Trigger warning throughout this article for mildly gross body stuff. (Don’t worry, no poop.) Even if we ignore the lower half of the digestive system, being human is a disgusting topic. Beware, ye who scroll further!

Here are some fancy words for a repulsive, shamefully pleasurable habit that I picked up in middle school: “Excoriation disorder (also known as dermatillomania, skin-picking disorder, [and more terms]) is an impulse control disorder characterized by the repeated urge to pick at one’s own skin […] to the extent that damage is caused. [Emphasis in original.]” Thanks, Wikipedia!

According to the website SkinPick, “People [who] suffer from dermatillomania exhibit symptoms that include repetitive touching, rubbing, scratching, picking at, and digging into their skin. Some people do this to remove irregularities or perceived imperfections while others do it obsessively for other reasons. [Emphasis added. …] Dermatillomania is classified as a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB). These are disorders in which the person’s behavior has the potential to harm or damage their body and physical appearance. In this way, skin picking disorder is very similar to hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania). [Body-Focused Repetitive Disorders] often correlate with feelings of anxiety, fear, excitement, and boredom. Some people even find that repeatedly picking their skin is pleasurable.”

When Floods Drown Your Unborn

Art by Surian Soosay.

Leaning close to the bathroom mirror, stretching my pores with one hand and holding a safety pin in the other, is my guiltiest guilty pleasure. It’s the habit that I most yearn to break. (The bad habit that I second-most yearn to break is binge-watching shitty TV shows on Netflix. You’re so misogynistic, House, M.D., but I can’t resist!)

Basically, I can’t keep my fingers off my face and I strip my cuticles until my fingers ache. I don’t know if I have full-on derma—although I checked most of the boxes on the LA OCD Center’s questionnaire about it—but I pick at my skin enough that it’s severely distressing to me. I do it because I want to be prettier, but it makes me feel ugly. My therapist and I have theorized that for me, (as for a lot of pickers,) derma is a control thing: I try to make myself more perfect, in a really counterproductive way. Dripping acid on my zits would be even less effective, but derma is up there as a stupid-ass coping mechanism.

It started with acne. I’ve had acne since puberty, and for a while it was really bad. In high school an innocent dermatologist prescribed me the scarily intense medication Accutane, which is one where you have to promise promise promise not to get pregnant, because your baby will come out… wrong. I didn’t get pregnant, but if I did then I would definitely 100% get an abortion. I would get an abortion regardless, but especially when taking Accutane. Sorry, that’s a tangent.


Photo by David Goehring.

Accutane did clear my skin for a while, but what I really needed was help with learning how to be kind to myself. I’ve been picking at my skin for about eight years, and hated it the whole time. I’ve been in therapy for at least four years (non-consecutively), but I had never mentioned this to a therapist until last week. As noted by Tumblr blogger missvoltairine, AKA Laura Ellyn, “a lot of people with derma are really, really, almost compulsively ashamed of it—that’s like, a feature of derma—and […] have a hard time talking about it”. YUP.

I didn’t even know that derma was a thing before I started following Laura Ellyn, who is heartrendingly candid about the condition. Before encountering her blog, I knew that I had a compulsion and I was painfully embarrassed about it, and I knew that the ideal body would be a smooth body with no pores, but I didn’t know that skin-picking was an actual medical thing. That’s pretty much the entire upshot of this article, aimed at anyone who also skin-picks: Dermatillomania is an acknowledged medical problem, and help is available. If you can, talk to a professional. If you can’t, then do some extensive Googling. Having a distracting trinket to fiddle with helps, like a ring or a bracelet. That’s all. Good luck.

independent writer Sonya MannGuest blogger Sonya Mann is an erstwhile student and reliable bunny-enthusiast, living with her parents in the East Bay. She writes a bunch of stuff, so check out her website.