Compulsively picking at skin, medically known as dermatillomania, is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a person picks at their skin. While obsessive-compulsive disorders are psychological disorders, compulsive skin picking can also lead to numerous medical and social complications.
Medical Complications of Compulsive Skin Picking
Compulsively picking at skin may involve picking at the skin with the fingers, with tweezers, or with other items like paperclips or pins. It can lead to a host of medical complications. Some of the medical complications of skin picking include:
- Infections, which can become severe, even life-threatening, if not treated properly
- Poor wound healing, due to picking at scabs and healing sores
- Reluctance to seek medical treatment, both for sores caused by skin picking and for other things, due to embarrassment about dermatillomania – for instance, a woman might put off getting a mammogram if she’s embarrassed about sores and scabs on her breasts
- Severe bleeding – uncommon since most people with dermatillomania just pick at the skin, which does not cause deep wounds, but some do pick deeper than that
- Damage to muscle or other underlying tissue – also uncommon, since most people with dermatillomania just pick at the skin, but it does sometimes happen
- Scars, which can in some instances be severe enough that people consider surgery to improve the appearance
To prevent serious medical complications from dermatillomania, it’s important to seek treatment if you have any wounds that appear infected. Signs of infection include redness, warmth, drainage from the wound, a bad-smelling wound, and fever. To make it easier to seek medical treatment when needed, you can talk to your doctor in advance about your skin picking. Most doctors have dealt with patients with dermatillomania before and are sensitive to patients’ feelings. If yours isn’t, you can find a new doctor with whom you feel more comfortable.
Social Complications of Compulsive Skin Picking
Compulsively picking at skin can lead to social complications, too. Social complications are ways in which the condition impacts someone’s ability to interact with other people, to form and maintain normal social relationships, and to engage in normal social activities. Some of the social complications of dermatillomania include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family because of embarrassment over picking at skin
- Avoiding intimate relationships because of embarrassment about sores, scabs, or scars
- Avoiding certain activities because of embarrassment about sores, scabs, or scars – for instance, a person might turn down an invitation to a pool party because if she’s seen in a bathing suit, her scabs and scars will be clearly visible, or a person might refuse to be a bride’s maid in a friend’s wedding because if she wears the dress her friend has chosen for the bride’s maids, her scabs and scars will be clearly visible
- Avoiding shaking hands due to embarrassment about sores on the hands or fingers due to skin picking – if a person doesn’t shake hands when it’s socially expected, he may be considered rude and it could even lead to problems getting a job
- Wearing clothing that might be considered inappropriate in order to hide sores, scabs, or scars – for instance, a person might wear gloves even in warm weather or even indoors to hide sores on his hands, which might make him look odd to others, and again, could even lead to problems getting a job
Getting treatment for dermatillomania can reduce the sores, scabs, and sores that often lead to social complications, but counseling can also address issues related to self-esteem and anxiety in social settings. Family counseling and group therapy can also help reduce social complications related to dermatillomania.