OCD Types An Overview of Excoriation (Skin Picking) Disorder By Marla Deibler, PsyD Marla Deibler, PsyD Facebook Twitter Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, MSCP, is a licensed clinical psychologist and nationally-recognized expert in anxiety disorders and other mental health topics. Learn about our editorial process Updated on March 13, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Science Photo Library / Getty Images Excoriation or skin-picking disorder is a psychiatric disorder where a person has a compulsion to repeatedly pick their own skin. Excoriation disorder is considered a condition related to body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). BFRBs are self-grooming behaviors where a person pulls, picks, scrapes, or bites their own hair, skin, or nails. The frequency and intensity of these behaviors can damage the body and may lead to conditions such as trichotillomania and onychophagia. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), classifies skin-picking disorders in the larger category of "Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders." However, not all mental health and medical professionals agree that the disorder should be separate; rather, some assert that skin picking is usually a symptom of a mental health condition (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD) or related to a skin condition like psoriasis that causes itching and discomfort. DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria To be diagnosed with excoriation disorder, all of the following criteria must be met:Recurrent skin picking that results in skin lesionsRepeated attempts to stop the behaviorThe symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairmentThe symptoms are not caused by a substance or a medical or dermatological conditionThe symptoms are not better explained by another psychiatric disorder Symptoms Excoriation disorder is believed to affect between 1.4% to 5.4% of adults in the United States. It's more common in women than in men. Skin picking that meets diagnostic criteria for excoriation disorder far exceeds the normal washing and exfoliating on the continuum of self-grooming behaviors. The repeated picking, scraping, or gouging that occurs in excoriation disorder can last for hours and may cause infection, scarring, and disfigurement. The disorder is considered to be chronic and symptoms tend to wax and wane over time. People often pick at multiple body sites for extended periods. Both healthy and previously damaged areas of skin may be targeted. The primary site may change over time. For example, someone may begin picking the skin of their face (the most common site) then move on to their scalp, neck, or limbs. Most people use their fingers and fingernails to pick at their skin but some use sharp cosmetic tools such as needles and tweezers. Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder Causes Excoriation disorder often begins in adolescence and may initially be associated with acne (although pathological skin picking behavior can start at any age). It is likely that there is no single cause for the disorder, but rather, that is is the result of an interplay between genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Skin-picking disorders have also been associated with childhood trauma and abuse, developmental disabilities, and an impaired ability to regulate emotion and manage stress. Common triggers for skin picking reported by people with excoriation disorder include: An urge or physical tension, unpleasant emotions, cognitions (which may include permission-giving thoughts or beliefs about how the skin should look and feel)Skin sensations (from a bump, sore spot, etc.)A displeasing aspect of one's appearance (such as a visible blemish) After engaging in skin picking, people with the disorder usually feel relief as the urge is reduced. They may even find the behavior enjoyable. In fact, a key feature of the disorder that differentiates it from other compulsive disorders is that people with excoriation disorder often do find the act of picking their skin to be pleasurable—whereas the compulsions of OCD are distressing and intrusive. Skin Picking and OCD However, they also experience the consequences of skin picking, such as: Scarring Skin infections Depression and anxiety Social avoidance and isolation Reduced productivity (especially when skin picking sessions are prolonged) Excoriation disorder can have a significant effect on a person's life. A person who has been picking their skin may go to great lengths to cover or hide the damaged areas. Feelings of shame and embarrassment may cause them to completely avoid social situations and activities. When people with the disorder become isolated, they may even fail to seek medical care. Treatment Evidence-based treatment for excoriation disorder includes a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) called habit reversal training (HRT). Habit Reversal Training HRT aims to help people develop skills to reduce their harmful behaviors such as:Self-monitoring (awareness training)Identification of behavior triggersModifying the environment to decrease the likelihood of picking behavior (stimulus control)Identifying a substitution behavior that is incompatible with skin picking (competing for response training) Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) have also been shown to help some people with trichotillomania, a disorder similar to skin picking. Skin picking and other BFRBs are common symptoms of developmental disabilities and may also occur in people with autism. People in these groups sometimes have success wearing gloves or using behavioral interventions (such as sitting on their hands, for example) to curb skin picking. As of 2020, there is no FDA-approved pharmacological treatment for excoriation disorder. Some studies have suggested certain antidepressants called selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might help some people with the disorder but the research is limited and results have been mixed. It may be that SSRIs are most helpful if someone also has depression or anxiety that is contributing to the skin picking behaviors. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), an amino acid that affects brain levels of a neurotransmitter called glutamate, is also being explored as a potential treatment. When taken as a dietary supplement, NAC has shown some promise results for decreasing skin picking behavior in adult women. A Word From Verywell Excoriation disorder can significantly impact a person's life. The chronic, intense skin picking can lead to infections and scarring, which can contribute to feelings of shame and embarrassment about the condition. If you or a loved one has symptoms of a skin-picking disorder, know that a doctor or mental health professional can use specific criteria to diagnose the condition—which is the first step to getting treated. OCD-related disorders can often be managed using a combination of methods, such as therapy, medication, mindfulness, and behavior modification. People with excoriation disorder or other OCD-related conditions may find support groups to be beneficial, especially when they are first learning to live with the condition and are exploring treatment options. What Are Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorders? 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Grant JE, Odlaug BL. Update on pathological skin picking. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2009;11(4):283-8. doi:10.1007/s11920-009-0041-x Jenkins Z, Zavier H, Phillipou A, Castle D. Should skin picking disorder be considered a diagnostic category? A systematic review of the evidence. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2019;53(9):866-877. doi:10.1177/0004867419834347 Grant JE, Odlaug BL, Chamberlain SR, Keuthen NJ, Lochner C, Stein DJ. Skin picking disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2012;169(11):1143-9. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12040508 Odlaug BL, Grant JE. Pathologic skin picking. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2010;36(5):296-303. doi:10.3109/00952991003747543 Stein DJ, Grant JE, Franklin ME, et al. Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder), skin picking disorder, and stereotypic movement disorder: toward DSM-V. Depress Anxiety. 2010;27(6):611-26. doi:10.1002/da.20700 Lang R, Didden R, Machalicek W, et al. Behavioral treatment of chronic skin-picking in individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review. Res Dev Disabil. 2010;31(2):304-15. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2009.10.017 Grant J. Medications For Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Grant JE, Chamberlain SR, Redden SA, Leppink EW, Odlaug BL, Kim SW. N-acetylcysteine in the treatment of excoriation disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(5):490-6. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0060 Additional Reading American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596 Golomb R, Franklin M, Grant J, Keuthen N, Mansueto C, Mouton-Odum S, et al. Expert Consensus Treatment Guidelines for Trichotillomania, Skin Picking, and Other Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Monzani B, Rijsdijk F, Cherkas L, Harris J, Keuthen N, Mataix-cols D. Prevalence and heritability of skin picking in an adult community sample: A twin study. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2012;159B(5):605-10. doi:10.1002/ajmg.b.32067 By Marla Deibler, PsyD Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, MSCP, is a licensed clinical psychologist and nationally-recognized expert in anxiety disorders and other mental health topics. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for OCD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.