Embracing My Natural Beauty with Dermatillomania

by Taryn Balchunas on April 18

skindisorderI have Dermatillomania, also known as Skin Picking Disorder, Excoriation Disorder, Compulsive Skin Picking, or even Chronic Skin Picking. Dermatillomania is the latest name that I’ve heard. It’s a BFRB, or Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior.

This disorder is something that I’ve been ashamed of since I began picking my face in high school. Maybe it started earlier than that, but I remember it distinctly my sophomore year. I thought that the cause of my disorder was a combination of a boutique acne line worsening my inflammation, and the urge to pop all of the pimples on my best friend’s forehead. When my acne got worse, I popped my pimples and picked the remaining dry skin, often struggling to stop the bleeding and growing remorseful for popping my blemishes in the first place.

I began using the foundation that I used as stage makeup for summer musicals as everyday makeup to cover up my scabs. I remember a couple instances where I wore a band-aid over one of my scabs in public so that I wouldn’t be tempted to pick. One of my friends at school had the balls to ask what happened, and I lied and said that I accidentally scratched myself with my fingernail. Picking was something that I did privately.

I switched acne lines but continued picking, not knowing how to stop. Hearing my mom say, “Don’t pick your face” repeatedly and, “Do you think anyone would want to date you with your face looking like that?” didn’t help.

My skin picking “habit” continued in college. I got bed bug bites from my mattress at school. I itched those bites until they started bleeding, and I picked the scabs until they got infected. I continued to pop my pimples and pick my dry skin.

It wasn’t until I saw a tweet that PostSecret retweeted in the spring of 2012 that I knew that I had a disorder. Someone reached out to PostSecret’s Frank Warren in reference to a secret about Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors and referred to trich.org as a resource. I clicked on the link, read up on Skin Picking Disorder, and found solace in self-diagnosis.

Today, I’m 25, and I’m still struggling with adult acne and Dermatillomania. I’m still struggling with self-esteem issues. Having a face in what I think is covered with scabs makes me feel worthless and unattractive at times. For a while, I got it into my head that people saw me the way that I saw myself, and I didn’t understand why they wanted to befriend or date me. I purposefully isolated myself because I didn’t believe that I was worth getting to know.

But I like getting to know other people, so I’ve grown to allow myself to socialize and be open to others even if I’m not feeling like my best self. And the more that I have opened up to people about Dermatillomania, the more I have found people who also have BFRBs. These people make me feel like I have nothing to hide.

I have sought therapy to help manage this behavior, but my therapists either weren’t familiar with Dermatillomania or their methods didn’t help me. One exercise that I liked was closing my eyes and picturing a white room, a safe space in my mind with my therapist’s voice telling me that she was there for me. She also told me during one of our sessions that the first thing that she saw when she looked at my face was my beaming smile, not my scabs.

To help take care of myself in order to prevent myself from picking, I meditate, do yoga, and I try to keep my hands occupied as much as possible. After speculating that I am dairy sensitive, I eat dairy products in moderation. I try to avoid incorporating them into my diet in order to reduce the inflammation in my body. I stopped using prescription acne medication, and I now use oil as a cleanser and a natural moisturizer. I no longer use body soap or body wash, just water, and therefore I no longer get bacne. (Don’t believe me? Read the book Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore. It’s life changing.) Reducing the stress in my life is working wonders. This is what works for me, but every body is different.

I have scars on my legs, back, shoulders, arms, and face. I currently have a scab adorning my right cheek from a pimple that I popped last week. I rarely wear makeup because I don’t feel the need to cover up my scars anymore. I am learning how to embrace my natural beauty. And I am dating someone who accepts me just the way I am, who tells me that I get more and more beautiful every day. I don’t always feel that way, but I choose to believe him. I choose to believe myself when I tell myself that I am beautiful and I am worthy of love.

Research on Dermatillomania is still new and developing. For more information and resources, visit http://www.trich.org/about/skin-signs-symptoms.html

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Taryn Balchunas

Taryn Balchunas is a writer based in her home state of Connecticut. She is a lover of music, yoga, black coffee, and physical copies of books. Taryn believes that personal development leads us to become the people we are meant to be.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sims April 23, 2016 at 12:17 am

I have this disorder too, but I am age 36. My mother has it too (I pretty much picked up the habit from her). As I got older it reduced (same with my mum). I don’t do it as often. I think as you get older you become more wiser and you learn better ways to deal with anxiety and stress. Plus you learn to accept yourself a bit more.

I didn’t really find anything helped apart from just challenging the way I deal with anxiety.

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BMW August 17, 2016 at 8:24 pm

I am in my 40’s now and have fought dermatillomania since I was a child. It comes and goes, and when I’m under a lot of stress it gets worse. There is such a viscous circle to this disorder. Picking helps me to cope when I’m feeling stressed, but then the shame just makes me feel worse.
It’s been one of the hottest summers in decades and I am wearing long sleeves and pants to cover my scratches. I have tried all the tricks to stop and some work better than others. I just try to keep in mind that eventually, my life will be less stressful and I am confident it will then go into remission.

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Selena August 18, 2016 at 11:48 am

I have struggled with this as well since childhood. I am not 38. I have not found much of anything that has helped and have scabs I have been picking at for more than 6 months. I too am wearing pants and long sleeves to cover up the damage on my arms and legs. It does comfort me to see more articles about this disorder and I am hoping that with greater awareness comes more options for treatment. I would love to not have to wage this constant war on my own skin.

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