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The Truth About Dermatilomania: Breaking The Myths

The Truth About Dermatilomania: Breaking The Myths

What is Dermatilomania? It is a form of OCD, known as Body Focused Repetitive Behavior,  also known as excoriation disorder, in which the sufferer develops an obsessive, compulsive habit that targets the body-i.e. nail biting, cuticle biting, skin picking, or hair pulling. Dermatilomania, specifically focuses on skin picking but can include the others (trichotillomania involves the act of pulling out body hair). In this article several myths surrounding this disorder will be explained to better spread awareness of this mysterious condition. 

1. Dermatilomania Is NOT Self Harm

Contrary to belief, this is not an act of self harm, like cutting or burning. The person isn’t trying to deliberately harm or mutilate themselves, but is trying to correct a perceived imperfection (i.e picking at the skin, thinking the lesion will go away). 


2. Dermatilomania is OCD

It’s obsessive. It’s compulsive. And it’s a disorder. One cannot simply stop doing it, because it’s a disease of the mind. It’s like having an itch in your brain you can’t help but scratch. It’s addictive. The only way I can equate it is to smoking-you know it’s unhealthy, you know you shouldn’t do it, but you do it anyways because it’s difficult to quit.

Often times the need to pick at the skin can be brought up by feelings of depression or anxiety, and many of those affected by this disorder also have other mental illnesses. This condition is often triggered by traumatic events, or prolonged stressful environments, which bring on anxiety, depression, OCD or other prolonged mental disorders. 

3. People With Dermatilomania Are Not Unhygienic

It may be thought that people who pick at their skin compulsively or dirty, unhygienic or don’t bathe, but we actually do. If anything we wash more frequently than most because we often have to wash our hands and clean our nails…there’s blood on them from the picking. We take hand sanitizer everywhere we go if we are unable to wash our hands after picking but are still trapped in a public situation. We also have to wash our clothes, bedding and linens frequently in the hopes it’ll remove blood stains caused by picking. 


4. No We Don’t Have Chickenpox, Thanks For Asking

The unfortunate result of Dermatilomania is scabbing and scarring that can be quite visible to others, which prompts them to ask intrusive questions. However wounds appear on our body, whether its acne, a cat scratch, a scraped knee, a mosquito bite, or some other skin condition, we have the strong urge to pick, pinch and irritate that lesion until its red and raw. Sometimes this picking escalates to subconsciously creating fresh marks in our sleep. Either way it leaves noticeable scars on our arms, legs, back, hands, neck, face, chest, etc.

But no we don’t have chicken pox or some contagious disease, and no we don’t do drugs. Those are not tracks. And lastly, no we’re not cutters. Please stop asking strangers questions about their skin, scars or Band-Aids, thanks. 


5. Dermatilomania Is Not Sexy

This is one of those mental illnesses that can’t be romanticized or sexualized. It’s gross. It’s unsightly and we all know that so we try to hide it away. Wearing long clothes in 90 degree summer heat to cover up our skin, or Photoshopping our pictures before posting them, spending a fortune on scar removal products, and getting our old scars tattooed over hoping we don’t make any new scabs are all part of trying to mask it. 

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6. There Isn’t Much Known About This Disease

Unfortunately there is not as much known about this condition, so the professional help to try and control it is not as widely available. It’s also an extremely difficult thing to get under control and stop doing altogether. 

Some things I or others with Dermatilomania have tried are filing their nails really short (to the point that nails are sore, aching stubs on your fingers) to making scratching more difficult. Wearing band-aids over the scabs to try and dissuade from picking or wearing long clothes, no matter the temperature. Using anti-itch creams over the wounds if they’re actually physically itchy. And the last thing many have tried is to distract their hands with other activities so they won’t feel the need to pick, like using fidget spinners. 

For many who are affected by this disease, they developed it as a child, and often if not helped right away can become a lifelong struggle for that person. It can also escalate from simply nail biting or picking at the skin on the cuticles to full on skin and scab picking. 


While picking can be controlled by reconditioning the brain, this takes a long time and a lot of commitment on the part of the sufferer to change their ways and take back their mind and their body. 

Did you find this article helpful in explaining dermatilomania and raising awareness? Let’s discuss it in the comments below! 

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