Also called dermatillomania or excoriation disorder, skin picking disorder is where you can’t stop picking at your skin. There are things you can try to help yourself, but some people may need professional treatment.

Check if you have skin picking disorder

Most people pick at their skin from time to time, but you may have skin picking disorder if you:

  • can’t stop picking your skin
  • cause cuts, bleeding or bruising by picking your skin
  • pick moles, freckles, spots or scars to try to “smooth” or “perfect” them
  • don’t always realise you are picking your skin or do it when you are asleep
  • pick your skin when you feel anxious or stressed

You may pick your skin with your fingers, fingernails, teeth, or with tools like tweezers, pins or scissors.

Things you can try to stop you picking your skin

See a GP if:

  • you can’t stop picking your skin
  • you’re causing serious damage to your skin by picking it – like cuts that don’t heal within a few days
  • picking your skin is causing you emotional distress or affecting your daily life

Talking therapy for skin picking disorder

Talking therapy is currently thought to be an effective treatment to help change skin picking behaviour. If you’re offered this, it will usually be given through community mental health services.

The most common type of talking therapy offered for skin picking disorder is cognitive behavioural therapy and may include a technique called habit reversal training.

Habit reversal training works by helping you:

  • recognise and be more aware of your skin picking and what is triggering it
  • replace skin picking with a less harmful behaviour

Causes of skin picking disorder

Skin picking disorder is related to obsessive compulsive disorder, where the person can’t stop themselves carrying out a particular action.

It can be triggered by:

  • boredom
  • stress or anxiety
  • negative emotions, such as guilt or shame
  • skin conditions, such as acne or eczema
  • other blemishes that the person wants to get rid of – these may not be noticeable to other people

It is sometimes called a “body-focused repetitive behaviour” and is similar to repetitive hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania).

It is also related to other obsessive compulsive disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder, where the person is excessively preoccupied with their appearance.

People with skin picking disorder often also have other obsessive compulsive disorders. These may require their own assessment and treatment.