Compulsive Skin Picking


While everyone may pick at an occasional pimple or blemish at one point or another in their lives, Compulsive Skin Picking (CSP) is something more.

Compulsive picking (also known as Dermatillomania) is the act of repeatedly picking at your skin to relieve anxiety, fear, boredom or other urges. When a person starts causing damage to their skin and cannot fully control their urges to pick, this is when it can be seen as a disorder.

Compulsive skin picking (CSP) is considered an impulse control disorder. It is a self-injurious behavior closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Compulsive Skin Picking

Once an individual realizes the damage that has occurred to their skin and their overall appearance, feelings of guilt, hopelessness or depression usually follow.

It's not uncommon for skin pickers to spend several hours a day engaging in this behavior.

Compulsive skin picking can have a serious impact on relationships, employmet, and overall well-being because it can be so time consuming, depressing, and isolating.

Symptoms of Dermatillomania:

Dermatillomania can range in it's intensity and also in the methods used. Some skin pickers just use fingernails, while others may use needles, tweezers, cuticle cutters, pins, and other tools.

CSP often involves picking to the point where you create damage to your skin, making it bleed or creating open sores, and then also picking the resulting scabs. It can also involve studying one's face in the mirror for hours.

Sufferers of compulsive skin picking often report that during the act of picking, they have a feeling of reduced tension and self-soothing. However, after the picking episodes are over, people often feel shame, guilt, depression, and pain.

What Causes or Triggers Skin Picking?

Many people with skin picking problems have been described as being perfectionistic or having obsessive-compulsive tendencies.


Increasing evidence shows that there appear to be two types of skin pickers:

  1. Those who pick because they want their skin to be "perfect" and fear that even the slightest pimple or blemish will disfigure their entire face

  2. Those who pick automatically to satisfy an urge and to relieve tension and stress

The first group of pickers are often compared to those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), because they often magnify things in their minds so that even the tiniest pimple seems like a huge defect to them. They often pick at things that would be completely invisible to others...

The second group of pickers more closely resemble those with Trichotillomania (TTM or hair-pulling disorder). Many TTM sufferers often report having a "hair-pulling urge" and pulling because it "feels good". Skin pickers in this second group frequently report the same kind of urge and "feel good" sensation. They often go into a trancelike state when picking.

There are also many skin pickers who report experiencing a mixture of these two separate types of skin picking.

Related Disorders:

Compulsive skin picking is just starting to gain recognition as a real disorder within the Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum. It is considered an impulse control disorder.

There is more and more evidence demonstrating skin picking to be related to other OC Spectrum disorders such as:

  • Classic OCD
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
  • Anorexia/Bulimia
  • Tourette's Syndrome

And skin picking seems to be most closely related to two specific disorders within the OC Spectrum:

  1. Trichotillomania (TTM or hair-pulling)
  2. Nail Biting

Compulsive Picking Treatment:

Getting help for this disorder can be difficult because most individuals live in a state of humiliation and shame with regards to their illness. This will usually prevent them from seeking the proper treatment.

But thankfully Compulsive Skin Picking is starting to get more and more recognition, and as a result, there are more and more options and information to help you stop skin picking.

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