What it’s like to have a skin-picking disorder

“You’ll see different
variations, different colorings because it’s a myriad of scars.
It’s been going on for years upon years. I actually don’t
grow hair in most places because I’ve picked them so bad.” Lauren
McKeaney has picked her skin since she was little and for a
long time didn’t know why. “Like up down my arms is pretty
common, always in here here.” Eventually, she finally got an
answer: Dermatillomania. Also known as chronic skin picking,
it’s a mental illness that’s related to obsessive-compulsive
disorder. “In Dermatillomania, or skin picking disorder, the
goal is accomplishment. When you feel that foreign, perceived
imperfection that shouldn’t be there. The goal is to eliminate it. When I’ve had an urge, when I’ve had an area that’s been bothering me and I
know that if I head home, there’s a hallway mirror on my
left side. And I know if I had moved it before I left, I’ll
still turn to the left when I walk in my door to check on
that. It still blows me away that my body will still remember
to do these things as part of just the way that I exist. If
you give in to the urge, or if the urge, you know, it’s not
something that you can avoid. And you you are sucked in to an
episode. There’s definitely a dissociation. There’s definitely
a zoning out aspect.” to the point it’s noticeable. And even though
obsessive skin picking appears in medical literature from as
far back as the 19th century, Dermatillomania isn’t well-known
yet in the medical community. Part of that is because it
wasn’t added to the manual of mental disorders until 2013.
“It’s stigmatized as a mental illness, sure. But it’s
stigmatized in a stigmatized community. When you have
Dermatillomania, this isn’t like you maybe flicked off a scab or
popped a zit or picked off a cuticle, it’s something that
affects your social life, your your dating life, your career.”
Skin picking was something so consuming that McKeaney nearly
lost her leg. “The abscess that I had on my thigh got severely
infected, and I contracted MRSA, which is a life taking bacteria,
and I ended up having eight inches of my thigh cut out, a
vacuum put into my thigh that I wore like a purse 24/7, I was in
a wheelchair, then a walker, then physical therapy. Even
though not all Dermatillomania cases can be as severe, I want
people to know that story to know, to not be ashamed if they
have something that’s infected, that they are afraid to go get
checked out.” That infection helped her find an official
diagnosis. Now she’s embracing her Dermatillomania and started
a non profit. “I like to think that I am thriving, intelligent,
awesome woman. And but when you’re in that episode, and
you’re stuck and sucked in, there’s no worse feeling of
defeat. And I think even I had in running this nonprofit and
trying to change the experience for other people who suffer with
this that’s been one of my biggest hurdles to get over is that I am still allowed to help others even though I’m still struggling with it.” Picking Me
Foundation is the only nonprofit in the world like it. I say, see
it as a form of self love. And I think it’s because I, after
spending two decades doing everything to make you not look
too close or not asked too many questions. I really hampered and
forwarded any self growth. And so even though I’m totally
consumed by the disorder, and in more in the helping way now, and
and managing way now, what it’s allowed me to do is meet myself
as this advocate.” The organization holds a variety of
programs, including art therapy and social media campaigns.
She’s also teaching dermatologists about the
disorder. Dermatillomania doesn’t have a cure, but there
are ways to help manage it. “So certain things like the popper.
Some of the small ones I carry in my pocket, lines at a grocery
store, somewhere where you’re setting yourself up. I may feel
too up, too low, what can I do to get my fingers off my body.
But it also makes me feel like I’m doing something for this I’m
doing something active and proactive for it, not just
waiting to be cured.” McKeaney’s message is one that goes beyond
her own disorder one for all skins. “If you look at an aisle
about like a beauty aisle or a soap self care, I’ll check out
how many bottles specifically targeted towards women
creams, lotions, concealers, face, wipes, etc. say for clear
skin or to clear your skin. There’s this idea that this
porcelain, canvas is what we should be after and what is most
acceptable and that’s affected my journey with my skin and my
identity from you know from middle school and making sure
that I had at least nine different concealers always in
an area around me just in case something happened. I could
quickly cover it up and make this skin clear again. So that
you know it was easier for people to handle looking at me,
I guess. But now it’s embracing the dots, embracing that my skin
is my skin.”

35 thoughts on “What it’s like to have a skin-picking disorder

  1. I'm #PickingMe over Skin Picking so I can collab with awesome orgs like Newsy and continue spreading mental health awareness! Thanks for the feature :)))

  2. To everyone:
    Don't look into mirrors, wear gloves whenever you can so even when you touch your face, you can't feel all the patches you would pick otherwise.
    Make a photo of yourself every day and notice how it gets better if you don't pick.

    I hope it will help someone because it helps me (especially the thing with the gloves. Mine are white so I would NEVER scratch my face in them as it would make them dirty. I'm a little Autistic there)

  3. I think with a lot of effort you can heal it. I'm working at the moment on my recovery and at the moment I'm in control. I think it's your choice to believe if it's untreatable. My Mom hasn't picked for 20 years now. It isn'z easy, but you can manage it.

  4. And the worst part of it? No one (maybe aside those who suffers from it), including (and especially) their family and friends, will EVER understand what they’re going through.

    Most of the time, the only things they say are:

    “Are you stupid/crazy/will weak?”

    “Why are you doing this to me?”

    “It’s all in your head”

    “Just stop it! / you’re not even trying to stop yourself”

    “There are people who have worse than you”

    “You look like you have stigmates/leprosy/been in Vietnam War”

    “I won’t love you anymore if you do this/promise me to never do it again”

    And so on.

    I’m sorry for the brutal honesty, but this is a fact, based on my personal experience. I’m still picking scabs, especially when I’m bored or stressed out (I’m not sure it’s dermatillomania) despite there are some periods I don’t.

  5. My boyfriend always asks me “why do you do that???” And tells me “just stop” and I tell him it’s not like that. And he tells me “yes it is.”

  6. I pick at my face, behind my ears, upper back, upper arms, legs, chest. It used to only be my blemishes when I was younger. Now it’s progressed as I’m 28- to throughout my entire body and to anytime I feel anything or see anything. Even when it’s nothing. If it’s a pore, I have to get it.

  7. It's been 3 months and I stopped picking my face but I know it always returns. And then I begin to cycle all over again.

  8. I eat the dry skin around my fingers and I also eat the skin inside my mouth. That chewy texture makes me feel comfortable and I don’t why. I also suck the blood when I rip the skin inside my mouth and it taste good. And sometimes the dry skin around my toes, I don’t use my mouth but I scratch it out and eat it secretly 😂

  9. I don’t pick my face, arms or legs, but I pick my thumbs and feet chronically. My thumbs as a result have almost no fingerprints and my feet hurt every time I walk. My mom doesn’t believe I might have this, even though it’s not as extreme as this woman. But my mom believes it’s just my normal OCD.

  10. I’ve done this years. Seriously therapy helps. I got my life back. Of course I still give In and do it, but therapy has helped me, I’ve come so far 🙂

  11. gosh the same but im only picking skins all around my fingernails both hands and feet and while commenting this im picking skins i dont literally know how to stop it its really uncomfortable and annoying like that feeling when you really want want to remove your nails whelp

  12. i only pick my cold sore witch i have for almost a year now. do i have this? is this kind of like cutting, except picking? how do i stop picking at my cold sores?

  13. This disorder is horrible 😥 my family does not understand and yell at me when I do it. It's really hard to stop when it starts going.

  14. It’s something that I can’t control and I’m proud of it there isn’t anything I can do do I’m gonna show off that I’m different and not the same

  15. I thought I was the only one. I hate myself. I think people must think I’m a meth addict with my scarred face . I really need help, there is none in the public health sector.

  16. I have this to the point when I feel like I can’t stop sometimes and, don’t realise I’m doing it.. I also will have the urge to pick other peoples skin and will feel anxious/anxiety until I can touch it and make it better

  17. I've been afflicted with this my whole life. Primarily my finger tips, face and lips. However no scab is safe.
    One of my epiphanies for triggering picking sessions is the sensation of touch/feel. My ultimate goal is smoothness. I can not tolerate the sensation of sharp edges, hang nails, dry skin on my finger tips. And yet my fingernails are a driving force in my picking, but not always. Sometimes when I'm alone I'll use nail or cuticle clippers to start edges that I can peel. This is most often a response to anxiety levels. I find it satisfying to peel the largest piece of skin from my fingers without causing any immediate discomfort. I've often fantasized the notion of having my fingernails surgically removed as a way of taking away the means.
    I'd like to share one of my most effective cognitive behavioral methods. Gloves themselves never really worked because they unnatural and just too difficult to ignore. I cut the finger tips from clear vinyl(not latex) gloves(walmart) and use them only on the fingers that are bothering me at that time. Latex is too grippy and gets in the way of many activities.
    Just thought I'd share, what is probably the most effective method of preventing and/or reducing self harm.

  18. It ruined my life my scalp is horrible I mean horrible all of these flakes all of these scabs I used to have beautiful hair I have bald spots now but now whenever I hold my self I get these urges that are impossible to avoid and it's been going on for 4 years and it's sad that it makes me hate myself i cant stop ughhhh

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