Lots of people pick at their skin from time to time, but that’s not what it means to have dermatillomania. Dermatillomania is classified as a body-focused repetitive behavior that is almost impossible to curb.
Nicole is one such dermatillomania sufferer, and she eloquently describes what life is like with this psychological disorder in the video below. One of the most poignant statements she makes is, “My skin is like a suit. I see my skin as something I can make into something else.” Essentially what she’s saying is that she’s never OK to just leave her skin alone — it’s a malleable thing with which she’s never satisfied.
According to SkinPick, a website dedicated to people with dermatillomania, the disorder is on the spectrum with other obsessive compulsive disorders. Many do it as a result of anxiety, excitement or even just boredom. For some, the behavior can get so bad at times that it causes permanent scarring.
Nicole’s skin picking began like many others who suffer from the condition — with the onset of acne during puberty. She describes the feeling as a need to get the acne out of her body. And the compulsion just grew from there. Now she picks at skin all over her body, from her shoulders to her cuticles to her lips. Is this ringing true for anyone else?
While it is difficult to determine exactly how much of the world has dermatillomania because so many people are ashamed of it and thus keep it hidden, recent studies average it at around 2 – 3 percent. Like other OCDs, it’s often linked with poor coping skills, but there is also a strong hereditary component. And not surprisingly, women are six times as likely to suffer from it as men are.
Like Nicole, for most skin pickers, the behavior is involuntary. Most are usually not aware their doing it, because, similar to people with restless leg syndrome, it’s simply the way their bodies choose to deal with pent-up energy.
In the spirit of this video, I will admit I suffer from skin picking, and have since I was 12. It began just like Nicole’s did, out of a need to rid my body of acne. However, it then became a destructive way to self-soothe. It feels good to pick, especially when I’m super stressed out for one reason or another. When I was in college, I bit my cuticles until they were bloody and didn’t realize how bad it looked until someone pointed it out. Even now that I’m aware it’s a mental disorder, I don’t really see it as something that needs to be addressed, because it has such a minimal effect on me overall. The scary thing is, I’ve heard girls with anorexia and bulimia say exactly the same thing.
If you think you might suffer from dermatillomania, the first thing you need to realize is that you’re definitely not alone. You’d be surprised how many of your close friends may suffer from it too, and the first step to recovery is to talk about it openly. Like any addiction, it is hard to curb, but medication, support groups and daily awareness can definitely help. And as Nicole said, it may be a part of who you are, but it’s not who you are.