Hydrocolloid patches have long been used to help wounds heal, and they now come in pimple-sized shapes. I love these small, circular patches which are clear and breathable. Because they’re barely visible, I can wear them freely on my face and body for hours and often place them on recently picked areas before I go to bed. They work well as physical barriers too, stopping my fingers from re-assessing the area and potentially picking again.
10 Products That Help Manage My Compulsive Skin PickingIt’s more than just a bad habit.
Does your nightly routine involve being locked away in the bathroom for hours, picking at your skin up close in the mirror? Perhaps you find your fingers running across your arms, searching for a blemish to focus on during work meetings, or you frequently pick at the skin along your scalp as you study. If any of these scenarios have you raising a hand in the air, you’re not alone, and you might be dealing with a skin-picking disorder.
Excoriation disorder (otherwise known as compulsive skin picking) isn’t a mental health condition you hear about as often as, say, depression or anxiety. Bring it up in a medical setting and it might even be dismissed as nothing more than a bad habit. And, sure, while occasionally picking at a pimple is a pretty universal experience, excoriation disorder is when that “bad habit” causes significant distress, impacts your life in a serious way, and isn’t something you feel like you can stop doing, according to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
And it’s more common than you might think. A 2020 survey of over 10,000 U.S. participants between the ages of 18-69 showed that 2.1% of them identified as currently having excoriation disorder, while 3.1% of respondents reported having it at some point in their lifetime. Three-quarters of those currently suffering from the disorder identified as female.
I can very much relate. I was always an anxious child, always worrying about how I was perceived by others. I would often be found biting my nails as a way of coping. My parents tried to get me to stop, scolding me if I was caught in the act, but it didn’t work. As puberty hit and my hormones changed, I, like many other teens, struggled with my now-pimply skin. Spending hours in front of the mirror in my bedroom, I’d check for blemishes and compulsively pick at my skin in an attempt to remove any imperfections.
Of course, skin picking didn't clear my skin from blemishes—all it did was make them worse. Part of my daily ritual became trying to undo the damage I had created by further inflaming my skin, using various skincare products and heavily pigmented concealer to hide the marks. This led to a lot of emotional distress. After each skin-picking episode, I’d be left with intense feelings of guilt, disappointment, and shame. For years I felt unable to share my experience for fear of being judged.
The DSM-5-TR confirms that excoriation disorder is associated with social and occupational impairment, with some sufferers spending several hours a day skin picking, thinking about skin picking, or resisting the urges. The all-consuming nature of the illness leads many people to avoid social events and miss work or school.
For many years, I believed I’d simply grow out of the behavior, assigning myself milestones to reach in hopes of creating a better quality of life. These included going to college, moving into an apartment with a partner, and landing a dream job. I thought that by hitting those targets, I’d magically stop—but this just wasn’t realistic. As the years rolled by and I entered different chapters of my life, my excoriation disorder and the low moods that came with it remained.
It wasn’t until I was 19 years old—after speaking with doctors and doing some of my own research—that I realized it was actually a mental health condition. I finally felt validated, knowing it was more than a bad habit or character flaw. As the first step of my treatment, my doctor referred me to see a cognitive behavioral therapist to help me identify my triggers and adopt new habits to help change the behavior.
I’ve worked hard to understand my excoriation disorder so I can successfully manage it. I often don’t even notice I’m skin picking but, once I do, I try to pause and reflect on what may have triggered me to do so—boredom, exhaustion, stress, overstimulation? I also share my journey with it on my Instagram in an effort to reclaim control, build awareness and community, and reduce the stigma and shame around skin picking.
If you’re just beginning to find ways to manage your excoriation disorder, speaking to a doctor for professional guidance is important. But I’ve learned that creating a toolkit of products to help me stop picking is also crucial. Below, I’ve rounded up 11 items I swear by for managing my compulsive skin picking.
My bathroom is a big trigger environment for my excoriation disorder, with bright built-in ceiling lights I’m unable to dim. So to help manage my compulsive skin picking, I purchased a battery-powered, motion-sensor LED light to use instead. I place the dimmer light in an area that provides enough lighting for me to see but at a good distance from the mirror, which helps reduce my urge to pick.
Depending on the wiring in your home, you may be able to add a smart dimmer light switch to give you better control of the lighting too (neutral wiring is required for this particular product). For those with excoriation disorder, environments such as the bathroom and bedroom can be particularly difficult due to undressing and exposing skin. Having control of the lighting in the room before going in can create a better experience and improve the feelings associated with those areas of the home.
If you struggle with picking the skin around your nails, these gel finger protectors may come in handy (no pun intended). With excoriation disorder, it’s important to be well-prepared to combat urges, so having a pack of these stocked at home can be useful. I recommend washing your face earlier in the evening and then putting on these finger protectors which can act as a physical barrier to skin picking in moments of exhaustion or boredom.
For those of us with excoriation disorder, stress or anxiety-inducing situations can push us to pick our skin as a coping mechanism. Having a wearable item you can fidget with instead can be very helpful, and I personally find rings to be the most discreet and easy to reach. This colorful ring looks good while also relieving tension and is a great option for work meetings or traffic jams.
Meditation is a great way to reduce stress, intrusive thoughts, and urges to pick. I like the Headspace app which has a variety of guided mindfulness meditations that can be used for both long sessions (like before bed) and speedy sessions (like on the subway to work).
Pillowcases that are made from a higher quality fabric such as silk or bamboo can be easier on inflamed skin. The material is smoother than cotton, meaning it won’t tug on the skin as much as you sleep, and it can be gentler on any facial wounds trying to heal.
This is the lip balm of my dreams! I’ve been a loyal supporter ever since my Accutane days, when my lips dried out and shed like snake skin. This is the only product that kept them moisturized without fail, and a little goes a long way. If you find yourself picking the dry skin on and around your lips, I recommend keeping a few of these on hand so that there’s less to pick at.
This cream is a cult classic for a reason. The fragrance-free formula is packed with hyaluronic acid and ceramides to help draw moisture into the skin and restore the skin barrier, which can keep it looking and feeling hydrated for longer.
As someone with naturally oily skin, I often find that my breakouts come on when my skin is feeling dry, as it overproduces oil to counterbalance the dryness. This cream keeps my skin feeling smooth and hydrated, reducing pimples and ingrown hairs in the process.
Anti-dandruff shampoo works wonders for an itchy, flaky scalp. For those with excoriation disorder like myself, the scalp can be a commonly touched area (think: when you’re writing with your head resting in the palm of one hand). This shampoo contains 1% ketoconazole which gets to the root of dandruff by controlling the fungus that causes it. The result: Less scalp itching that can trigger an urge to pick.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.