Myths about Skin Picking

Tasneem Abrahams
Feb 28th, 2017

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There are a lot of myths about compulsive skin picking, it is therefore important to discuss both the myths and facts about the disorder.

Excoriation is a disorder characterized by recurrent skin picking, resulting in skin lesions. Some people with the disorder say that picking at their skin makes them feel good, but everyone affected by the disorder do it intentionally, or consciously; some may not even remember doing it. Onset is most often around puberty.

The face is the most common target of skin picking, but other targets may be limbs, back, gums, lips, shoulders, scalp, stomach, chest, fingernails and toenails. A child may pick at one part of the body repeatedly, or “rotate” to allow the previously picked part to heal. Compulsive skin picking is one of a group of behaviors known as body focused repetitive behaviors (BFBRBs)

Compulsive skin picking is NOT an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but is classified under the umbrella category OCD and Related disorders.


Symptoms are characterized by:

  • Marks or scabs on the face or body
  • Attempts to hide or cover up both the act and resulting marks or scabs
  • Blemishes, scabs, infection and tissue damage
  • Guilt, shame, embarrassment
  • Significant distress or impairment in functioning


Myths about compulsive skin picking

Its just a bad habit, everyone picks their skin

Everyone may pick their skin at some point, however people with compulsive skin picking disorder may pick their skin subconsciously over a long period of time.  Dermatillomania isn’t as simple as popping some pimples. There is an obsessive nature behind the urge, which is why it’s been classified under OCD and related disorders. There is a repetitive nature behind picking at your skin whether it’s a focused decision to place yourself in front of a mirror and ‘search’, an action that begins without you noticing while you watch TV, or something you do while you sleep

Compulsive skin picking and self harm is a girl thing

Statistics show that compulsive skin picking affects both men and women.

People who pick at their skin, leaving marks, do it for attention.

Quite the opposite, actually. People with compulsive skin picking spend time trying to cover up the damage with makeup or clothing so that we can face the world without anyone noticing the scars because a high majority are ashamed of the marks.

All skin pickers have an underlying skin disorder causing the need to pick.

While many people start picking at their skin due to skin disorders (ie. Acne, Eczema), not all have one to start with. Many individuals have started with picking at perceived flaws such as multiple pimples/ blackheads causing the compulsive behavior. Some skin pickers, never had a skin disorder but found imperfections to pick at.

Tasneem Abrahams

Tasneem is an Occupational Therapist, and a graduate of the TLC foundation for BFRBs professional training institute. Her experience in mental health includes working at Lentegeur Psychiatric hospital forensic unit (South Africa), Kingston Community Adult Learning Disability team (UK), Clinical Specialist for the Oasis Project Spelthorne Community Mental Health team (UK). Tasneem is a member of both the editorial team and the clinical staff on Skinpick, providing online therapy for people who suffer from excoriation (skin picking) disorder.

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