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A Look at the Symptoms of Dermatillomania

written by: Kelly Marquize • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/12/2010

Dermatillomania, or skin picking, is a disorder that is often misunderstood. Symptoms of dermatillomania are relatively obvious as they are visible to the outside world.

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    What is Dermatillomania?

    Dermatillomania is a disorder in which a person habitually picks their skin, and is considered a form a self mutilation. Also called compulsive skin picking (CSP), dermatillomania can involve the picking of skin on any part of the body, but usually involves the face, neck, arms, shoulders, and hands. Symptoms of dermatillomania often follow a traumatic event that has caused severe emotional distress.

    It is now thought that symptoms may be linked to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or body dysmorphic disorder. In this case, skin picking is an attempt to reach perfection. The person may start by picking at a mole, freckle, or blemish in an attempt to rid themselves of the “imperfection" (BrainPhysics, 2010).

    People with dermatillomania will use their fingernails, teeth, tweezers, or pins to pick their skin. “It is more likely to occur during periods of boredom or stress, and occurs most often at bedtime, in the bathroom, in class, and in the car. Sometimes skin-picking is preceded by a high level of tension and a strong "itch" or "urge". Similarly skin-picking may be followed by a feeling of relief or pleasure. A Dermatillomania or CSP episode may be a conscious response to anxiety or depression, but is frequently done as an unconscious habit" (Khan, 2009).

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    Symptoms

    Obviously, the most notable symptoms are:

    • Compulsive skin picking
    • Nails and cuticle picking
    • Picking scabs
    • Scarred skin
    • Calloused skin
    • Bleeding skin
    • Swollen skin

    People who suffer from this disorder may try to mask visible symptoms by covering the affected areas. In extreme cases, an individual may even withdrawal from social interaction in an attempt to hide their disorder from others. Because guilt and shame are linked to dermatillomania, it is not at all uncommon for the individual to be embarrassed about their problem. This just causes the individual to want to retreat even more so that they do not have to face possible ridicule and/or disapproval from others.

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    Understanding the Symptoms

    As stated earlier, sometimes dermatillomania starts after experiencing a traumatic event. Losing a loved one, for instance may cause such grief that the individual may begin to pick at their skin as an unconscious way of relieving negative emotions. Over time, it becomes a habit and the person may find it hard to stop. The person may want to stop, but feels compelled to continue.

    Family and loved ones who become aware that someone close to them has dermatillomania, often do not understand why the person cannot just stop picking their skin. They may become angry or disgusted with the disorder which in turn just causes more stress for the affected person. Symptoms of dermatillomania are a very real disorder and must be treated as such. Patience and understanding are essential to successful treatment.

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    References

    BrainPhysics (2010). Dermatillomania: Compulsive skin picking. Retrieved October 12, 2010, from http://www.brainphysics.com/skin-picking.php

    Khan, S. A. (2009). Dermatillomania. Retrieved October 9, 2010, from http://www.physicians-academy.com/Upload/580c4ea5-7985-45fa-9a48-890969618fb0.pdf