What is dermatillomania?

From writing a couple of little ancedotes about my experiences with dermatillomania on here, quite a few people have said that they hadn’t heard of it before, and didn’t know what it was. And understandably so! It’s a big, long funny sounding word, and it definitely isn’t talked about as much as other mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. So I thought it would probably be helpful to make a factual sort of post, explaining what dermatillomania is, and how it is generally expressed in different people. I hope this doesn’t come across as lecturing or condescending, or like I’m demanding that you learn everything about dermatillomania, but merely if you are interested, here you go! 

So first things first, dermatillomania is also known as skin-picking disorder or excoriation (another complicated sounding word) disorder too. It’s classified as a BFRB, which stands for Body Focused Repitive Behaviour, and that’s actually quite an informative acronomyn. There is also a big debate about whether dermatillomania is more closely linked with obsessive compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders, or body dysmorphia disorder.

From a technical perspective, dermatillomania is defined as the “repetitive and compulsive picking of the skin which results in tissue damage.”. It’s estimated that about 2% to 3% of people experience dermatillomania. This can present itself in many different ways across the population of people who experience it. For some, it’s all about removing anything that is percieved or deemed as a blemish or irregularity, regardless of how small, while for others it has a more obsessive nature. However, across all, the urge to engage in picking feels uncontrollable, and there is always physical harm as a result.

Most people pick with their hands, however tools after often used too. This happens can happen primarily during times of stress, tension and anxiety, and can also occur absent-mindedly, without the person even realising what is going on. The focus is generally on the areas of the body with the most percieved impefections, however once the skin becomes too damaged, other areas can be targeted too. The most commonly affected areas are the face, scalp, limbs, shoulders and chest.

It’s also important to note that most people do pick their skin from time to time, that it’s just something that lots of humans do. However it’s the significance of the effects of the picking, including physical, mental and social, and all the chaos going on in the brain surrounding the skin picking, which sets it apart as a mental illness – dermatillomania.

The physical consequences of dermatillomania aren’t too fun, and many provoke the continuation of the disorder. Picking, squeezing and scratching the skin, for what can be hours each day, has significant, long term effects. Scarring, both temporary and permanent, is really common, as is pain and skin discolouration. Infection and tissue damage is also prevalent, which can be a nasty surprise when you are convinced that your skin picking is nothing to worry about. A blog post over at Fkin Realistic, BFRB Put Me In Hospital, describes really wonderfully the severity of dermatillomania. It’s a great read.

From a mental perspective, dermatillomania rampages here too. The embarassment, guilt and feelings of shame that arise from skin picking are apparent, and it also really doesn’t help with self-confidence, self-esteem, or resilience either. It can also result in social issues, such as interfering with work and social lives, and having to hide the condition away.

Treatment for dermatillomania is a bit of a tough topic, as not a lot of research has been done. Also, it’s estimated that less than half of people with dermatillomania seek treatment. The embarrassment and shame can be huge. The physical consequences on the skin of dermatillomania can also mirror drug abuse in some instances, and the stigma surrounding both is harmful to accessing treatment in both cases. However, success has been found in the use of anti-depressants for reducing skin-picking severity and intensity. Behavioural therapies have also proved useful in many cases. It’s all about trying out as many options as possible, until the individual finds out what works for them.

Anyway, that concludes this little introduction to dermatillomania. I hope it didn’t come across as too boring, or like I’m some sort of expert, because that is definitely not how it is! I’m just an ordinary person who recently got diagnosed, and who is trying to learn more. If you got this far, thank-you so much for sticking through, and I hope that this has helped in some ways whether you are just interested in learning more, or if this is something that you identify with. It’s really important that if you see your skin-picking and thoughts around it as a problem, or if others have expressed concern, that you do get in touch with a doctor or mental health professional. They truly can help, and you don’t deserve to live all alone with no tools to use against dermatillomania. 

This article by SkinPick, Everything You Need To Know About Dermatillimania, does a superb, detailed job at explaing it all much better than I can. 

If you would like to read more of my posts about dermatillomania, you can check out finding some good in dermatillomania, dermatillomania, bees, and buttercup, and dermatillomania and self harm – twins or neighbours? All involve big old rambles and yarns, if that’s more your jam.


20 thoughts on “What is dermatillomania?

  1. You explained dermatillomania wonderfully. I relate most to the picking out of anxiety but also due to perceived imperfections or insecurities, whether on a physical or emotional level. I also do find myself picking for seemingly no reason, almost like because I’m idle and have nothing to keep my hands busy with, I pick to have an outlet for some kind of restlessness I feel deep down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank-you Nat! And your experiences are another wonderful explanation and summary too. What you wrote about being idle and restlessness, I relate to so much also! I have a lot of trouble being still. Thank-you for sharing your experiences with me, and it’s lovely that we have each other for support 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Personally, I believe the picking while feeling restless can come from several things. It may depend person from person based on experience and the individual. For me, the restlessness can actually be boredom. But it can also be anxiety if my mind is fixated on something worrying and I can’t seem to find some way to “calm” myself unless I pick. The other type of anxiety is strange… I don’t know how to explain it other than I feel very insecure and almost not altogether comfortable being still at times, so I pick as a way to compensate for lack of stimuli around me.

        I really appreciate your posts on dermatillomania because it’s helped me to be able to think and form into words what it is that I am feeling and what kind of thoughts I am having during those moments that causes me to pick.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This all makes a lot of sense Nat, and was pretty insightful too. It sounds as though you are gaining a good understanding of your thoughts surrounding the skin picking, and how you are feeling during these moments. Which is such a good thing! It’s good to be so self-aware of these things. Thank-you, once again, an awful lot for sharing your experiences with dermatillomania with me. They help me to understand my own situation a lot too. I definitely relate to feeling uncomfortable being too still at times, and using this as a way to compensate.


  2. Thanks for this thoughtful writeup. It helps to read an insider’s view and not just something from a medical opinion site which can sometimes be really judgmental-and medical-model-feeling to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your support Donnalee! And I completely agree – while having scientific/medical information is important, including lived experience can make a real difference too 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic post. It’s always uplifting to read when I know there are others out there that understand the guilt and shame you’re left with. It can make things unnecessarily awkward such as in intimate settings or during summer days but by spreading awareness and practising self-care one day at a time, we’re on our way to being heard and understood fully.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Beautifully worded Kim! Thank-you so much for your support, and for sharing your words with me too. It’s so wonderful to connect with people like you who have similar experiences, despite how tough the fight can be. Keep on going lovely, and I believe in you! We will get there xx

      Liked by 1 person

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