6 Best Ways to Stop Your Skin Picking (Dermatillomania) Habit

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

About 5.4% of people suffer from dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking) at some point in their life. Without treatment, this skin picking disorder could cause scarring or injuries and exacerbate underlying feelings of anxiety. 

Here are six tips you can use to treat your skin picking habit, help improve your appearance, and enhance your overall quality of life. 

1. Understand Why You Pick at Your Skin

Before you can learn how to end your skin picking habit, it helps to understand the underlying triggers that lead to the picking. Factors that might play a role include:

  • Genetics
  • Stress, anxiety, or other mental health conditions
  • Changes in brain structure

People who develop dermatillomania are more likely to have other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Common triggers include:

  • Skin conditions like acne, keratosis pilaris or eczema
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Negative emotions like shame or excessive guilt
  • Perfectionism

Recognizing your triggers and learning effective ways to cope with these triggers will help you gain control of your reaction before it controls you. Consider talking with a behavioral therapist who specializes in skin-picking to gain a better understanding of its causes and the best course of treatment.

2. Keep Your Hands Busy

If you tend to pick your skin without realizing it, try to keep your hands busy as often as possible. Take inventory of when and where you are most likely to pick at your skin. Maybe you pick when working at your desk or sitting in traffic. Choose activities that will help you keep your hands busy in these environments. Fidget toys, sensory rings, silly putty, or stress balls can help. 

Choose an item that works for you. Keep one in your bag, one at home, and one at work, making sure you always have access to something sensory. Although this is a temporary helpful suggestion, this is an overly simplified solution to a much more complex problem. 

With the help of a highly skilled behavior therapist, you can formulate a more specialized treatment plan to put an end to this destructive habit.

3. Make It Difficult

Look for ways to make it more difficult for you to pick your skin. This strategy, called stimulus control, involves changing your environment to make picking more difficult.

For example, you can:

  • Keep your nails short
  • Wear gloves when you’re likely to pick
  • Wear long sleeves or pants or bodysuits 
  • Cover mirrors 
  • Remove lightbulbs 

4. Set a Reminder

It’s easy to “forget” you have this problem. You’d rather “forget” than have to face this head on. The shame cycle will only keep you in a state of denial and ultimately prolong the lifetime of this disorder. 

Keep reminders around you at all times as self-encouragement to end your skin-picking habit.

Start your day by keeping a sticky note on your bathroom mirror. Remind yourself why you want to end this bad habit. For example, the note might read, “Stop picking for clearer skin!” You can also keep a reminder in your car if you tend to pick when you’re stuck in traffic. Add one to your phone to ensure you have access to visual cues throughout the day.

5. Ask for Help

You don’t have to start breaking habits alone. Instead, turn to friends or family members who can hold you accountable. 

The next time you feel tempted to pick your skin, call or text them. Discuss why you feel tempted to pick. For example, maybe you’re feeling stressed about work or a school assignment.

Talking to someone can help interrupt the cycle.

Choose a mental health professional with an expertise in body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). They should be skilled in a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique called habit reversal training with stimulus control (HRT plus). This has been shown to be the most effective treatment for BFRBs.  

HRT plus helps you heighten your awareness of the behavior, identify thoughts and emotions that precede the behavior, and establish better coping mechanisms. You will learn to use a competing response which is an opposing muscle motion that effectively counteracts the specific physical motion of picking. Exposure therapy is another effective CBT approach that helps you desensitize to your skin’s imperfections and reduce the urge to pick.  

6. Prevent Blemishes

If you tend to pick at blemishes, try to identify why your skin is prone to blemishes and what you can do to prevent them.

First, consider talking to a dermatologist. They can determine the root cause of your skin problems and how best to treat them. For example, maybe you’re using the wrong products or have an underlying condition that doesn’t respond well to topical treatments.

Put an End to Your Skin Picking (Dermatillomania) Today

Don’t let your skin picking habit (dermatillomania) affect your appearance or well-being. Remain patient with yourself as you begin changing the behavior.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Working with a professional could make all the difference. 

Schedule an appointment with our team today to learn more.

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