Dermatillomania: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
Dermatillomania, also known as compulsive skin picking (CSP), is a mental illness wherein sufferers feel very strong urges to pick at their skin to the point of damaging it. Some experts call it excoriation disorder or neurotic skin picking. Regardless of what your mental health professional or family doctor calls it, it's a real disorder and people suffering from it usually can't stop on their own.
Dermatillomania Symptoms and Causes
To recognize dermatillomania, you need to understand what the signs and symptoms look like. Some telltale symptoms of dermatillomania include:
- Compulsive and frequent picking at the skin to the point of causing tissue damage
- The picking and tissue damage results in significant distress for the individual engaging in skin picking behavior
- The skin picking causes the person considerable issues at work, school, in his or her social life, or other regular activities
It's also not uncommon for people with dermatillomania to have comorbid (simultaneously occurring) mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Additionally, people with dermatillomania symptoms don't necessarily have to suffer from an underlying skin problem (i.e. acne, bug bites, scrapes, rash) to feel the urge to pick. People suffering from this condition will often pick and tear at the skin and actually create sores on the body part of the body they are focusing on, or even all over their bodies.
Researchers don't have enough information to come up with a clear set of causes for dermatillomania, but they theorize a number of factors could contribute to its development in susceptible people:
- Genetics – people who have a parent or sibling with excoriation disorder or other related disorders are more likely to develop the condition
- Stress – current research suggests another cause of dermatillomania may be life stressors that result in anxiety that the person copes with by skin picking
- Trauma – sometimes a single, very traumatic event can trigger the onset of this condition
Much more research is needed on dermatillomania treatment, but some studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may provide some relief to those suffering from it. Other mental health professionals use acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a type of mindfulness-based CBT, wherein the person simply accepts the stresses and anxieties that trigger the behavior and then commits to refraining from the picking behavior.
Research also indicates that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications may prove helpful in dermatillomania treatment. Some common SSRIs include:
Since each individual reacts differently to medication, more research is needed to determine which, if any, works best in the treatment of dermatillomania.
Many people suffering from the shame and embarrassment of this disorder do not know that help exists, so they continue to hide their condition and suffer from it in silence.
Last Updated: 18 November 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD