11 Tips on How to Stop Picking your Face

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Ever heard of something called dermatillo mania? Probably not. Yet you could unknowingly be a victim of it. This is because unknowingly you may have the habit of picking at every pimple, blemish or facial imperfection. Of course, we all do pick a little, which is normal, but too much of it could certainly be harmful to our skin.

In simpler terms, SPD or skin picking disorder is known as dermatillo mania in medical parlance. In fact, those suffering from it exhibit symptoms including rubbing, repetitive touching, constant picking and scratching their skin. This often results in skin discoloration and permanent scarring eventually. Even severe tissue damage may happen in advanced cases.

From the psychological point of view, Dermatillo mania is categorized as a BFRB or Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior where a person’s behavior is likely to damage his physical appearance and body.

This OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder happens due to excessive anxiety, excitement, fear and also boredom and may negatively impact the victim’s work, family, and social relationships. The statistic shows that in nearly 47.5% of dermatillo mania patients, skin picking behaviors start to show before they are ten years of age.


One of the main causes of dermatillo mania is hereditary factors and it’s often viewed as a learned behavior. Some even opined that it’s maladaptive behavior and emanates from weak coping skills, compulsive and obsessive thoughts, excessive or too little stimulation, and in some cases, even abuse.

The other known causes are Body Dysmorphic Disorder, depression, anxiety or impaired response to stress. I other words, when someone experiences high arousal, turmoil or stress levels, their natural tendency is to pick their skin to cope with it.

This hypothesis has been established by extensive research because face picking appears to be triggered by automatic self-reinforcement in someone who exhibits this behavior.

Even though the accepted theory is that dermatillo mania is firmly rooted in neurological condition, it is also believed that it is influenced by the environment in which the patient grew up. Certain clinical psychologists also believe that those who pick their faces do it as a result of unexpressed feelings, particularly repressed rage. It is also commonly seen in drug abusers, particularly methamphetamine and cocaine addicts who suffer from periodic bouts of uncontrollable itching in users.

Symptoms & effects

Typical symptoms of face picking are compulsive skin squeezing and picking, particularly during periods of anxiety, tension or stress. The face is the most common area targeted with fingernails, toenails, and cuticles also being picked as well. Some victims may pick a few times daily, and that too, unconsciously. Others may spend hours picking at their faces using fingernails and even tweezers.

This often leads to multiple complications like gross inflammation of the picking site, followed by tissue damage, which again can be severe enough to merit surgical intervention by way of skin grafting.

Moreover, physical disfigurement may result from permanent scarring. Physical aspects apart, the mental effects include guilt, helplessness, shame, and embarrassment. The worrying fact about dermatillo mania is that published figures have shown that nearly 11.5% of victims are prone to suicide even!

The moot question that, therefore, now arises is: How do you stop picking your face acne?

How To Stop Picking Your Face

This bad habit can be dropped by taking steps that inhibit the ability to keep picking your face such as pruning your nails regularly or by wearing gloves most of the time. The habit can also be reversed by implementing a proper routine for skin care that combats acne breakouts.

However, professional counseling or even psychiatric treatment may be required if the habit persists. An appropriate stress-management routine, formulated by a trained therapist, could also be followed to deal with anxiety or stress-related issues.

Current treatment for dermatillo mania may be broadly classified into 2 major categories: behavioral therapy and pharmacological therapy. However, the interesting thing is that most of those who suffer from the disease don’t actually seek treatment.

A major reason behind this is that it’s existence as a disease is not widely known. Alternatively, most victims may also feel alienated or embarrassed to seek treatment or even feel that it can’t really be treated. In fact, a recent study has shown that only 30% of those affected by dermatillo mania actually sought treatment.


The following steps may be taken to effectively deal with the ailment:

1. Take an objective look at the root cause

This is truly the most important factor. Start by asking yourself if you get a sadistic pleasure by touching, picking or looking and why. What purpose is it serving? And, more importantly, can that need be met by a more positive replacement habit? One of the most common causes of skin picking is anxiety. If you feel that as your anxiety levels increase, so does your skin picking, then immediately see a counselor or psychiatrist. Here, even group therapy helps. You could get into more productive techniques such as meditation, exercise, watching movies or journaling to calm your mind and divert it from skin picking.

2. Cut the mirror obsession

For those obsessed with constantly looking at the mirror and brooding over their facial imperfections, reducing or even drastically cutting down on mirror sure helps. Limit your mirror watching to the bare required minimum so that you are unable to keep lingering and brooding over blemishes and spots. Keep your mirrors covered or even put them away, using them to get dressed or do a basic beauty routine only. Dump your magnifying mirrors that enhance your imperfections, making you feel more depressed about your looks.

3. Create barriers to prevent picking

If you suffer from acne and pimples regularly, cover the affected areas with a light gauze bandage or medical tape if the urge to keep touching them is strong always. The bandage will remind you that your behavior is off-limits whenever you attempt to pick your face.

4. Delay the urge

When you get the urge to pick, delay it. This is something similar to quitting smoking. As soon as you get the urge, tell yourself that you are going to wait at least 10 minutes. As the time elapses, you will see that more often than not the urge passes. If not, wait a bit longer, increasing the time limit between pickings. This would certainly help you become better at tackling this urge. Also try to get into healthier activities like cooking, needlework or knitting as a replacement for picking. Always remember that picking is an automatic and mindless habit, the consequences of which are never good. Moreover, it’s very easy for bad thoughts and habits to get ingrained into our psyche’s autopilot mode.

More: How to Get Rid of Bloated Face

5. Use skin-friendly makeup

Applying high-quality makeup on the face helps cover marks. It also covers up facial imperfections and helps you to be less obsessive about. Moreover, with carefully applied makeup, you wouldn’t want it to smudge as you pick at your face. Your dermatologist could give you the right makeup recommendations to reduce acne and show you the way to clearer skin.

6. Create Anti-Bad Habits

As soon as the urge to touch or pick strikes, breathe deeply and focus hard on a positive word like peace, love or joy. However, if your mind continues to wander, try and harness it while repeating these words to yourself. This helps to remind you how you should act in this negative situation, which is to simply resist the urge and do something positive. It always pays to remember that focusing on positive thoughts and new habits is always better than a dwelling and punishing yourself when you forget or give in.

7. Fear is the key

By letting your close ones know that you have this disorder, you are actually doing yourself a favor. So don’t shy away from it. By telling everyone, you actually make yourself accountable publicly and they will point out that you are picking when you shouldn’t. Furthermore, since picking can have some very serious and permanent consequences, put the fear of it in your mind first so that every time you get the urge to pick, you will be reminded of the absolute mutilation and horrid destruction of your skin happening as you squeeze and pick it. Just keep telling yourself that every time you pick, you warp your skin pores, making them more vulnerable to clogging and permanent skin scarring later.

8. Don’t be hard on yourself

It’s really difficult to apply self-acceptance to replace picking. Most sufferers are obsessed with that perfect skin. Psychiatrists opine that the fewer time victims spend on skin improvisations, the less time they spend picking it. This is because they feel more happy and comfortable accepting what they have. In most cases, they even stop using foundation creams and concealers altogether. This self-propagated theory of “I am what I am” really works. The sooner you accept the fact that no one is perfect, the better it is for you.

9. Visualize a life without picking

As you start your day, try and think of what your day is going to be like. Segregate the time you’d spend picking but actually visualize how you will resist the bad habit and replace it with a new and healthier practice such as ignoring negative urges, doing something creative or even focusing on happy phrases. You will observe that your brain shall soon start acting in accordance because it actually doesn’t know the difference between mental rehearsal and reality.

10. Get into therapy

There are also numerous behavioral treatments which work in tandem with the pharmacological treatments mentioned above. These include acceptance-enhanced behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, habit reversal training and acceptance & commitment therapy. In particular, HBT or habit reversal training works wonders with some acute cases. Here, patients are encouraged to keep their hand occupied throughout the day using fidget toys for example.

11. Take medical advice

If you feel that your condition is gradually getting out of hand, seek proper medical advice by all means. Your dermatologist may prescribe SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These are highly effective in treating OCD like dermatillo mania. Other prescribed drugs include Doxepin, naltrexone, clomipramine, pimozide, and olanzapine, depending on the degree of the disease.

In sum, face picking is a surprisingly prevalent problem the world over. It’s diagnosis moreover, is complicated. Many researchers and doctors claim that the condition is just a symptom of a separate disorder like BDD or OCD. Some even opined that it’s simply a bad habit, similar to nose-picking and nail-biting. However, Dermatillo mania qualifies for its own category because the face and skin picking are the primary disorders with its clinical features clearly defined.

However, an integral part of the disease’s diagnosis is taking into account other medical conditions that the patient may have and which cause skin picking. These include psoriasis, eczema, liver disease, diabetes, polycythemia vera, Hodgkin’s disease, systemic lupus as also Prader-Willi syndrome. This has led doctors to use various scales to better diagnose the disorder and which include SPIS or Skin-Picking Impact Scale (SPIS) and the MIDAS or Milwaukee Inventory for the Dimensions of Adult Skin-Picking.

Just remember that your problem may start during your teens, particularly with acne which triggers the face picking habit. You constantly scratch and pick at your face which later develops into a habit, even after the acne vanishes.

However, the more you groom your skin and keep it healthy will help you tackle the situation better. It’s a two-way problem again as those suffering from dermatillo mania exhibit tendencies of excessive grooming and the degree of skin care is usually disproportionate to the skin condition’s severity.

All said and done, it’s a physical condition brought about by a mental situation. And as the saying goes, “ It’s all in the mind.” Therefore, it’s completely up to you to steel yourself to tackle the problem and to get rid of it once and for all. Remember, the harder you try, the more likely you are to succeed.   

Monika Dimitrovska

A makeup freak who's passionate about books, beauty products, vegan food, daydreaming, and stargazing.

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