Breaking the Habit of Picking Your Skin

Skin picking is a habitual behavior that can cause severe damage to the skin and take a toll on a person's mental and physical health. Picking, squeezing, or scratching skin blemishes or imperfections can lead to scarring, pigmentation, and infection. Skin picking disorders are a severe manifestation of this habit, and they can be challenging to overcome. This article will provide readers with four practical tips to break the habit and stop the damage to their skin. It will also cover the basics of skin picking disorders and why addressing this issue is vital. Whether mild or severe, picking habits need to be dealt with as they can escalate into more serious issues. Keep reading to learn how to control it, and achieve healthy skin.

Skin picking is a self-injurious behavior that falls under the umbrella term "Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors" (BFRBs). Skin Picking Disorder (SPD), also known as Dermatillomania, is a type of BFRB. It is a psychological condition characterized by repeatedly picking or scratching one's own skin, which can result in tissue damage and scarring. SPD is not just a simple habit that can be stopped by willpower alone. It is a severe emotional and psychological disorder that requires professional intervention and management.

The exact cause of SPD is unknown, but researchers have found that it may be related to imbalances in serotonin levels in the brain. Certain factors may also trigger the disorder or make it worse, such as stress, anxiety, and trauma. In addition, there may be a genetic component to SPD, as it seems to run in families.

The symptoms of SPD can vary from person to person, but they typically include recurring skin picking that results in significant damage to the skin. Individuals with SPD may spend hours each day picking at their skin to the point of bleeding, scabbing, or infection. They may also experience feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment, causing them to withdraw from social interactions.

Moreover, SPD is often related to other psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and may co-occur with substance abuse. Other body-focused repetitive behaviors such as hair pulling or nail-biting may also occur in those with SPD. Treatment may involve medication, therapy, or a combination of both, depending on the severity of the disorder and the needs of the individual.

In conclusion, SPD is a mental health disorder that requires professional diagnosis and intervention. Although the exact cause remains unclear, several triggers can exacerbate the disorder, such as stress and anxiety. SPD is often associated with other psychological disorders and co-occurring body-focused repetitive behaviors. Nonetheless, there is hope for those with SPD, and treatment can be effective in reducing symptoms and improving the quality of life for those affected.


Picking your skin is a compulsive behavior that can be challenging to overcome. It is essential to recognize when it has become a habit that is interfering with your life. You can do this by engaging in self-assessment. Here are some steps to follow in self-assessing whether you have the picking habit:

1. Reflect on your behavior - you can't stop doing it, or you struggle when trying to do so.
2. Check for damage - Scars, spots, and so on.
3. Do you think about picking your skin often?
4. Have you tried to stop yourself, but it seems impossible?
5. Do you enjoy the act of picking your skin?

It is crucial to identify triggers that intensify the urges and situations that make it easy to pick. In self-assessment, be honest with yourself by identifying the reasons why you need to pick your skin. Identifying the triggers and learning how to avoid them can be a valuable step to break the habit.

Our habits can be buried deep within us, and behavior change is not easy. With self-awareness, you can identify a problem and start making changes. Once you know more about yourself, seek expert advice and awareness practices to help guide you.

The first step towards breaking the habit is identifying whether you have the problem. With self-awareness, you can be in a better position to embark on the journey towards healthier skin.

Four Tips to Break the Habit

Picking at your skin can become a habit that is difficult to break. However, there are useful tips that can help end this habit. These tips are easy to follow and can help you to stop picking your skin.

Tip 1: Keeping Your Hands Busy
Our hands can be a direct gateway to skin picking. To combat this habit, try to keep your hands busy by always doing something. Healthy behaviors to keep your hands occupied include playing with a fidget toy or holding something like a stress ball or even a pen. These activities can keep your hands and mind occupied, making it less likely that you will pick your skin.

Tip 2: Finding Alternative Coping Strategies
Picking skin is often associated with anxiety, stress, and boredom. To stop the habit, it's crucial to learn alternative coping mechanisms for these emotions. Examples include meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. Seek ways to cope with stress in a positive and constructive manner. This will help in reducing the desire to pick the skin.

Tip 3: Creating a Support System
Breaking any habit requires a strong support system. This includes people to remind you to stop, help you to practice the coping strategies you have learned, and cheer you on when you succeed. Friends and family or health care providers can be an excellent support system. They can help to hold you accountable and keep you motivated.

Tip 4: Mindfulness-Based Therapy
One effective method of reducing the habit of skin picking is mindfulness-based therapy. This involves being aware of the present moment and taking control of your thoughts, feeling, and habits. Mindfulness-based therapy can help individuals to break the habit of skin picking by incorporating practices that bring peace and serenity such as meditation, journaling, or counseling.

These four tips are designed to help you overcome the habit of picking your skin. These tips are not an instant cure, and they will require time and discipline to be effective. Keep practicing these habits and stay motivated. Breaking the habit of skin picking is possible, and the results are worth it.


Prevention is the key to breaking the habit of skin picking. While it may be challenging to overcome, there are various preventative measures that individuals can take to reduce their urge to pick. By adopting healthy living habits and seeking therapy, individuals can regain control over their skin health. The following are some preventative measures that can be taken:

- Therapy: If skin picking becomes severe, it is essential to consult with a qualified therapist who can help with diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Therapy can help individuals identify the underlying triggers and offer alternative coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, habit-reversal training, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) may be effective options depending on the individual's situation.

- Healthy Living Habits: Proper nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on reducing skin picking. Some helpful habits may include regular exercise, getting enough sleep, reducing stress levels, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

- Alternative Solutions: Other alternative solutions that can reduce the urge to pick include meditation and mindfulness practices. Meditation and the practice of mindfulness can help individuals stay more present and calm, which can reduce the desire to pick. Moreover, regular physical exercise can help reduce anxiety and stress, helping individuals feel more relaxed.

By adopting these preventative measures and alternative solutions, individuals can regain control of their skin picking habits. While these methods may take time and effort, the benefits of implementing healthy living habits and seeking therapy can have a significant impact on one's mental and physical health.


In conclusion, picking your skin can be a challenging habit to break, but it is possible with determination and the right approach. As discussed in this article, Skin Picking Disorder is a real issue that affects many people, especially those dealing with anxiety and other psychological disorders.

By self-assessing and using the four tips provided in the article - keeping your hands busy, finding alternative coping strategies, creating a support system, and Mindfulness-Based Therapy - you can overcome this habit and improve your overall skin health.

We encourage readers who think they might have Skin Picking Disorder to seek help from a healthcare professional or a mental health practitioner. Remember, breaking the habit of skin picking is not only good for your skin but also essential for your mental well-being.

At Harvard Center for Global Health, we are committed to providing you with educational content that helps improve your overall health and well-being. We hope this article has been informative and helpful in your journey towards breaking the habit of skin picking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Skin Picking Disorder, and how can it affect skin health?

Skin Picking Disorder is a body-focused repetitive behavior characterized by recurrent picking at one's skin. The habit is often linked to anxiety, boredom, or preoccupation with perceived flaws in one's appearance. The continuous picking can lead to various skin concerns, such as infections, scars, and discoloration.

How do I know if I have Skin Picking Disorder?

To self-assess whether you have Skin Picking Disorder, ask yourself if you engage in recurrent and persistent skin picking that causes distress and impairs your daily routine. Consider seeking help if skin picking significantly affects your mental health and skin wellness.

What are some alternative coping strategies I can use to break the habit?

Identifying and diverting your attention to activities that keep your hands busy can help break the habit. Some alternative coping strategies are squeezing a stress ball, playing with fidget toys, or engaging in hobbies that involve using your hands, such as knitting or painting.

What is Mindfulness-Based Therapy, and how can it help me break the habit?

Mindfulness-Based Therapy is a therapeutic technique that involves learning to focus your awareness on the present moment and accepting your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This therapy helps people break the habit by promoting a non-judgmental stance towards skin picking, which helps reduce anxiety and compulsive behavior.

What preventative measures can I take to avoid skin picking?

Preventative measures such as therapy, healthy living habits, and alternative solutions such as meditation and physical exercise can help you avoid skin picking habits. For instance, engaging in regular physical exercise can help reduce stress, which can trigger skin picking. Additionally, learning how to manage stress, seeking professional help, and adopting healthy living habits like regular sleeping patterns and a well-balanced diet can help reduce the risk of skin picking.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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