How I Manage My Embarrassing Skin-Picking Disorder

Putting an end to the shame of dermatillomania.

Woman picking her skin at doctors office - YuriArcurs | Canva

I sat nervously in the exam room, staring at the floor as my mom sat nearby. At age ten, I’d never been to a dermatologist before, and I didn’t know what to expect. My pessimistic mind pictured a medieval torture chamber of sorts. My anxiety about the awaiting pain was made more intense by one truth.

You see, I had a secret that I was too embarrassed to tell even my mom. She was very concerned when she noticed the rash on my forearms. She examined the little red marks and showed them to my dad. Oddly, they weren’t anywhere else on my body. She called the dermatologist’s office to get me in immediately. But the dermatologist couldn’t help me, and I was too scared and ashamed to speak up.


The dark secret was that I did this to myself.

I noticed one day that picking at my skin helped me feel calm when I felt stressed. As a sensitive and anxious kid who was bullied often, I tried what I could to help me get through the day. The red marks multiplied as I relied more and more on my little outlet for stress. It reached the point where I would look down and realize I’d gone too far and made a mess. But it was too late to turn back as I depended on it to get through my days.

The dermatologist sent me home with a prescription ointment. I dutifully rubbed it on my arms every evening before bed. And I kept my secret to myself because I knew it would shock and horrify the rest of the world.


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Dermatillomania is a repetitive and compulsive skin disorder related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many people pick at their skin occasionally or at certain times. Dermatillomania, however, involves a loss of control or repeated attempts to stop. The behavior can eat up hours of the day, causing a trance-like state. It causes anxiety, shame, and embarrassment. You may not have heard of it because it’s relatively rare, impacting just over 1% of the population, which adds to the shame and isolation. Dermatillomania is also much more common in women than men. There is no known cure, though some therapies can have a positive impact.



I started skin picking around age ten and continue to struggle with it at age 45. Learning that I’m not alone and that there are ways to mitigate the impacts helps me live with it.


It accompanied me to college. The picking had migrated from my arms to my feet and hands. The backs of my heels were especially noticeable. On days when I wore sandals, I might get a jolting, “What’s wrong with your heels? Do they hurt?” My hands were more challenging to conceal. Getting my nails done would sometimes keep the picking at bay for a short time. But it required great courage, as I would get a, “Your hands look terrible!” or “Have you been harvesting cotton or something?” 

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I was angry at myself that I couldn’t gain control. At a time when I tried to fit in, it was an ongoing challenge to keep from tearing myself apart. The isolation of being the only person in this predicament was weighty. I felt like a freak as I tried to hide evidence of my embarrassing secret. Little piles of skin flakes, revolting even to me, would pop up as a reminder. I was afraid that I would never be quite normal.

Eventually, I came to an understanding that changed everything for me. Fighting my disorder and hating myself for it transformed it into a more enormous monster than it once was. It got louder, more vicious, and ever-present as I battled it in rage and annoyance. But if I could live with it at my side, it wouldn’t take over my life and mind in the same way. I couldn’t love it or even like it. That was too much to ask. But as the disorder followed me through life, I learned to accept my dermatillomania. I conducted research, discovered tools, and worked on my mindset. And bit by bit, it became smaller and more muted. By changing my relationship with it, I changed my life.


Living with skin picking took practical tools and mindset shifts.

Barriers worked best. If I could put a physical barrier in place, I would remove the ability to pick. Gloves worked well but weren’t very practical for the rest of my daily tasks. Band-aids also worked but looked conspicuous. Getting fake nails, like acrylics, worked best. However, they had to be kept up, which required time and money. Fidget tools, such as a slinky or stress toy, work well for me. I discovered online resources, like the Picking Me Foundation. Also, I found the TLC foundation for body-focused repetitive behaviors.

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But the most important tool I’ve learned is to accept and love myself. As with any mental health journey, it's been a hard-fought battle for me. I’ve struggled with seeing myself as a failure or a weirdo. But I’ve learned that the silver lining is resilience, empathy, and love. Resilience comes as I overcome the obstacles in my way. It gives way to empathy as I understand the challenges of others. Love then washes over my view of myself and the world.


If you live with a skin-picking disorder or any other mental health struggle, know that you are not alone. I challenge you to love yourself. I understand the deep challenges, but there is hope, and you are worth it.

RELATED: My Dermatillomania Destroyed My Skin, But Not My Self-Esteem

Suzanne Berger is a copywriter and content writer with a Bachelor's Degree in writing from the University of Evansville. She is an introverted empath who loves art, movies, and history