety. When I do it I feel like I’m helping him, like its making him clean or something. Is this the same thing even though I do it more to him than myself?

  • Taylor

    I’ve been picking for 10 years now. I started when I was 5 and it just started with picking at my nails. But then I got hurt a lot and started picking at scabs until they got infected. My parents thought it was just a childhood phase but it never stopped, only got worse. Then, acne came along. I popped the pimples. And then I picked at the remains.I had several scabs on my face at this point. Throughout my life my parents have always judged me for my picking behavior. They think they are helping me and looking out for me, but it just makes me feel like a freak. My dad used to educate me on how bad infections can get to the point of hospitalization, thinking it would scare me out of my habit. And it would work, for about a day. And now I just pick everything. And I bite my nails to the point that they are nubs, but it doesn’t stop me at all. And when I’m in public, my friends worry about me when they see the infections and the scabs. Most of the time I snap at them or I tell them I got hurt, or that it’s just a big bite and I have a slight habit. And when I see something to pick, I really wish I could stop myself but it’s like I’m falling into a bottomless hole and I just can’t get out.I’m just so sick of it and wish I could be like normal people and enjoy my life. I’m tired and need help. But my problem is that my parents still think it’s a phase and that there is no disorder related to my problem and that I will grow out of it. I’m just sick of it.

    • Amanda

      I am the same way. My husband tells me constantly to stop and then somehow I start again without realizing it. I hate wearing shorts or short sleeves. I mean tally try to stop but it just doesn’t work. I tell you all of this because I am 36 and it’s all I can remember. It’s an obsession for me now. You are not alone and there are others out there like you.

  • Incorporate a Vitamin E supplement into your diet. After about 4 weeks your skin should be mostly healed over and the number of dry spots will reduce greatly, this helps to eliminate the compulsion to pick at it! Worked for me, hope it works for you!

  • Laura Siu

    I’ve picked my skin and EATEN them for 9 years since i was 4 yrs old and my mother used to hit me whenever she caught me doing that. She put bandages and gauze, covering all my wounds and i looked like a freak when i go to school. All of my friends think im a bit creepy and they always ask me why i do that but i just cant explain it to them. The skin on the elbows are so wrinkled because i keep peeling scabs and new skin keeps growing out. My mother says my skin is rotten and no one likes me at all so i wont get married(i dun wanna get married tho). A few years later my parents thought i had eczema and they took me to a chinese clinic(i live in hong kong) and the doctors gave me those extremely bitter chinese medicine and i was required to drink them two times a day. It was so bitter that i vomitted every time i took the medicine. I also have to apply different kinds of ointment with side effects so as to take care of my ‘eczema’. I tried to ask my parents to take this problem seriously but they just ignored me and say this is normal, and everyone picks their skin when they get nervous and bored. Soon i ‘learned’ to accept this as a very bad habit of mine and just ignored this problem. But these few months ive noticed myself sitting in the toilet, peeling scabs ,pulling hair, eyebrows, popping pimples, acne and blackheads with bobby pins and forceps until 3:00 am. I felt so tired the next day and thats when i found out the existence of the dermatollimania disorder. It was such a huge relieve for me to know that many people also suffer from this and i am not alone. I also suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder and i think this is also why i pick my skin.

    (Sorry for making loads of grammatical mistakes coz english is not my first language)