Is It An Anxious Habit Or Dermatillomania? Here's What We Know

Do you ever find yourself picking at your skin, unable to stop yourself? Do you find that this behavior is compulsive and affecting your health and happiness? This may be a disorder known as dermatillomania, or excoriation disorder.


While it is sometimes normal to pick at your skin — it doesn't always mean you have a disorder — a few signs can point to it being a disorder you need to treat. For example, if picking your skin is starting to cause wounds and cuts, or if you have a compulsive pimple-picking habit with the intention of "perfecting" your skin, this may be a sign you suffer from the disorder. Also, if you find yourself picking at your skin without you even realizing it or you pick your skin in your sleep, this is another sign you might have dermatillomania. Skin pickers commonly resort to the habit when feeling anxious or nervous.

However, you must not feel alone in this challenge. There are many steps you can take to overcome this hurdle, and we're here to tell you how.


What causes this condition?

Now that we're familiar with the meaning of dermatillomania, you might ask yourself what causes the disorder. Medical professionals note a few possible causes behind dermatillomania. However, as of this writing, no particular cause has been linked to this compulsive behavior. The disorder may be genetic in some cases, meaning that individuals who experience dermatillomania probably have a close relative who may also have the condition. Dermatillomania patients also have a greater probability of having differences in brain structure as far as habit-forming and habit-learning go. Furthermore, another common cause is the presence of other mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety, in which skin picking can be a common symptom.


Other disorders, such as autoimmune diseases, can also lead to skin-picking disorders. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes can pave the way for individuals to develop dermatillomania.

What can you do if you have dermatillomania?

If you or someone you know suffers from dermatillomania, the condition can be treated with the help of a medical health professional. Although there is no one tried-and-tested cure, a variety of treatments are available for individuals to try. These evidence-based treatments have been tried by and have helped many others in a predicament.


One such treatment is psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, which has been proven more effective than medication, although the two may need to be used simultaneously in cases where using solely one or the other does not quite provide the relief you seek. Another recommended treatment is habit reversal training, or HRT, where individuals undergo awareness training, competing response training, and social support. Other treatment models include comprehensive behavioral treatment, or ComB, acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, ACT-enhanced behavior therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. Choose the treatment that is right for you.

Healing your skin

After addressing the mental health aspect of dermatillomania, you can start healing your skin of the physical impairments the condition has caused. Lily Talakoub, a professional dermatologist, tells The Zoe Report that patients typically need the combined treatment of topical creams and in-office dermatology treatments. "There are brown, red, thickened, and white scars. In-office laser procedures such as IPL (intense pulsed light) and the fractional laser can blend the scar with the surrounding skin," she says. "Chemical peels can also help resurface the skin and lighten hyperpigmented or brown scars." Your dermatologist can help you to select exactly which of these is right for you depending on your skin and its condition.


If you or someone you know suffers from the condition, it is important to meet with a mental health professional as soon as you can to help you overcome this challenge. Remember that you are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking help when you need it.