Reviewed by Dr Nurul Aishah Jamaludin and Physician Kelvin Goh
Treat a Skin-Picking Disorder Before It Does Severe Damage
Published | 4 min read
A skin-picking disorder can have physical and psychological consequences. Learn about holistic methods to prevent permanent damage before it’s too late.
Do you find yourself digging at your skin without knowing why? The habit may be a symptom of a skin-picking disorder.
Over time, the condition is likely to result in abnormal or damaged skin tissue (lesions), emotional distress, and functional impairment.
Learn more about what triggers a skin-picking disorder and how to overcome the condition holistically with lifestyle changes and clinical and alternative treatments.
Who is at Risk of Developing a Skin-Picking Disorder?
Skin-picking is common among people with acne and dermatitis or diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – uncontrollable and reoccurring thoughts or actions that are difficult to stop. Body dysmorphic disorder is another form of OCD that involves a preoccupation over “flaws” in physical appearance. But those aren’t the only risk factors.
Puberty, boredom, and negative emotions like anxiety, stress, guilt, and shame may also induce the desire to scratch at your skin.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shares the Western medicine belief that skin-picking is the manifestation of anxiety and OCD. It also relates the condition to pathogenic factors like Liver Qi (vital life force) Stagnation and Liver Heat.
“Stress can lead to regret, anger or frustration, and restrict qi circulation within the Liver. Unaddressed, qi will start to build up in the body, increasing Liver Fire and making you feel anxious or dejected. You’re also likely to have dry skin,
For these reasons, you may unconsciously develop the habit of skin-picking to release stress and improve the flow of qi within the body.”
Real Health Medical Physician Kelvin Goh
Improve a Skin-Picking Disorder
Regular brisk walking and workouts will not only keep chronic illnesses at bay, but also lighten your mental burden. If you have OCD, there are several steps you can practice to avoid skin-picking. These include:
- Recognising your triggers and staying away from them
- Challenging compulsive thoughts by questioning their validity
- Distracting yourself with other activities
- Practising deep breathing techniques, meditation, and mindfulness
- Consulting a mental health professional who specialises in OCD management
A mental health professional will get to the cause of skin-picking before coming up with effective solutions.
Various forms of psychotherapy may be considered, such as:
- Group therapy and peer support
- Habit reversal therapy raises awareness of your behaviour and activity patterns to break the skin-picking habit
- Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches you strategies and mechanisms to cope with skin-picking
- Acceptance and commitment therapy gives you the opportunity to accept the negative feelings that instigate the habit and learn how to achieve a positive mindset
Prescription and herbal medications
If necessary, a mental health professional will prescribe specific medications to treat the condition. Examples of these are antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and nutraceuticals.
Scars and dark skin spots can emerge if you have poor blood circulation or Blood Stasis. To address these imbalances and improve skin health, a TCM practitioner may recommend a decoction called Tao Hong Si Wu Tang (桃红四物汤).
The formula comprises seven individual herbs, including:
- Safflower (hong hua, 红花)
- Chinese Angelica (dang gui, 当归)
a root(shu di huang, 熟地黄)
- Peach kernels (tao ren, 桃仁)
- Dahurian Angelica Root (bai zhi, 白芷)
- Szechwan lovage rhizome (chuan xiong, 川芎)
- White peony root (bai shao, 白芍)
Cupping therapy and acupuncture
Anxiety and stress can tighten and hurt your muscles. It also increases the possibility of you picking at your skin to cope better with these emotions. Including cupping therapy in your self-care regimen will help you regain control by releasing tension from your body and regulating internal imbalances.
Cupping therapy is also a popular TCM remedy for skin disorders like acne and eczema. It supports good skin health by encouraging the release of excess qi and promoting better circulation.
For the same effect, an acupuncturist may target specific points on your, such as tai chong (LR3, 太沖), lao gong (PC8, 劳宫), and nei guan (PC6, 內关).
Seeking immediate professional help for a skin-picking disorder can help you feel more confident. Also, take comfort in knowing that combining lifestyle changes and clinical treatments will ensure a positive outcome. If you’re considering alternative remedies, be sure to speak to a TCM practitioner beforehand to avoid potential contraindications.
Do you have personal experience with a skin-picking disorder? Share your first-hand account and tips to overcome the condition in the comments section below.
- Medscape. 2022. Excoriation Disorder. [online] [Accessed 27 March 2023]
- NHS. Skin picking disorder. [online] [Accessed 27 March 2023]
- Cleveland Clinic. Dermatillomania (Skin Picking). [online] [Accessed 27 March 2023]
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