Skin picking, formally known as Dermatillomania is an impulse control disorder that's rooted in obsessive behaviors. It also has several similarities to anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, most of which are related to the personality of the affected individual.
Compulsive skin picking (CSP) is the act of repeatedly picking at skin to relieve anxiety, fear, boredom or other urges.
Bleeding usually occurs, and quite often there is damage to the skin, including discolorations and even scarring or tissue damage.
Picking or digging can be done by hand, or with tweezers, pins, or other tools. Obviously there's a great risk of infection associated with this behavior.
Once an individual realizes the damage that has occurred to their skin and their overall appearance, feelings of guilt, hopelessness or depression usually follow.
It's not uncommon for skin pickers to spend several hours a day engaging in this behavior.
It can have a serious impact on relationships and employment because it can be so time consuming.
If you've ever wondered what causes skin picking, it could be more complicated than you think.
Contrary to the above statements where an individual may feel guilt or remorse about their appearance, there is another force at work which compels them to pick at scabs, pimples, blackheads, bug bites or any other perceived imperfections in order to maintain a "perfect appearance".
Some people have reported picking in response to a serious skin injury in which scabs begin to form. These actions relieve the itching sensation brought on by the healing process.
The irony is that the damaged skin never heals, so it sets the vicious circle in motion.
Picking at skin frequently begins around adolescence with the onset of acne or eczema, but it can also begin in later years and last for quite some time.
The exact origins or causes of the illness are not known. Some researchers believe that it could be biological, or that genetics may play a role in its development.
There's also a strong link between CSP and OCD, which I think is pretty obvious. Nearly 25 per cent of all patients who display Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms also engage in skin picking.
Another connection exists with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Body Dysmorphia) because the person is preoccupied with their body and its perceived imperfections.
Distorted body image is one of most common characteristics of eating disorders. In anorexia, we may see ourselves as being 'fat' or not the right shape, or not perfect enough.
With dermatillomania, an individual may believe that his/her acne is worse than it really is, and therefore they must pick their way to perfection, so to speak. In both scenarios, it's a case of the person feeling as though they don't 'measure up'.
Symptoms of dermatillomania can be observed in the areas on the body that are most affected, such as the arms, legs, chest, face, stomach, back, shoulders and the extremities like fingernails and toenails.
The sufferer will often not leave home due to the shame and embarrassment of his/her wounds, so it can definitely interfere with normal, day-to-day activities.
In the event that one does venture out, you may find them wearing long sleeves or pants, even during the summer months.
Sometimes they will try to cover their sores with make-up or even bandages.
As with eating disorders, dermatillomania is more common among women than men.
Getting help for chronic skin picking can be difficult on a couple of different levels. First, most individuals live in a state of humiliation and shame with regards to their illness. This will usually prevent them from seeking the proper treatment.
A good start would be to make a visit to your family physician, but even then, it may be a long road.
To the best of my knowledge, there are only a small number of medical and mental health clinicians who are specifically trained to successfully deal with this type of illness. It's the same story with anorexia and eating disorders in general.
Thankfully all of these disorders are getting more and more recognition, and as a result, the numbers are on the rise for being able to get in touch with someone who can help.
CSP and eating disorders are closely related to Impulse Control Disorder where stealing and shoplifting are more common in folks with eating disorders than with any other population.
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