In addition to fighting OCD, I am also engaged in a constant battle with dermatillomania.  For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means that I pick at my skin.  I compulsively pick scabs, fingernails, the skin around my fingernails, my face, etc.  Lately, I have been picking until I bleed.  Gross, right?

Dermatillomania is an impulse control disorder.  It, along with trichotillomania (the compulsion to pick one’s hair out), is a commonly comorbid with OCD because impulse control disorders are considered to be part of the OCD spectrum.
I used to hate this terrible habit—what I thought was just a habit, anyway—and I though it was childish to be unable to stop.  It has always disgusted me.  But it’s not just a bad habit.  It’s how my brain works; it’s an involuntary action, so I can’t just stop.  Like OCD, it gets much worse when I have a lot of outside stress.  It calms me when I’m stressed.  I know this won’t make sense to a lot of you, but it’s very comforting, embarrassing, but comforting.

I had managed it well for awhile, or so I thought.  I quit playing with my cats so that I wouldn’t have scratches on my arms to pick.  I keep my nails painted, so I can pick at the polish instead of my skin.

But these don’t solve the problem.  To stop picking, therapy prescribes a stress ball.  The idea is that if you squeeze a stress ball every time you want to pick, then it will retrain your brain to need/desire the new action over the old one.  Eventually, when I am stressed, my instinct will be to squeeze a stress ball instead of pick my skin.

The problem is this involuntary part.  Most of the time, I don’t know I’m picking until I draw blood and have to get a bandage.  By that point, it’s too late to get the ball; the damage is done.  I always have the ball with me in my purse, but I always forget it’s there.

So what to do?

For those of you who know me in real life, who see me on a regular basis, I need your help.  If you see me picking at my fingers, arms, or face, then tell me to use my stress ball.  You probably notice what I’m doing before I do (because it’s weird and gross).  I would say you should slap me on the hand if you catch me picking, but please don’t.  You’re all well aware of how much I LOVE being touched.


45 thoughts on “Dermatillomania

  1. I am sorry to hear that you have dermatillomania too, not just OCD. I would suggest that you do not carry your stress ball in your purse. Have it always in your hand, or if you do something where you need both hands (working on computer, eating…) put her on the desk in front of you, so you can see it. I know that this is not very practical, but hey… how much do you want to get better? The sooner you will retrain your brain, the sooner you won’t have to do this anymore.

    1. That’s actually a really good idea. I work on campus and am a student, so carrying it around is doable. I can keep it on my desk in class and at work. People might think it’s weird, but they already think that the picking is weird, so why not? Besides, it’s definitely more important to work on this than look cool. Maybe I could attach a clip or something to the tag and hang it from a belt loop.


    2. I tried your idea today. It worked much better! I kept the stress ball in my hand all day, and I picked a lot less. I’m definitely going to keep this up! Thanks!!

  2. I have a picking problem, too. I have ripped my cuticles apart since I was a teen. Like you, I just thought it was a bad habit. But it is soothing. I didn’t understand until I really started studying mental health issues. I still pick at my face, but not as much. When I am stressed I usually end up with a band-aid or two on my fingers from picking at them. I even got a bad infection once (called a felon). That was embarrassing. Sometimes I can’t get what I want done with my fingers so I use needles or tweezers. That’s how I got the infection. And when I was scratching (like cutting) I got a secondary high from picking the scabs afterward.

    I’m just saying that I get this one. Maybe I’ll try the idea of the stress ball. I spend a lot on band-aids.

    1. Yeah, my fingers can do a lot of damage to each other, so I keep nail clippers with me at all times. Sometimes, they keep things from getting worse. Other times, they make things worse. I know if I don’t get a handle on this, I will end up with infections before long.

      I go through band-aids really quickly, so I never seem to have many around.

      I can only imagine what an impossible combination cutting and picking would be. That’s a lot of self-harm!

      1. I am in a similar situation currently. Even though my brother and I have been doing this picking of our fingers, lips and tongue this since we were children. I remember my mother making my brother wear white gloves all the time. She said it was too prevent him from picking, but I really believe it was also a humiliation technique by a narcissistic parent. So glad there are people with similar experiences out there.

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for the helpful tips. Its like I want to brave the courage to tell someone about this… But I’m only a 13 yea old girl. I tried telling my dad once, but he replied: well I pick my scabs too, it’s okay. He doesn’t get it. I’m only 13!!! This has been goinnon for 2 years now. I need help! More than just a stress ball!

    1. It’s hard to get that courage. I have had OCD and dermatillomania since I was a little kid. I was diagnosed when I was 12, but I wasn’t comfortable telling anyone about it. I hid it for years before finally being comfortable being this open about it. It’s scary! The wonderful thing about starting to talk about it is finding out that you are not alone! There are so many of us out there dealing with the same thing.

      I have been picking since I was little. When I was in elementary school, I used to pick the skin off the tips of my fingers until they bled. My mom got so irritated with how many band-aids I went through. So I started carrying around nail clippers so that if I had a little bit of loose skin, I could clip it off instead of picking at it and making it worse. Then the clipping got out of hand, and I started making myself bleed with those, too. It’s a constant battle. I wish someone had told me to try a stress ball years ago. It’s so embarrassing having scabs all over my arms and around my fingernails.

      Try a stress ball, though. I know it seems silly and like it won’t work, but try it anyway. What can it hurt? That’s really what my therapist has me doing. Like this post says, “The idea is that if you squeeze a stress ball every time you want to pick, then it will retrain your brain to need/desire the new action over the old one.” It takes a lot of work, and you have to carry the stress ball around all the time, but eventually, your impulse will be to squeeze the ball instead of pick.

      If you have any questions or just want to talk about it with someone who understands, feel free to email me any time ( I know how difficult it is to deal with this kind of thing and not have anyone take you seriously.

      1. Hi. I’m in a new realtionship with a guy that I believe has dermatillomania. I’ve only just began to understand this. It makes me (as well as my kids/family) uncomfortable and I read your suggestion regarding a stress ball. I have never told him it bothers me, nor have we discussed it. What can I say and/or do without offending him? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for listening!

        1. As I said to the previous commenter, I sincerely apologize for taking so long to get back to this.

          If you have already discussed this with him, then ignore this comment. Otherwise, I suggest that you bring it up as gently as possible. Chances are that he is very aware that he does it and is also ashamed that he does it. Don’t ask or expect him to be able to stop. Using a stress ball can help, but it isn’t a fix-all. It helped me for awhile, but I’m back to picking again. It is going to take a long time to get to the place where the stress ball is as effective a tool for coping with stress as picking. We have to untrain our brains of something we’ve been depending on for years.

          Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer for you. You have to be sensitive and understand that this isn’t something that will be resolved any time soon, and that isn’t his fault.

  4. I am so glad to have found your blog! I too, suffer from dermatillomania! I hate it. I am going to go get a stress ball, where did you get yours?

    I also think that I have OCD. I have been diagnosed with depression, panic/anxiety, ADHD & possibly OCD.

    I’ve always made up rules for myself, since I was a little girl. Like, if I do A, then B will happen. I have always worried obsessively about whether or not I hurt someone’s feelings or said the right thing. I can become so obsessed with my internal worries, that I spiral into depression and panic. I have at times had more severe intrusive thoughts, that I might accidentally hurt someone, or myself. I also am compulsively/obsessed with researching things on the internet. I can’t get enough, I have to know everything about everything in my life. It takes a lot of time, and makes it difficult to function. I am trying to understand if this is an OCD obsession, or an addiction.

    I also think I have scrupulosity, I truly believed for a long time that if I didn’t live up to every commandment the best I could, and try to become perfect, then I would go to hell. I know it’s illogical, but I was driven by intense fear, constantly. I have some things that I have to do perfectly, or I can’t stop. Do you think that is OCD too?

    I hope your stress ball carrying is working. I’m interested to hear your update!

    1. I got one on Amazon that is filled with gel. It’s ok. I got a much better one from Joann (fabric store, not sure if there is one in your area). It’s filled with little plastic pellets/balls. It’s just more comfortable for me. Personal preference. Search Amazon, though. There are lots of kinds on there.

      The things you describe sound like OCD. I’m not a professional, but those are common symptoms of OCD. OCD could be the overall cause of your depression and anxiety. It might be helpful to see a psychologist who specializes in OCD who knows a lot more than I do.

      I, too, spend a lot of time worrying about saying the right/wrong thing or worrying that I have offended someone. It’s exhausting! When I’m around my boyfriend’s family or meet someone new and say something “wrong,” I’ll obsess about it and replay the conversation in my head for hours.

      As far as the research thing, that sounds like it could be OCD, but it depends. Is it something you get a high from doing, or do you feel anxious if you don’t know everything about everything? Getting some kind of high or rush from research would suggest addiction, but anxiety would suggest OCD.

      I have a mild case of scrupulosity, too. It was much worse when I was younger and was really religious. I wore myself out trying to be perfect morally and spiritually. It has lessened since I was younger, but it pops up every once in awhile and freaks me out about going to Hell.

      OCD can definitely trigger all kinds of perfectionism. My perfectionism comes out most with school, but it also comes out in the most mundane of tasks.

      As for my stress ball progress, it isn’t going well, but that’s because I stopped using it. Finals and graduation and visiting my family (the past two weeks of my life) were just too stressful, so I let myself pick to deal with the stress. Now that all of that is over, I’m working on it again, and I’m hitting therapy harder than I have been lately. I’ll post an update soon.

      I’m glad you have found this blog helpful!! Feel free to email me anytime at I’ve been dealing with and fighting all of this stuff since I was a little kid, and I tend to obsessively research things as well. And whatever I’m not sure about, I will do my best to find someone who knows.

  5. Hi Elly,

    I hope this post finds you well. I am a freelance writer and health psychologist looking to raise awareness of skin picking via an article or case study on the topic. I am seeking people who might be willing to share their stories with me, anonymously if you so wish. I have struggled with the condition myself, but since I am writing the article as a health professional, I am unable to also act as a ‘case study’ so to speak. If anyone would like to appear in a magazine, again anonymously if you so wish, please do get in touch via email ( Anything you tell me will be completely confidential and nothing will be printed without your full consent. I understand that this is a difficult topic discuss and can assure you that it will be approached with respect and dignity. If anyone has any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Kind Regards, Nicola

  6. I’m 14 yrs old and I’ve been doing this since I was 5 I have had a hard life with my mom being a alcholic and and when something went wrong I wld pick at my fingers or bite them it’s been getting so much worse that I am picking further down on my fingers I’ve tried clipping my nails to nubs but I just end up biting I tried chewing gum and fiddling with objects but as soon as I’m bored or unoccupied I unknowingly start biting or picking and before I know it I’m bleeding and sometimes I don’t even know I’m picking so I don’t know how I am bleeding it makes me uncomfortable j just want if to end

    1. I know; it’s hard, and it seems unending. My picking has gotten a lot worse since I published this post. My nails are down to nubs, and the skin around my nails is raw and scabbed. It’s really disgusting, and I hate it, but it’s a reflex when I’m stressed.

      I haven’t used my stress ball in months, but I’m going to try to start using it again soon. It did help when I was in the habit of using it.

      I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time with it. See if a stress ball helps. Apparently it is possible for us to retrain our brains and hands to do a different motion when stressed.

      I hope you get some relief soon, and I understand your frustration. I’m right there with you.

  7. Hi,
    I tear at the skin on my tongue until it bleeds. I’ve been doing it since I can remember but have never done anything about it. I figured it was habit until I researched more into it. And I guess what I found it out to be is alot scarier. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety also, but I never knew they were common OCD symptoms?
    I’m very particular with how I like things placed in my home. Alot of people, including my roommate have moved things around to see if I’d notice (I did) and to just screw with me for the lol’s. It’s unsettling.
    Another thing that I’ve been doing for years but has become more persistent within the last year and a half; I find myself unable to breathe if my hands feel dry. And they become dry frequently. Sometimes I have to moisturize well over 20 times in the space of eight hours while I’m working, in order to breathe properly.

    I think I should maybe seek out a professional about this, because I have never thought of any of these things as something as major as OCD. And it’s scaring me, to be honest.

    1. OCD can be scary, but it isn’t more than you can handle. Try not to be too scared of OCD itself (easier said than done, I know). You can master OCD. It takes hard work, but it is possible.

      I would recommend seeing a therapist, someone who specializes in OCD. The International OCD Foundation has a great database of therapists who are specifically trained to deal with OCD. I found my therapist on their website.

      It really helps to have someone who can help motivate you and hold you accountable in your fight against OCD.

      Feel free to email me any time if you have any questions or are just stressed out and need to talk to someone who gets it.

  8. Hey! I have been picking my hand and lips since i was 5 or 6, i am 17 now. I have mild OCD. I have been trying to stop picking for a long time but it never works. How is the stress ball working out? Should I try that? What else has the therapist recommend you do to try to help? I am planning to wear gloves most of the time (even inside) but not at school. I told my mom about this picking and she did not believe me. plus i don’t want to tell anyone about this.

    1. I’m so sorry it took so long for me to reply. I have been neglecting my blog lately.

      I pick my lips, too, especially in the winter when it gets really cold. The stress ball isn’t working out really well for me because I haven’t been using it. At all. It helped quite a bit when I was using it. But it’s not as satisfying as picking. My fingers are in a really sad state right now. Unfortunately, the stress ball is the only thing my therapist has recommended to help. However, I have noticed over the years that if I keep my nails painted, then I pick them less. Instead of picking my skin and nails, I just pick the polish. It’s still destructive, but it keeps me from hurting myself.

      Again, so sorry this is so delayed. I’d love to know how you’re doing with that now, though. I hope it has gotten better!

      1. I am doing better… for now. My nails are growing and my cuts are healing. My lips are not doing too good though, i have been trying to put lip gloss on them more, but i only pick at them when i am on the computer. I do find that nail polish helps but i do end up picking that off. I think i will use nail polish again. That is fine for the delay.

  9. Ohmygod! I just randomly stumbled on this blog while searching for a name to my “disorder”. Dermatillomania describes my finger-picking habit perfectly. I’ve been picking my nails and the skin around then since the day I grew nails, and its become like second nature to me! They’re almost always bleeding, and the skin has gotten so hard. They’re even unburnable. O_o I *always* need something to do with my hands, and it’s not like I can start knitting or something in public. Your stress ball was a great idea, thanks!

    1. I’m glad you found this! I can’t tell you what an amazing day it was when I learned that dermatillomania was a thing. Fireworks, bells, the works. It felt so good to know that it wasn’t just me and that there was a legitimate reason for my disgusting habit.

      I hope the stress ball works for you! Let me know how it goes.

  10. I’m just the same. I have OCD, ADHD, a perfectionist quirk and dermatilomania. For me, it’s not something to be ashamed of at all. So many people do it, and i depend on it too much. But constantly picking my nails has made them short and super ugly, so a stress ball sounds good. Doubt it will work, though, when you’ve been picking for over 10 years.

    1. Yeah, that’s been my experience. I have been unsuccessful, for the most part, in overcoming dermatillomania. I’ve been picking since I was a little kid. I’m not at my worst right now, but I definitely pick a lot.

  11. I realize this is an old post, but I thought I’d comment anyway!

    I’ve been dealing with dermatillomania for quite awhile – it used to be focused to my face (picking blackheads) but for the past year and a half I have centered it on my arms and legs now, too. Before that I would bite my nails (at least 5 years) – these things are incredibly hard to stop, especially since it seems that like you, I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I draw blood – so then it’s too late anyway.

    I’m wondering (since it has been awhile) if you have been successful with reducing your dermatillomania tendencies, either with the stress ball or with other methods?

    1. Currently? Not so much better. It comes and goes. I’ve been really awful about picking lately, though. It’s probably at one of the lowest points I’ve been. I’m starting to get concerned that I’m doing permanent damage to my nails. I don’t know.

      Has anything been working for you?

      1. What I’ve been trying to do is when I catch myself picking, I start lightly scratching/rubbing instead. I guess what I’m trying to do is just change the behaviour, so that on impulse I’ll start scratching/rubbing instead of picking. And if I get the huge need to pick and am cognizant of it (i.e: social situations, stressful triggers) then I just try and scratch/rub my arms as well.

        This is about 5 days in – my arms are a lot less gross looking! Ideally I’d like to get rid of the impulse completely, but for now I’ll just settle for less scabs. The impulse/trigger part can come at a later time.

        1. I’m glad that seems to be working for now. Keep me posted. I also find that keeping some neosporin or something in my purse can be really helpful. If I catch myself picking, I’ll immediately apply neosporin to all of my scabs and rub it in really good. This both helps them heal and also makes it hard to pick. This doesn’t work so great for my fingers, but it works really well for my arms.

  12. Ya I’m 13 too and I pick scabs a lot too it’s usually invoulentarily but I just can’t stop once i realize what I am doing but the worst part is I pick my face often times and I look terrible I usually pick until it bleeds and I get really embarrassed because I most often pick at school

    1. Yeah, it was always really embarrassing for me when I was a teenager. I always had a scab somewhere that I had to pick. It’s still embarrassing but less so because I understand it now. I used to be horrified that I couldn’t stop picking.

  13. HI, I don’t know if you still are reading this but I just came accross this blog. My 7 year old daughter was diagnosed last year with OCD. She has been picking her skin and cuticles since she was 2 or 3 but it ended up getting worse when she started school. Now that she has been diagnosed I recognize some of the same behaviors in myself (albeit more mild) and it makes me feel terribly guilty for passing this on to her so I am trying to do everything in my power to help her as I know she gets embarassed about her scabs and it is starting to affect her ability to make friends and her schoolwork is suffering. You had mentioned you struggled with dermatillomania since you were a child and I am just curious if you had any suggestions for her to try that may have worked for you when you were younger.

    1. A similar thing happened to my mom. As I have learned more and more about OCD and begun talking openly about what my OCD looks like, my mom has noticed similar behaviors in her, though also more mild than mine. Don’t feel guilty about it. You can’t change your genetics. One thing I’ve learned in broadcasting my journey online is that everyone has something they’re struggling with.

      I didn’t know what it was when I was little. I just knew it was kind of embarrassing. I tried to keep bandages over problem areas. I don’t remember how old I was when I started using neosporin to combat spots I’d begun to pick. Neosporin not only helps heal the spot, but it also makes it temporarily impossible to pick. So any time I notice myself picking, I try to get out my neosporin (I always keep a small tube in my purse) and cover everything that I might try to pick, anything that needs to heal.

  14. I have had dermatillomania ever since I can remember. I am now 52 years old and sorry to say, I still do it. It used to be only my thumbs, but then I started on my other fingers, and even did it to the bottom of my feet a few times. I have managed to quit a few times, even to the point where I had long polished nails and wore rings, but I always end up going back to it. I was abused by my mother from a very early age and the picking was a mechanism I developed to cope with it. Right now my right hand is the worst. I peel all the skin off my entire thumb and half way across my palm. The best feeling is when I get a really big sheet of skin off at once. I feel like such a creep and a weirdo for doing this and everytime I do it swear to myself it will be the last time. At home I can wear gloves or keep my hands busy but it happens alot at work because I have alot of social anxiety and being around people can trigger it bad, I remember distinctly the first time I peeled the shin on my palm was at my ex-boyfriend’s brother’s wedding. Sitting at the reception with a napkin pressed in my fist to hide the bleeding. I also have that obsession with where things in my house are placed. My current boyfriend has a maddening habit of rearranging things when I am at work and he can’t understand the rage I feel to come home and find things out of place. I think I’m fucking crazy.

    1. I know what it feels like to think you’re fucking crazy. It sucks. I’m sorry you’re still dealing with that. I’ve never peeled skin back that far. Mine is concentrated—usually—around the tips of my fingers. But it is very satisfying to get a larger sheet of skin even in that small area.

      The shame is maddening, though. I’m always so embarrassed when someone catches me doing it. I’m embarrassed when I make myself bleed in public, and I don’t have a bandage on me, and I have to find a tissue or something. I always feel like such a freak. It helps knowing that other people do the same thing.

      1. This is the first time I ever found a place that had people who do what I do. It’s comforting to know I am not alone….I have never met another person who does what I do.

  15. Oddly enough, since I discovered this site, I have been able to control my picking almost 99%. It’s almost like once I knew I wasn’t alone, it became easier. And my #1 ally in this has been a humble emery board. I rub it over my rough skin and it eliminates the rough edges I love to pick. I keep one in reach at all times, in my pocket at work….always. Thank you for this site, thank you. I am on the way to being a normal person…at least, at this point in time. I love you all….

    1. I’m so glad you’ve had some relief! I’ll have to try carrying an emery board with me to see if that would help. My picking has been out of control lately.

  16. Thanks for this post, I somehow knew I wasn’t alone doing this but it sure helped me and comforted me to read people talking about that. I’ve had dermatillomania from an early age and as far as I remember, I’ve always “only” picked at my lips and my fingers’ tips or nails, which is kind of reassuring considering what I’ve read about this condition. But now that I have a girlfriend, she’s pretty much annoyed and disgusted with that, which I can understand pretty easily. I’ve started reading about the condition and Wikipedia says it’s related to either a high level of stress or arousal. She tells me that I’m not stressed when I do this and that it looks more like I’m bored, but seeing how it is mentioned it is actually related to stress makes me feel better and I can at least prove that it’s not because I don’t look stressed that I’m not.

    I was thinking of using a stressball (first need to buy one though) and that’s how I ended up here (google: stressball dermatillomania) to shift the stress to something unharmful to my body. I hope it helps. I know that I won’t get rid of that easily but if only I could just “remap” my brain so that it squeezes the ball every time I feel like picking, I think it would help a great deal already. Well, it’s either that or starting boxing to get rid of all the stress in an effective way (maybe that would help in some way, who knows).

    Anyway, I’m grateful for your post and all the answers, made me feel a bit better about all this. Courage!

    1. I often look bored when I’m picking, too, but it’s absolutely related to stress for me. I find it comes on most when I have social anxiety. So I do it a lot when I’m out in public. I appear bored because when I have a lot of social anxiety, I’m not talking to anyone or really paying close attention to conversations. But the reality is that I’m panicking and obsessing about too many things to function on a social level. And so I pick. A lot.

      You can’t really judge it by how it looks. I rarely look stressed. I’ve had so much stress for so long that I hide it extremely well. People often comment that I’m handling things really well when they think I should be falling apart. But I usually am falling apart—just internally.

      See if you can pay attention to what’s going on when you find yourself picking. See if you can identify any patterns. Try to see what you’re thinking about at the moment you notice you’re picking.

      I hope the stressball has helped! This is something I’m still struggling with. It’s so hard.

  17. Oh my god, I finally found others that do the same as me. I constantly pick at the skin on my lips, to the point where I peel it off and it bleeds. Then I wait for it to stop bleeding and carry on picking. The same with my fingers, I’m either picking at them with my nails, biting them, I have even used the back of my earring to get right into the cuticles and pull off the skin. I found that I do this when I’m nervous and anxious. Back last year I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I pretty much don’t notice that I’m doing it till my boyfriend shouts at me or I’m bleeding. He shouts because he knows something’s on my mind, talking about it doesn’t help as I’m subconsiously still picking at the skin. I also have to count things, silly things like steps, tiles, things on shelves, Carsten and if I land on an odd number I count again and again till I get to an even number. I can’t even have my volume on the TV/CD player on an odd number. If it is I panic and all I can think about is it being on an odd number and I have to change it. As soon as I do this I feel relief. Does all this mean that I have OCD? Also is there anything else other than a stress ball that could help with the picking?


    1. First off, I’m sorry to respond to this so late. I haven’t been on my blog in awhile.

      I’m not a doctor, so I can’t diagnose you, but those sound like OCD symptoms I’ve struggled with (counting, needing even numbers, panicking when you land on an odd number). Generally speaking, the threshold between OCD and not OCD is if those kinds of things cause distress, anxiety.

      I hope you’ve gotten some relief since you left this comment.

    2. Oh, and I’m sorry, but I haven’t managed to find anything else to help with dermatillomania. Painting my nails gives me something else to pick (paint instead of skin) but I’m still picking, so the habit doesn’t change. The stress ball didn’t end up working for me, so I still pick a lot when I’m stressed.

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