EXCORATION DISORDER

Unless you're a living skeleton, you're going to have some at least some skin covering your body somewhere. If you ARE a skeleton, then can we get a selfie with you sometime? Anyway, moving on!

Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about skin-picking (or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.

We hope you find the information useful and if you do, please feel free to share it. If there’s anything you feel needs adding or looking at, let us know that too.

WHAT IS EXCORATION DISORDER? . . .

Excoration (or Skin Picking) Disorder is a condition that, as obvious as it sounds, means you will repetitively pick at your skin. It is also sometimes referred to as Dermatillomania. Whilst you could argue it's a form of self-harm, skin-pickers tend not to be doing it to feel pain or hurt themselves. It is categorised more as 'self-grooming' rather than 'self-harm'. In fact, many do it to give themselves pleasure, but the long-term effect is rarely a pleasurable one.

Those with this disorder will pick, rub, scratch or dig at the skin, mostly on their face or arms. Often they do this to try and remove an imperfection or irregularity they perceive to be there. Skin picking is compulsive, meaning that those with this condition will find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to stop doing it.

Over time, this behaviour can have a detrimental effect on the skin itself, making it bleed and bruise, it can discolour over time and can eventually leave permanent scars. In more extreme cases, it can cause tissue damage and visible disfigurement. As skin picking often leaves visible marks, those with the condition often go to great lengths to cover them up, using clothing or concealer.

Skin picking is done to relieve the tension and stress that those who live with the condition feel that they are under. Whilst it may relieve their stress for a short-time, it's a stop-gap solution and any relief they gain will be short-lived and the process repeats. After all, it's a compulsion.

Skin Picking is categorised, by people far clevered than us, as a Body-Focussed Repetitive Behaviour (BFRB), where a person will cause themselves (or their appearance) harm or damage. It is linked to other similar behaviours such as trichotillomania.

WHAT CAUSES EXCORATION DISORDER? . . .

The cause of skin picking, as is the case with many other mental illnesses, remains a mystery. It often begins in one of two ways.

Either the person experiences an injury to the skin, or a disease affecting the skin. As the problem area heals and a scab begins to form, the itching begins. As they try to scratch to relieve the itch, the scab comes off and the process repeats. As such, the skin never gets a chance to properly heal.

Alternatively, it can begin during, or soon after, a very stressful life event occurs. The person begins to connect the skin picking with the control of their emotions, so replicate the process when they feel stressed or anxious. These aren't the only two ways it can begin, but are amongst the most common.

Some people begin to pick their skin as a way to regulate their emotions. It allows them to 'zone out' from anxious or nervous feelings that are too intense for them to cope with, so turn to skin picking to help with that. However, this theory has not been scientifically proven.

OK, BUT DO MEN GET IT? . . .

They do, but not exclusively. The condition affects around 1 in 20 people, but the reality may be higher than that. Research suggests more women are affected, but, as is often the case, this might be attributable to more women seeking medical help in general. It's hard to say. Many people who live with this condition believe that there simply isn't any treatment available for it, so don't seek any help. That's not the case (see below).

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SKIN-PICKING DISORDER? . . .

Everyone will pick at their skin at some point, whether it's a new mole, scab or a big, fat blackhead zit! Gross we know, but Excoration is much more than that. Skin picking shares some symptoms with other conditions; namely Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It's categorised as an 'Impulse Control Disorder'.

If you have experienced the following symptoms during the last 6 months, you MAY be affected by skin picking disorder and should speak to your Doctor as soon as possible. They include:

  • Recurrently picking the skin on your face, lips, scalp, arms, legs and body.
  • Picking your skin more when you are anxious or stressed.
  • Feeling pleasure when picking at your skin.
  • Picking your skin when it is not attributable to the psychological effects of substances (e.g. cocaine) or other conditions (e.g. scabies).

WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE? . . .

Despite what many people think, there are treatments available for those for whom skin-picking is a problem. Whilst research on this topic is fairly sparse, compared to other conditions, some does suggest that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be helpful. In addition, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can also be useful.

In terms of medication, SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) can be helpful. There is also some studies that suggest certain anti-seizure medication can be helppful in treating the condition. As always, please speak to a medical professional before deciding on what treatment is for you.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP SOMEONE WITH EXCORATION DISORDER? . . .

This is a condition that can be happening to someone you know without you noticing. Depending on where they are picking, it isn't always easy to spot as it can be covered up with clothing. If you do suspect that it's occuring, then it can be just as upsetting to see it happening, but there are some things you can do.

It usually starts with a conversation, but it's important to understand the sensitive nature of the condition, so always let them feel in control. Stress that you're not judging them. You can even ask what their opinion is on it. Don't ever just tell them to 'stop'. It doesn't work like that.


If you compulsively pick your skin pick, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.

Also, if you'd like to share your experiences of living with skin picking (dermatillomania) with our community so they can better understand how it feels, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.