Am I the only one who picks my skin?
No, most people pick their skin to some degree. Occasional picking at cuticles, acne blemishes, scabs, calluses, or other skin irregularities is a very common human behavior. It also is not unusual for skin picking to actually become a problem, whether temporary or chronic. In fact, studies indicate that 2% of all dermatology patients and 4% of college students pick their skin to the point where it causes noticeable tissue damage and marked distress or impairment in daily functioning. It is important to remember that you are not alone with this problem.
When is skin picking a serious problem?
There is no universally agreed-upon standard as to when skin picking becomes a serious problem. In more serious cases, though, the picking is generally time-consuming, results in noticeable tissue damage, and causes emotional distress. When it is even more severe, people often suffer impairment in social, occupational, and physical functioning. This can include avoiding social activities such as going to the pool, gym, or beach; being late for work or other events because of the time it takes to cover up the picking; and avoiding contact with anyone who may notice bleeding, scars, or sores.
Is skin-picking a self-injurious behavior, like cutting or burning yourself?
No. Chronic skin picking can sometimes be confused with self-injurious and self-mutilating behaviors like cutting or burning of the skin because of the appearance of skin wounds and the fact that skin picking is self-inflicted. However, it is very important to distinguish between these two types of behaviors. People with CSP do not wish to cause themselves pain in order to relieve a sense of numbness or to assert a level of control over their bodies like those who cut or burn themselves. While people who pick their skin may find picking to be a pleasurable act, the aftermath is actually one of distress and remorse.
How does chronic skin picking start?
Skin picking can begin in a number of ways, but two in particular are quite common. First, a person may experience an injury to or disease of the skin. When the wound starts to heal, a scab forms and sometimes starts to itch. This may lead the person to pick or scratch at the scab. Unfortunately, with further trauma, the skin never completely heals. This can result in repeated scabbing and itching, which is then relieved with further picking. In other cases, people with chronic skin picking report that picking began during, or soon after, a very stressful event in their lives. The person slowly learns that skin picking can work to control their feelings and emotions and they continue to pick in the future.
At what age do people usually start picking?
The behavior can begin at any age, from preteen to older adult, and last for months or years. How the disorder progresses depends on many factors, including the stresses in a person’s life, and whether or not the person seeks and finds appropriate treatment.
Why does skin picking become a problem for some people and not for others?
A large number of people habitually pick their skin, but it only becomes a severe problem for a relatively small number of people. The reasons for this are unclear, but one school of thought is that some people have a genetic or biological predisposition and thus are more likely to develop CSP. A second possibility is that those who develop a skin picking problem experience greater levels of anxiety, stress, or boredom than those who do not.
Am I damaging my skin when I pick?
A number of things can happen when you pick your skin. While it is possible that you will not cause any permanent damage, in some cases an infection can develop in the area that was picked. You can tell that your skin has become infected if it is red, warm and tender. (If this red, warm, and tender area does not heal quickly or begins to grow and spread from its initial location, you should seek medical treatment for the infection.)
Repeated skin picking also can cause the skin at the picking site to change color when it heals. It may take many months for the skin to return to its normal color and this will only happen if the spot is not picked. But it is also possible that the skin will remain permanently discolored.
You can get scars from repetitive skin picking. Scars can occur if you pick all the way through the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis, down into the next skin layer, called the dermis, or beyond. Picking this deep removes melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Most scars are small, but extensive; deep skin picking can lead to visible scars or uneven skin texture that will not go away.