Tips to stop picking

Tasneem Abrahams
Nov 24th, 2015

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I stumbled across this YouTube video of a young lady named Cassandra Bankson who talks about some of the strategies she uses to stop herself from picking at her acne. Alhtough the video was uploaded in 2012, the tips and advice she gives is still very relevant today. She mentions something that many compulsive skin pickers would be able to relate to, and that is that she found that she tended to pick whenever she was feeling stressed. The tips she gives to stop picking is quite helpful and may work for someone out there. There is one point in the video where she talks about picking another part of the body instead of the face. This may be a temporary solution to hide your picking from others and keep you from damaging your face, but it is not an ideal solution, and Kirsten acknowledges this in her video too. It is a good idea to find alternatives to picking as is encouraged in the Habit Reversal method of CBT, but the alternate response should be one that is acceptable to you. These are known as competing responses and can include things like playing a fidget toy, or keeping your hands occupied in an activity.You can watch the video for more detail, but here is a breakdown of the tips she suggests you try:

Apply make-up

For some women applying make-up can be a deterrent to pick skin on the face out of desire to keep the makeup intact. However Kristen warns that the makeup you use should be light and of a good quality that does not clog up the pores.

Fake or manicured nails

Many people report that having beautifully manicured or fake nails not only makes it physically more difficult to pick, it also acts as a deterrent because the person doesn’t want to damage their nails

Keep the nails really short

For some people having long nails may not be a deterrent at all, and may in fact aid the picking process. This is particularly so for those who prefer popping pimples, scratching at imperfections or digging into the pores. Having long nails in these instances may even aid the picking. In this case you may find it more beneficial to keep the nails very short.

Wear fiddly jewellery

Kristen mentions wearing a ring that you can play with instead of picking. This ties in with what was mentioned earlier about replacing the picking action with another behavior that is more acceptable. The Trichotillomania Learning Centre (TLC) store has many different ‘spinner’ rings that you can purchase and has been found to be very effective with preventing BFRBs. You can also find these and other fidget toys on Charm bracelets and stress balls are other examples of items you can have with you at all times but is an inconspicuous as a fidget toy.

Spend less time alone

Many skin pickers find that they only tend to pick when alone and are able to resist the urge or even find they do not experience the urge as much when in the company of others. Of course it is not practical to never be alone, which is why the bathroom and shower are common picking contexts for many. However this strategy is one that can be used when possible to supplement any of the other tips you may find works for you.

Avoid mirrors

This is a particularly hard one to do, yet many of my clients have found that looking in the mirror often elicits the urge to pick and so by limiting exposure to mirrors they also limit the urge to pick and the less the pick the less urgent the desire to do so becomes. You may not want to remove your mirrors entirely but it may help to use a smaller mirror, to limit the distance you allow yourself to stand wen looking in the mirror so as not to see your skin close-up, placing some sort of obstruction like mirror frosting, stickers or mirror art all over the mirror to obstruct your view, or dimming the lights in the bathroom or bedroom so that you cannot see yourself clearly in the mirror. These strategies are known as stimulus controls, with the mirror being the stimulus you are trying to avoid.

Visual reminders

Visual reminders in the form of sticky notes or messages in key places where you tend to pick such as on the bathroom mirror, on your computer or desk, or on your dresser can serve as both a motivator and reminder not to pick. This is especially helpful for those who pick automatically without realising it. Sometimes seeing a visual reminder not to pick helps the person become aware of what they are about to do, thereby either reducing the urge to pick or enabling the person to implement some of the strategies like the ones mentioned above instead of picking.

Keep the hands occupied and the brain active

Many automatic pickers describe picking mainly when engaged in passive activities such as sitting at a computer or watching television. Playing with a fidget toy while on the computer or engaging in an activity that requires a level of active concentration such as painting your nails, crafts or doing a puzzle while watching TV is a great way to keep the mind and the hands off picking.


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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