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How to stop skin picking: tips and strategies for Dermatillomania

If you or a member of your family has a skin picking problem, this article will help you discover effective tips and strategies to break the habit.

Stopping skin picking involves using a combination of strategies to address both the physical and psychological aspects of the habit.


Simply put, skin picking is a disorder where an individual cannot stop picking their skin. It is often known by the name dermatillomania and affects as many as one in 20 people. The most affected areas include the face and limbs, with people often compulsively picking at a scab, a mole, a spot or a freckle until quite serious skin damage is caused, leading to more cuts and even bleeding or bruising.

This can then create a “vicious circle”, where an individual keeps picking their open skin or cuts, causing more and more damage.

Causes of skin picking disorder

Like related conditions such as thumb sucking and hair pulling (trichotillomania), a skin picking disorder is often a result of stress and anxiety. It can be as much a psychological problem as a physical one. Many of these behaviours fall under the category of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): the inability to stop doing a particular action. Sadly, it is quite common for people with OCD to have several of these conditions at once – both hair pulling and skin picking, for example.

The NHS also points to guilt and shame as causes of skin picking, while Boots notes that boredom and underlying conditions such as acne and eczema can also cause a person to skin pick when they are trying to scratch an itch or remove an embarrassing spot.

Consequences of skin picking

Frequent picking can cause inflammation, bleeding and pain. When an open sore develops, there is also the chance of bacterial infections.  In extreme cases this could lead to a fever, if a dangerous bacterium enters the bloodstream.

Skin picking can also lead to permanent changes to the skin. Where skin has experienced infection, inflammation or frequent cuts, there is the possibility of that area of skin becoming lighter or darker than the normal skin tone. Scars can develop on the skin, and there can also be long-term damage to the nails from repetitive picking.

Where the skin being picked is visible to others – on the face or hands, for example – individuals can also be embarrassed and lose self-esteem.

Skin-picking prevention tools

If you’re struggling with skin picking, consider using our Thumbsie Finger Guards to protect your skin and break the habit for good.


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How to stop skin picking

The good news is that skin picking, like other OCD behaviours, can be dealt with. There are a number of useful tips and tricks to remember.

One useful strategy is to monitor and recognise triggers. For many skin pickers, particular emotions such as guilt, shame or stress can lead to skin picking. For an individual to recognise this, is typically the first step in overcoming their habit.

The NHS recommends keeping your hands busy by squeezing a soft ball or putting on gloves. Something that we wholeheartedly support at Thumbsie®.

Other important advice includes sharing your experience with trusted friends or family who can help you recognise when and why you are skin picking. You can also try to resist the urge to skin pick a little bit longer each time. Can you resist the urge for 20 seconds? Maybe next time for 30 seconds? And then maybe the next time, resist for a whole minute?

Treatments for skin picking

In some cases, if coping strategies are not working, the best option is to seek medical treatment. This is especially important if you feel you are causing serious damage to your skin and to your emotional health.

As the root of skin picking disorder is typically psychological, it can be very helpful to try cognitive behavioural therapy, also known as talking therapy. This therapy can be provided by the NHS and seeks to help someone with OCD to become more aware of why they are skin picking and to replace the habit with less harmful behaviour.

In cases where the cause of skin picking is a physical ailment such as acne or eczema, an individual may be referred to a dermatologist.

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As noted above, the NHS recommends the use of gloves as a potentially successful prevention tool. At Thumbsie®, we have seen increasing numbers of customers doing just that. We have noticed time and time again how this habit is interconnected with conditions such as hair pulling and skin picking.

If you’re struggling with skin picking, consider using our Thumbsie® thumb and finger guards to protect your skin and break the habit for good.

By wearing a Thumbsie®, you can protect your fingers and thumbs from the compulsive need to skin pick. They are comfortable and unobtrusive, meaning that it is perfectly easy to wear them and carry on with daily life. We have had thousands of happy customers over the last decade, who have quit their OCD-related behaviour through the use of a Thumbsie®. Why not give it a try?

Skin picking, along with other OCD-related behaviours can be a difficult condition to overcome. But, with a mixture of prevention, and where appropriate, treatment, the evidence suggests that the habit can be broken

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