Do you find yourself picking at your face and body on a regular basis? Are you feeling that the compulsion to pick at your skin has become obsessive? Fear not, the compulsion of skin-picking can be controlled – here’s how.
As a sufferer of an obsessive-compulsive skin-picking disorder called Dermatillomania, I have spent well over a decade looking for new ways to avoid the urge that I’d get all day, every day. When I was stressed or heavily concentrating, I consciously had to be aware of what my hands were doing whilst my mind was occupied! It sounds strange I know, but when unnoticed, my fingertips would search all over my face and body for areas to uncover – just one scab, spot or bump was all that was needed before a tirelessly long skin-picking session took over like a knocked domino line.
Not only was it unsightly when my face and body were then left with inflamed, bloody marks but the painful guilt and shame created an overwhelming sense of personal disappointment. This became a daily thing for me and admittedly, I got used to the feeling of intense depression associated to it. What’s worse, I usually had an occasion planned (that I’d be late to) where I’d have to change my outfit and hairstyle last minute to successfully hide my newly made marks. It made me feel unattractive and anxious in case any marks, old or new, were accidentally on display.
This kind of anxiety is exhausting, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate if you suffer from the same condition. Even if you don’t suffer from a behavioural disorder associated to your skin, I’m sure you’ll understand the deep feelings caused from unsettling skin. Seeing my bare body as a battle ground hardly made me want to undress for my partner, neither did it help whenever someone complimented me because I’d automatically get defensive and refuse to accept that I could ever be pretty.
By noticing and addressing the skin-picking routine I put in place for myself, I then worked hard to create a new routine that would help my recovery – the 5 steps that I have listed below.
Please note that if you too, suffer from Dermatillomania, its best to take things one step at a time and to really take each day as just that – a day. You’ll have good days and you’ll have not-so-good days but please don’t feel that you’d be back at square one after one episode. Understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint and you’ve got this.
Come on then, let’s get going!
Tip 1 – Avoid bright lighting
I know this is a pretty obvious one but fighting the urge can be really difficult if you’ve noticed a blemish and you figure you can focus on it better with brighter lighting. Yes you can, but try pulling yourself away from the damn mirror when you’ve noticed a few more…
Under extreme lighting, of course you’re going to see the skin on your face and body in a different way to normal as it’ll highlight spots, scabs, dead skin, blocked hair follicles and blackheads. It’s incredibly important that you stop yourself from using any extreme lighting until your skin-picking is under better control.
Instead, perfect your skincare routine to master your night time schedule so that you’re comfortable and happy to complete your nightly routine with less harsh and more complimentary lighting.
Tip 2 – Stand a couple feet away from the mirror
One thing you have to remember is that in the moment when you’ve taken your makeup off or you’ve just washed your face, your skin is looking blemished and you’ll be fighting the huge urge to obsess over it. If you complete your routine whilst standing a couple steps away from the mirror, it’ll be a lot harder for you to see up-close-and-personal.
Can’t see close up = you’re more likely to leave your skin alone.
After all, you’re wanting the satisfaction right? You won’t get it if you’re standing back and unable to focus in detail. I know this sounds easy, but it’s not – trust me. Keep it going for 7 days and let me know in the comments below how your skin looks after! NO SKIN-PICKING!
Tip 3 – Oil, oil and more oil
Oil is a fantastic way to stabilise your skin’s natural sebum production because applying oil to your skin tricks your body into thinking it’s naturally occurring and will not produce more.
Time and time again I’m seeing products created for oily/combo skin types that are promising to rebalance the skin’s oil production, create an overall matte complexion that lasts all day without worrying about an oily t-zone through oil-stripping ingredients….NO THANKS! These cause over-drying of the skin resulting in an over-production of sebum just like when dry eyes cause your eyes to water in excess! Think about it, stripping your face and body from naturally occurring oils is going to cause an imbalance and your body will react. To control your oily skin issues, fight oil with oil.
If you’re looking for topical ingredients that can help, opt for essential oils such as tea tree to reduce spot size and lavender or rose to sooth redness (always make sure that you dilute well as essential oils come in high concentrations which can irritate the skin if used undiluted. My favourite way to use these are to mix in with a homemade toner, as part of a face-steam and added to my facial and body oils).
There are different types of oils – some that are great for cleaning and unclogging the pores of your skin and others that claim to hydrate and protect the skin but can actually cause clogging. As a rule of thumb, I avoid mineral oils of any kind on my face and I know that coconut oil causes me to break out in spots so I use that for hair-masking (mid to ends) instead.
Once you find a natural oil (or oil blend) that works for you, it’ll quickly become a much favoured member of your skincare drawer because applying oil to your face and body makes it extra difficult for you to pick at your skin afterwards, absorbing deep into the skin better than creams. I use oils to remove make up, to moisturise leaving your skin plump and hydrated as well as to prevent and reduce scarring.
Tip 4 – Notice when your hands are busy
Whether you have a habit of skin-picking or have an obsessive compulsive disorder like myself, you may not notice when your hands start moving around to look for areas to focus on. Most of us can tell if someone is feeling anxious based on their body language – reserved, eyes looking elsewhere in deep thought and busy moving hands or feet whilst the rest of the body is still. Stress alike produces similar results as you can typically tell when someone is increasing in frustration by the contrast of their still body and quick hand and facial movements.
Try it out – keep your body still and look down at your hand whilst you you tap it at an increased speed. Can you feel your heart-rate increase slightly and your mood slightly change to that of irritability or concern?
The reason why I’m saying this is because its estimated that we have between 35-48 different thoughts per second – that’s 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day! Are the majority of your thoughts positive and stress-free? Probably not. Especially if you’re a woman because we tend to take multi-tasking (and in turn, overthinking) to the next level.
When facing negative feelings such as stress and anxiety, take note of what your hands are doing before you go into problem-solving mode and taking it out on your skin. Some people use stress balls or get up and take a little walk. When facing anxious thoughts, drink a large glass of water as it takes your mind out of fight-or-flight mode and reduces your heart rate back to normal. Take 10 deep breaths until the wave of anxiety subsides then write down any concerns you may have so that you can tackle these constructively with rational thought instead of using skin-picking as a form of escapism.
Tip 5 – Keep a journal
As discussed in tip 4, it’s really important that you notice when your hands start to overly touch areas and an urge for skin-picking begins. Very rarely do large episodes of skin-picking occur out of sheer boredom alone – usually it’s because it’s seen to the person as a de-stressor – their chosen coping mechanism to negative thoughts. It can happen so often that many of us don’t realise we’re even doing it!
Using myself as an example, when I felt overwhelmed from feelings of constantly having to please others, I would store this built-up frustration and exhaustion until I got home where I could be alone and de-stress through skin-picking. What I understand now however, is that this method did not construct a way for me to take back the control in my life nor did it even help me to notice this was taking place.
By keeping a journal (writing down or verbal entries), it allows you to fully understand what you are feeling in that moment and why. I have always been someone who others could rely on for support and care before asking constructive questions that helped them find the solution to the problem they were facing. How was I able to do this yet I never took the time to do the same for myself? Because I was never taught to look after myself emotionally.
I was told to love myself but no one ever taught me how.
Keeping a journal helps you to reconnect with your thoughts and feelings. Overtime, it enables you to build a stronger relationship with yourself as you start to notice various situations that may create similar negative feelings within yourself. Only by noticing a variety of things that you do daily – perhaps out of obligation alone – are you in a better position to tap into your inner self and to ask, do these things bring me peace, love and joy? If not, perhaps it’s time to start reconsidering who you’re really trying to please through your day-to-day tasks.
- Avoid bright lighting – it’s too tempting and unflattering so chances are you won’t be walking away feeling good about yourself. No, no and no.
- Stand back eager beaver! Can’t see = more likely to leave your skin alone
- Learn how to use natural oils to enhance skin radiance and minimise your chances of picking
- Monitor your moments of inactivity and what your hands are doing
- Get writing! Check in on your thoughts and feelings so that when the urge to skin-pick arises, you get to the root of your thoughts and feelings quicker
If you have any additional tips that have helped you on your journey to managing skin-picking, please share in the comment section below because the more we help each other, the more we can spread the word on how important a good mental and emotional health is in connection to better skin and overall quality of life.
Sending love and happy skin wishes!