Life Hacks: Skin Picking

Excoriation Disorder refers to an obsessive-compulsive type disorder that involves picking at the skin, often until it bleeds. It can be damaging to the skin and embarrassing for those who struggle with the behavior. Evidence-based treatments for the disorder include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Reversal Therapy, and antidepressant medication.

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Whether someone meets the criteria and is diagnosed with Excoriation Disorder or they pick at their skin for another reason (for example, as a way to cope with other forms of anxiety, hyperactivity, or secondary to Autism), sometimes part of the reason that the behavior is difficult to stop is that the act of picking the skin produces a specific, pleasing sensation.

Have you ever watched a pimple popper video? If you are one of the many people who finds those videos “oddly satisfying,” you might have some understanding of why someone could find skin-picking gratifying.

The reason we want to curb this behavior is that it can be harmful. Skin picking can lead to scars or permanent damage to the skin, and open sores from this behavior can get infected. But for many, the dopamine output they get, that feeling of satisfaction, makes it difficult to stop.

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If you (or your child) is struggling with skin picking, one way to get the gratification that comes with picking without the bodily harm is to take putty (silly putty or thinking putty both work well for this) and mix it with grains of rice. Just a tablespoon or so of rice for a large jar of putty is enough – you can re-use the same rice for this activity several times. The sensation of picking grains of rice out of the putty is very similar to skin picking without the physical harm!

It’s easy to store and carry these items with you, or you can set aside time specifically for this activity. This way, you get the positive sensation in a healthier way!

Published by Amy Marschall, Psy.D.

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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