Guest Post: Scratching the Surface: What is Dermatillomania?

This post is brought to you by Alyson Monaco of Healthline.com



The word “habit” comes with a multitude of connotations both good and bad. A good, healthy habit would be something like taking a run first thing in the morning or drinking plenty of water throughout the day. While there are plenty of excellent habits to list, it is the bad habits that tend to come to mind whenever the word is mentioned. These range from more common behaviors like smoking to nail biting. Self-grooming “habits” are known as body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs, and can be harmful to both physical and mental health if not controlled. One of the more common BFRBs is dermatillomania.

What is dermatillomania?

Dermatillomania is the habit of excessive or compulsive skin picking, as can be inferred by its Greek and Latin root, “derma”, or “skin.” Skin picking can range in severity depending on the person and is also known as excoriation disorder. Skin picking can be as simple as scratching at a scab or acne, which is an incredibly common occurrence. In more severe cases of dermatillomania, a person will perceive something wrong with their skin, even if nothing exists to pick, and keep digging at the spot, potentially causing major tissue damage and scarring. 

According to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, dermatillomania can be identified by a handful of behaviors and side-effects. These include:

  • picking from multiple sites on the body, whether the skin is healthy or previously damaged
  • a sense of relief after picking or scratching a site after thoughts about how the skin should look or feel
  • recurring skin infections

Many times, those effected also show signs socially, avoiding certain situations and intentionally covering up these areas with the fear of their bad habit being discovered. Time-management is also affected because of the obsessive need to both pick at the skin and the resulting need to cover up the evidence. Even though it can be a source of embarrassment, the action continues despite the negative results. 

Am I “OCD” if I have dermatillomania?

Many often wonder if BFRBs, like dermatillomania, are a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

They are not. In fact, BFRBs and OCD are sister disorders as per the DSM Manual of Mental Disorders and are categorized as Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders (OCRDs). While very similar in terminology, they are quite different from OCD. The more intense instances of dermatilliomania can be categorized as a more specific type of Obsessive Compulsive and Related disorders characterized by “significant distress or a disruption in your ability to function because of your obsession with the flaw”, known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). This disruption must be one that takes up at least an hour of the day to be labeled as BDD.

What damage does skin picking cause?

No matter the severity, body focused repetitive behaviors can lead to permanent, lifelong side effects. In the case of skin picking, deep scarring, infection and tissue discoloration are most common. These results are definitely unwelcome, but are almost guaranteed if the behavior persists.

How can I stop skin picking?

Of course, the biggest step to ditching a BFRB such as this is simply identifying that it exists. Being aware of the action and then redirecting the energy into a healthier habit is life-changing. Products like Keen by HabitAware are paving the way to this awareness, in real-time. An ancestor of Keen, the rubber band, used to be snapped against the skin whenever the urge to satisfy a habit would hit, but this only worked if the awareness was already in place. This technique also predicates itself on the use of punishment, which isn’t a very positive way to make positive behavior change!

Keen smart habit tracker actually senses the movement associated with the behavior and sends a reminder to the user in the form of a vibration, helping to stop the action in its tracks before damage can take place. Thanks to technology and a passionate team, the future of body-focused repetitive behaviors recovery looks sunny. 

< See what others say: HabitAware Keen smart bracelet reviews >

In the journey to self awareness, it is so important to uncover your bad “habits” and understand how they can be detrimental to overall health. Self awareness leads to positive action, which leads to regaining control over the brain. When this tripod of activity occurs, quality of life vastly increases, as the little behaviors that used to block the way give way to a brighter, less invasive, future.   

About Alyson Monaco of Healthline.com

 Alyson Monaco is a professional dancer by trade, performing, teaching, and choreographing out of her home base of New Jersey. A former dance major at the Boston Conservatory, her love of how the body moves lead her to become a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor through AFAA. She is currently pursuing her teaching certification in dance. Alyson loves working one on one with people of all ages and ability, and truly enjoys helping people find a better quality of life. 

About Keen by HabitAware
HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.
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