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Dermatillomania (skin picking disorder)

Bea , 13 Jul 2008

Feet picking

Hi, I'm a 48 year old woaman from the UK. I've been picking obsessively at the soles of my feet for about 16 years now. In my younger days I had other obsessive habits: a year or so of OCD riutualistic behaviour with which involved categorising things with numbers, then obsessive blackhead removal followed by a period of constant searching for split ends. The foot picking began after a period of self loathing in my early 30s and I have been unable to stop. The good thing is that it's largely invisible to the outside world and I manage to control it in the company of others, apart from close family. To this extent it hasn't ruined my life, job or anything but is nonetheless causing me great angst. Until I came on this site this evening I did not know this condition had a name and identity, CSP, which is strangely comforting. I hope just being on the site will help me overcome the problem. I have to say I 'm hugely grateful to all of you for posting your experiences here because it helps a newcomer like myself to understand that we are not alone. I have suffered terrible guilt and self disgust at my habit. I think the problem shifted to my feet because I loathe them anyway. They are big and wide and ugly with bunions. I've never been able to wear dainty strappy sandals and the foot picking is making things worse. In the summer the problem is exacerbated because my feet are in flip flops or sandals rather than safely zipped up in boots with socks all day! In winter evenings, when I'm in my slippers, and no one's around, are far worse. Sometimes I pick my feet so much (and use a chiropody blade too) they bleed and I have to clean blood off my shoes and wear plasters. I even limp for a few hours if I go too mad. I can't help thinking that the typical OCD perfectionism is at play here. I feel that I am striving to achieve a perfect smoothness with my feet and am not satisfied with any kind of roughness. Unfortunately I know deep down the roughness is mostly caused by me and I'm making it worse. Sometimes I manage to avoid foot picking for a while, when I'm out all day and in the evenings in the company of others. It usually occurs in situations when I am bare footed and resting for long periods eg. watching TV, using my laptop, reading the paper. These are all situations where I cannot resist picking my darned feet and eating the skin!! My husband sometimes tries to stop me but it just adds to the tension I'm feeling. I'd be particularly interested in hearing any comments from compulsive foot pickers out there. Is there a method for dealing with it, other than cutting my feet off or tying my hands behind my back...?
86 Answers
August 19, 2008
I can't really give you any real solutions, but I wanted to let you know that is the main place that I pick as well. The main reason I do this is that no one, apart from people really close to me, ever see them. It's only the bottoms of my feet. All along the bottom, never on the top. The tops of my feet that the world see are perfectly polished and pedicured. Most people would be shocked to see the bottoms of my feet. Anyway, I wanted to let you know you are not alone, which, to me, is an incredible thing. It has gotten worse for me in the last year or so as my life has become very hectic. I work full time, I am in graduate school, and I am a perfectionist, to say the very least. It is something that hurts me, but it somehow makes me feel better at the time when I am picking. My husband absolutely hates it because he knows it hurts me physically, and I know he worries about the psychological part, but he does not judge me, which is amazing. I am on anti-depressants, but I think I should switch maybe to something different. I am thinking of seeking counseling about it. It's so embarrassing! I hope this post finds you doing well.
August 19, 2008

In reply to by SaraBella81

Hi and thanks for replying! Actually, the news is good... Being on this site and reading everyone's experiences (many of which seem far more serious than mine) has spurred me on to try and control my foot picking compulsions. I'm certainly foot picking a lot less than I was a few weeks ago. I have managed to reduce it to only one area on one foot so one foot is now virtually smooth and ball of the other is too. I just have the heel and sides of one foot left to deal with. I have found that if I can get to the point where an area is perfectly smooth I am not so tempted to pick it. I used a chiropody blade to get rid of all the old rough skin (though you have to be very careful with these) foot softening cream and pumice stone to help achieve this. Other people have also suggested on this forum that it's the temptation to pick at the rough bits of loose skin that has to be overcome and not having them in the first place helps. I'm now trying to get the other foot to the point where I can resist the temptation too. I read somewhere on this forum that someone else had had some success by limiting the picking area to one foot at a time and then gradually reducing it so I wonder if that would help you too as it seems to be working with me. As you say in your reply, the thing about the soles of the feet is that no one ever sees them, so, like yours, the tops of my feet are fine. I"m interested to hear you're a perfectionist as I definitely am too. I can't help thinking that there is a psychological relationship there as with other compulsive behaviour. I think stress is definitely a trigger factor with me but keeping very busy also helps as you can't pick your feet while your dashing about.... Your very lucky your husband is so supportive as sometimes the foot picking causes problems between us - though less so lately. This, of course, just exacerbates the guilt which probably heightens the psychological factors causing the foot picking in the first place and so the cycle continues... Thanks again for your reply. It is nice to know you're not alone.
December 02, 2009

In reply to by Bea

Wow. I am sixteen and have been picking and chewing on the skin from the bottom of my feet since I was 7 or 8. I never in a million years thought anyone else did it- I thought it was just some bizarre habit that was gross. No one else knows I do it- I remember my mom telling me to stop a long time ago when I was little, before I got better at hiding it- no one has seen me do it in years. I do it mostly when I am bored, and never though it had to do with psychological reasons. I have had a severe anxiety disorder since I was 5 or 6, and I have had some crappy stuff happen, but I never thought it was related. There must be a relationship between this and compulsive behavior, because I too havea very obsessive personality. I still can't get over the fact that other people do this- I always thought I was just crazy and gross.
May 15, 2009

In reply to by SaraBella81

I am convinced that perfectionism combined with a fear of things somehow getting out of control is at the root of our problems and maybe a desire to self-destruct too...Maybe we're somehow not comfortable with ourselves and the world we live in and so live in a perpetual state of anxiety?? Thanks again for your post.
September 02, 2008
I began picking in grade school. At that time, it started with the skin around the nails, and then began the slow and mentally aggravating fall into madness for me.. In short, it started with the hands....intially it was just the teeth picking at skin...then I got used to the chewing the skin after I pulled it off.. I learned that it was much more efficient to get nail clippers to clip off my skin, and for many years up through highschool, I used clippers to litterally take off most of the skin on and around the tips of my fingers, my thumb, and anywhere a callous happened to be. My hands hurt all the time and as such I started movign towards my feet. At this point in my late 30s, I still do clip a bit on the hands, but my feet are the primary area I most its just due to the fact that it's embarrasing to have people ask what happened to your hands. I have over the years leared how to shield my hands, but since they are in the open, sometimes folks to get a look.. So now, my feet are the area....I use my hands to pick of the skin...primarily on my heels, but do hit the toes as well...literally taking all the pad skin off...when I was younger my feet were worse off than they are now....And, I do chew & eat the skin....its fricken gross, and yet...i've never been able to stop fact if I go to long without any skin picking activities its like I friggen go mad....I stay up late just to make sure the wife/kids aren't around. It's sad to say, but ...there are times during the day when I know that my skin would taste good...dont want it too dry, or too f'ing grossness... and yet.....its my everyday.... So, I don't have any real help to give you as if I did I would be better myself.. I am just here to tell you your not alone. I wish there would be a day I wouldnt have to shield my hands, make stupid excuses, endure the pain walking on injured feet, wear socks to hide my shameful feet....( NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE has seen the bottom of my feet in ......well...ever I dont think....even my wife has only seen my feet without socks a few times in our marriage.. In anycase, that's my story...oh...and I am a perfectionist as well ... I am sure that has something to do with it.....
September 02, 2008

In reply to by shmojo

Thanks Shmojo, Like you, I wish I could give some really constructive help. It is comforting to know you're not alone so thank you for your post. I was interested to see that both replies to my original post have been from self-confessed perfectionists. I am convinced that perfectionism combined with a fear of things somehow getting out of control is at the root of our problems and maybe a desire to self-destruct too...Maybe we're somehow not comfortable with ourselves and the world we live in and so live in a perpetual state of anxiety?? Thanks again for your post.
September 06, 2008
Foot Picking ... I didn't realize anyone else did this ... and I certainly didn't realize that it was part of Self-Injury. I pick my feet. I have been doing it for a long time now. When I sat here reading, I started thinking when it was I first started. I started after my rape in 1995 ... I had terrible pressure and anxiety ... I felt lost and alone ... and I would pick at my toes and at my heels for an hour or more while I sat on the couch. I pick the skin off until the pain is throbbing and my heels and my toes are bleeding. I don't eat the skin on my feet ... I just pick forever like I can't stop until there is enough pain to make me feel some sick sort of relief from something inside of me. It makes me feel calm and ok again. The whole time I am doing it I tell myself to stop, I'm gonna hurt my feet and not be able to walk without a lot of pain ... but I keep doing it. No one knows I do it, it's invisible to the average person. You can't see it unless I'm barefoot and you see the bottom of my feet. I am a juvenile diabetic ... I'm 32 yrs old and have been diabetic for 29 years. The one thing I know is that open sores and cuts on a diabetic foot can take forever to heal ... and mine are no exception. I also notice they affect my blood sugars. I guess that's why I have concerns. I didn't know I was self-injuring. Is there a cure or is this something I have to deal with forever? Because I also pick on my scalp. No one knows that either, except my family. I went to dermatologists because I thought I had a scalp disorder, and when they couldn't figure out what was causing it ... I gave up. Until now, I never thought it might just be that I am causing them myself .... God help me. Are there support groups, or medications, or techniques that you can use?
November 19, 2009
I have the same problem with excessively picking at my feet and using toenail clippers to cut dead skin off of my heels and other calus spots. I do find that the ped egg gives me the same satisfaction of "removing dead skin" from my feet and I would suggest it to any foot pickers you can realize that removing dead skin from your feet can be healthy not distructive. Good luck!
December 20, 2009
WOW! Am I glad I found this spot. I am 63 and have done this off and on all my life. I was in a home with a verbally and emotionally abusive mother. I think I started picking my feet right around age 13. I also bit my nails while living with her. Once I got to college most of the nail biting stopped and was totally gone by age 20. I still had the tendency to pick at my feet... it seems to run in cycles. I think of it as coming on during periods of stress and anxiety. The easiest way for me to get this under control is to enjoy winter, wear socks and get pedicures on a regular basis. I have always liked my feet; they are slim, healthy looking and I love to wear sandals and flip flops. I once again am on the path to recovery and am so happy about it. GREAT HELPER: I see people mentioning all sorts of skin removal tools such as pumice stones, "pods", etc. I have a small Black and Decker sander called the "mouse." It is in my bathroom specifically for my feet. A mildly abrasive sandpaper (it is purple) attached to it is perfect for keeping skin smooth and your feet attractive... and quick. Try it! The paper can be the same grit as nail files and if it seems to be too mild go up one level to a rougher grit. I DO NOT go crazy with it... be sensible and you may find some relief. Good luck everyone!
December 30, 2009
just to say what a relief to find i am not alone in this horrible habit. sometimes my feet have been so painful it's hard to walk. when i've had mandatory nursing study days in the summer i have to wear socks and trainers cos i cant let anyone see my feet when i'm on the bed being the patient. i also eat the skin, it's so gross, i hate myself for it.
March 06, 2010
When I read this I cried. I started picking my toe nails about five years ago. I have to say sometimes I cant even walk if I pick long enough. It started when I dropped something heavy on my big toe. The toe nail turned an ugly color and I had to be in a bridesmaid for my sisters wedding and we all had to have french manicure toe nails because we all wore clear open toe shoes. I started trying to scrape under the nail to make my nail look perfect. The more I tried the more it began to get infected and after the wedding I just kept picking and eventually I had both of my big toes so infected that it hurt to walk. I would use pedicure tools to pick at the skin around my toe nails and so they would bleed. I want to mention that during this time in my life I was living with my boyfriend who was an alcoholic and abusive both emotionally and physically. This continued for months but if I had on shoes or if I was driving I couldnt pick my toe nails so I started picking the hair in one spot on the back of my head. I didnt realize I was doing it for a very long time but my sister noticed and she started smacking my hand away from my head. I eventually made a bald spot about the size of a silver dollar on the back of my head. The place was always inflamed and sore. If I went to get my hair cut I would be so ashamed when the stylist saw my head. I would only go to a stylist one time because I didnt want to tell them I was the reason for that place on my head. The stylist would always say did you hit your head recently and I would just say yeah it hurts. Eventually I joined the military and I had to wear my hair in a bun everyday and the bun was in the same place as my picking place so eventually it healed up. But when I went to bed at night I would wear socks on my hands because I would have my hair down and I picked in my sleep. My toe nails are better but it took years for me to stop hurting my feet. I was so ashamed of my toes but I started going to have a pedicure 2 or 3 times a month even though I had picked away almost all of my big toe nails. I found that if I let someone else take care of my feet and I just stayed away from them all together then I could stop picking them. All I do to my feet now and toe nails now is when I take a shower I use a nail brush very gently across my toes and when I get out of the shower I spray my toe nails with alcohol or peroxide. then dry them off and rub lotion on them. I dont let myself get close to my toenails and I try not to look at them closely because if I look at them I will find something wrong with them. So I have stopped my hair pulling and picking and my toenail picking but now I pick my face and I cant stop and it is so bad I have sensitive skin and I have scared my face. I pick my face until it looks so bad I get depressed and refuse to leave the house because I look so terrible. I started picking my face after I was raped in the military. Someone please help I need some advice. The face picking is worse than the hair and the feet picking combined.
July 06, 2010
I have been doing this - and eating the skin - since I was 14. Before, I was biting my nails, but taught myself to stop because I needed nails for guitar playing. Before chewing nails, I was constantly chewing the ends of my hair, until my mother made me cut it short. I never felt I was abused, I come from a good home, and only now I realize that through all my years at home (I moved out at 26) I was very gently and constructively taught how to compensate for my shortcomings (of which I really don't have so many). I have splay feet, like so many other people, and I never liked them because they hurt me in high heels ("What are feet good for if you cannot wear high heels?"). Later I had an accident which totally wrecked my left knee so that wearing any kind of fashionable shoe is out of the question. My feet more or less vanished into oblivion. Still, I pick them from time to time, especially at times when my hands have nothing to do, like when I'm reading. - I bought myself a professional pedicure apparatus which can be used by diabetics, and every morning I check my feet for rough parts, which I smooth down. I use the Celiyoung foot cream which is very strong even on ultra-dry skin like mine. But what helps me most is that I keep a small jar of foot cream handy at all my "resting places" (like desk, sofa) and whenever the urge to pick comes (it will come whenever I feel the slightest roughness on my heels or balls) I take some cream and rub it in, instead of picking. It gives the fingers something to do, you still feel the rough foot under your fingertips, and it does not hurt the foot. So I manage to get by with only two or three deeper wounds per year. Which is pretty good for me...
July 14, 2010
Thanks for this post. I have been picking as well for about 4 or 5 years. This is the first time that I have told anyone. I pick until I bleed sometimes, mostly my heel until I get up to my mid foot, which can get pretty painful sometimes. It is worse because I love distance running and this interferes with my most loved hobby! It really sucks, but I hope writing about it will guide me to recovery. It may be a stress induced activity for me, but I am generally a happy guy. For some reason when I drink alcohol, it becomes worse. I am not sure what that is about. I hope to read some more posts from everybody! Thanks
July 15, 2010
I'm afraid that I do this too. I had no idea it had a pyschological cause. I do it because of cracked heel skin, and once I start the uneven skin compels me to keep going until I reach the middle of my foot and it bleeds or starts really hurting. I limp for several hours / days afterwards and use plasters to protect the cuts. I have also picked at spots / blackheads / scabs all of my life. All of my relatives, and my sons, pick and bite, but none of us have suffered any abuse. However, there is depression, dyslexia and ADD in the family. I am really scared about seeking help as I'm scared that the medical profession will think that my sons (and I) are self harming for some deep psychological reason, when I think it's just a compulsion that's hereditary. Does eating the scabs / pieces of skin mean you have the disorder? Does anyone else have this problem in their family?
February 08, 2011
Wow, I am very glad to read all of these comments. I am 18 years old and have been picking the skin off of my heel for the past 5 or 6 years. I have always believed it was just a bad habit but recently it has gotten much worse. I will literally get a needle or sharp object in order to pick at the skin until it bleeds or becomes really sore. I can feel the pain but it's almost like I am "determined" to continue what I am doing. Afterwards it hurts to walk and I limp around until I can finally start picking again. I feel like the motivation for this is because I feel less stressed and it takes my mind off of other problems whenever I'm pulling skin off of my foot. I even have mastered driving with my left foot so I can pick the skin off of my right while driving. My friends and family all think it is disgusting and whenever I get a pedicure done I am told I need to "see a doctor about my condition" also it is embaressing to go to the pool in the summer and have my feet get wet because the skin swells up and turns white. It's hard to explain to others what's happened to my feel. Also, whenever I'm not picking my heel I am either picking my fingernails, chewing the skin off of my gums, biting my nails, biting my toenails, or pulling my cuticles off. The only things that have ever helped my stop are: getting acrylic nails done (prevents me from being able to grab on to the skin), cutting my nails short, wearing socks, or staying busy all day. I am really glad to have read all these comments and to finally share my story with people who understand. Good luck to you all!
February 13, 2012

In reply to by kirstenprice124

Never thought about getting acrylic nails to prevent the picking. It's difficult because I'm an artist and my nails tend to get destroyed easily because of what I'm working on. I really want to find a healthy replacement hobby so I don't pick my feet. I was nodding a lot reading your post because I do get "determined" to pick skin even when it hurts or bleeds. Does that make me a masochist?!
February 27, 2011
CAN ANYONE HELP ME!!! im 19 years old and i pick my skin and toenails off of my feet to the point that i can hardly feet are infected!i dont even realise im doing it until theres a pool of blood in my bed or where ive been sitting! my boyfriend thinks its like a self harm thing but its really not.It really bugs me when he tells me not to do it because i feel i have to,does anyone else have the same problems i feel so sounds disgusting but sometimes i even stick knives in my feet to dig skin off and even clip my skin with nail clippers.i dont have dry feet theres no reason why i shoud do it i just have to plz help xx
February 13, 2012

In reply to by kymberleighxjennyx

You have to realize that is in fact a self-harm thing. You may have to search for the reasons why, but if it's that intense, there may be a problem not being addressed. Do you have any issues with depression, anxiety, stress? I was being treated for anxiety when I mentioned my feet-picking to my counselor. I just wanted tips for the "bad habit" when she informed me it was in fact self-mutilation. I was shocked because I would have never thought of it that way. There's no shame in it, but I would advise at least trying some counseling or visit a doctor to see what they say to help. Might even being as simple as not handling stress well or something. Use your boyfriend as support, it sounds like he cares about you a lot :)
March 29, 2011
I'm 21and I clip off pieces of skin from the bottom of my feet too, always with a nail clipper. Usually I'll clip little pieces, all in a line, and then I'll grab onto those pieces with my fingers and just pull and peel off whole sections. It's oddly satisfying and I've been doing it for years, probably since elementary school. Once when I was about 12 I was sitting on the sofa barefoot and my parents noticed how raw the bottom of my feet were, I said they were just dry from swimming. Idk how my mom has never noticed the blood on my socks or on my sheets around the foot of my bed. Like others have said, I just feel carefree when I do it, almost as if it's the only time I can seriously clear my head. Plus that feeling you get while you're peeling off the most perfect, sizeable piece of's great! I've also been biting my nails and the skin and cuticles around them for as long as I can remember, I guess these habits come packaged together. So fucking weird!

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