How to Stop Skin Picking: Treatment for Skin Picking
Many people do not know how to stop skin picking once it becomes a true disorder. The disorder, also called dermatillomania or neurotic excoriation, causes significant emotional distress and embarrassment due to the lesions and wounds caused by the picking. Sadly, most people do not seek treatment to stop skin picking because of the stigma associated with it. Foregoing skin picking treatment can lead to severe and even life-threatening complications.
Treatments – How to Stop Skin Picking
You may have tried to stop skin picking on your own many times, but failed. Perhaps you try to conceal your condition by picking only areas that you can cover with clothing. You spend considerable amounts of time in isolation engaging in compulsive picking sessions. You cannot get past the intense urges and anxiety associated with the disorder without professional help. Effective treatment for skin picking is available:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – therapists typically employ a combination of different types of CBT (cognitive behaviorial therapy), but the most commonly used is Habit Reversal Training (HBT). With HBT, the therapist teaches the patient to become more self-aware of triggers to skin picking sessions. Next he or she teaches the patient alternative ways to cope with these triggers. Another effective way to help individuals stop skin picking involves Mindfulness-Based CBT. Mindfulness helps the individual simply learn to accept internal stress caused by thought processes or outside events as a part of life. The therapist will teach the individual that the discomfort is not the real problem, his or her coping mechanism (i.e. the picking) is.
- Medications – certain medications have been found effective in treatment for skin picking. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as clomipramine, fluoxetine, and sertraline have helped many people stop skin picking. In certain cases, physicians may prescribe dopamine blockers (i.e. risperidone and clozapine) and other drugs, like lithium and naltrexone, to treat the condition.
- Individual and group therapy led by a licensed health care professional – these sessions help to reinforce concepts of CBT and augment any medications the patient may take to help stop skin picking.
You may also find it helpful to join a support group that focuses on helping people refrain from picking at their skin. The International OCD Foundation has an online search tool you can use to locate a support group in your area. If you'd rather participate in an online support group, they include an online and phone support group listing as well.
Quick tips to stop skin picking:
- Keep your hands busy, especially when you feel the urge to pick. If you can hold off on the urge for 15 minutes or more, you can get past it. Next time, try to hold off for longer.
- Keep your skin as blemish free as possible by using anti-bacterial soap or oil-free cleanser. You might consider seeing a dermatologist. The clearer you skin, the less likely you are to pick it.
- Avoid looking at yourself in the mirror, especially if your face is the focus of your picking. You may have to go as far as covering your mirror with fabric or paper.
- Discard all tools that you may use for skin picking (i.e. tweezers, pins)
- Replace skin picking with another activity when the urge arises, such as squeezing a stress ball.
These tips on how to stop picking at skin can help you with your disorder after you've gotten help from a professional. Employ these tips in addition to any medication or CBT therapy tools you've learned.
Last Updated: 17 March 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD