Skin Picking? Do You Have Excoriation Disorder?

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skin picking scabs at mouth

Skin Picking? Do You Have Excoriation Disorder?

Whether it is scratching at a scab or poking at a pimple, everyone picks at their skin sometimes.

While this is normal grooming behavior, for some people, this skin picking can go too far. If you find yourself constantly scratching or prodding at your skin, it could be the sign of a more serious problem that requires mental health care

What Is Excoriation Disorder?

Excoriation disorder, sometimes also referred to as dermatillomania, is a mental health disorder that involves excessive skin picking. Related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), excoriation disorder is characterized by chronic skin picking that the affected person cannot control. People with excoriation disorder may pick at both skin blemishes like pimples or scabs as well as healthy skin because, in their eyes, all are imperfections. Unfortunately, the result of skin picking usually causes more damage to the skin including bleeding, scabs, scars, sores, tissue damage, and discoloration. 

Dermatillomania is usually chronic and includes changes in intensity throughout the person’s lifetime like alternating phases of remission and severe symptoms. It is estimated that 1.4% of adults in the United States have this skin picking disorder with women suffering more than men. The onset of skin excoriation syndrome  also varies and can occur at any time from childhood to adulthood.1


Signs of Excoriation Disorder

Signs and symptoms of excoriation disorder may include:

  • Spending several hours a day picking at skin 
  • Absentminded picking at skin until someone points it out or bleeding occurs 
  • Time spent skin picking interferes with daily life or responsibilities
  • Noticeable scars and scabs from skin picking 
  • Not letting scabs or wounds heal
  • Frequent examination of the skin for perceived imperfections 
  • Family history of OCD
  • Other symptoms of OCD


Causes of Excoriation Disorder

Many people will pick at their skin when they are nervous, but while anxiety and skin picking are sometimes related, an excoriation skin picking disorder can have many causes. Although the exact cause behind the disorder is not known, there does seem to be some genetic components.1 Additionally, anxiety, stress, depression, boredom, and other emotions can all be triggers for skin picking. What leads someone to engage in excessive skin picking will vary depending on the individual person. 


Excoriation Disorder Treatment

Because it can have many sources, the first step to treating excoriation disorder is determining the root causes of the disorder to stop the skin picking. In many cases, this disorder may be connected to another mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or OCD. A residential mental health facility can help you work through these problems and lessen symptoms. 

In some cases, this disorder may also be connected to substance abuse. An estimated 14-36% of people with excoriation skin picking disorder also struggle with a substance use disorder.1 Substance abuse can make these problems and other problems worse. Especially for people using meth who are itching from meth mites, this drug abuse could lead to serious skin infections. Those who are struggling with both should seek the help of a dual diagnosis treatment center

On top of treating the causes of excoriation disorder, the skin itself may also need a lot of care. People with excoriation disorder going through treatment may want to see a dermatologist. A dermatologist may be able to prescribe or recommend products that can aid in the healing process and minimize blemishes. 

At Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, we help people with various mental health and substance abuse disorders find a happier and healthier life. To begin your journey to recovery, call us today at 561-220-3981



  1. Psychiatry Online – Skin Picking Disorder



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