Skin picking – it’s not a bad habit.

I recently wrote a blog post about my skin, and in particular, my experience with severe acne. Something that ties in very closely with this, that I wanted to write a separate post about, is skin picking. Please be aware that I will probably go into detail about the actual picking, so if this is something that makes you feel uncomfortable, feel free to stop reading now!

I feel like skin picking can be misunderstood. In my case, it is more like compulsive skin picking (also known as excoriation disorder or dermatillomania) which is as it sounds: compulsively picking at the skin to the extent where damage is caused. It is not a ‘bad habit’ or ‘gross’. Lots of people probably pick the odd scab now and then, or scratch their skin a little too hard, but when you can’t stop or control it, it might be a problem.

This can occur anywhere on the body. For me, my face (where most of my acne is/was) was my main target. But now my acne is improving, there are less ‘imperfections’ for to pick at. So my attentions now turn to my arms and legs. I used to pick my scalp, too.

It is suggested that compulsive skin picking has links with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – makes sense, in my case. You get an urge, or anxiety, and you carry out an action to relieve it: picking the skin. It is not something I do for the fun of, it is an uncontrollable urge.

Like I said, when my acne was at its worst, so was my picking. I had so many ‘imperfections’ and scabs and bumps on my skin, and it was distressing. The only way I could temporarily relieve this distress was to get rid of them. I’d dig my nails into my skin, and pick and pick and pick until whatever I needed rid of was gone. Sometimes, I find it hard to admit, I would use tools like tweezers instead, if my nails were too short (I keep my nails as short as possible to help stop picking). Not nice, I know. My face was covered in scabs and scars. My skin often bled and as soon as one scab healed over, it would be removed once again. I hated the bumpy feel of my skin, like a tiny mountain range all over my face. Picking helped it feel smoother somehow.

I was aware that my picking was not helping my acne, but rather making it worse. I desperately wanted clear, acne free skin. But I also couldn’t stop picking, whatever I tried. Fidget toys and distractions only worked temporarily. A GP once told me that my acne wouldn’t get better if I didn’t stop picking it. And didn’t offer any advice on how to actually stop. Very helpful! Like, as if I didn’t know that already.

I said earlier that since my acne has been clearing up, I rarely pick my face any more. But the urge is still there. Anything on my arms and legs that might start as a small patch of eczema or a cut from shaving turn into targets. I have so many scabs on my legs at the moment. They heal, I pick them again. I’m working on it, but it isn’t easy to stop something I do both consciously out of frustration or anxiety, or subconsciously out of habit.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can be tailored to help skin picking specifically, so that is one option for those struggling. It also helps me indirectly, as I have noticed clear links with my depression or OCD flaring up and my skin picking. The lower my mood or more tense I am, the more I am likely to pick. And, seeing as CBT does help with relieving my depression and anxiety symptoms, it helps with my skin picking too.

I want to point out a really helpful resource for skin picking – https://www.skinpick.com/. It is full of forums, articles and more about the topic. It also has an online test which can give you an idea of how severe your skin picking symptoms are, which can be a helpful starting point if you plan on bringing up your symptoms with a GP or other professional. It also offers online therapy tailored specifically to skin picking, which is pretty cool. I haven’t personally used it but the testimonials seem positive. It looks like there is a reduction on the price of the therapy at the moment, so now might be a good time to check it out!

Skin picking doesn’t have to rule your life. If it is worrying you, please try to speak to someone! It can get better – help is available.

Now, at the end of the post, I want to share photos of my skin. I mentioned in my acne post that I take photos of my face every day to track my Roaccutane progress. I am going to add photos below from earlier on in treatment when my picking was most severe. If you don’t fancy seeing my scabby, slightly bloody face, stop scrolling now!

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So scabby! So sore! So painful! This phase was not a fun one.

Compare this with today’s photo:

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Such a difference!

Thank you so much for reading/making it through those somewhat unpleasant photos of my face!

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