Chronic skin picking (CSP) is a serious condition that is largely unknown to the public. People who suffer from CSP repetitively touch, rub, scratch, pick, or dig into their skin. Individuals engage in skin picking to remove small irregularities or perceived imperfections. This behavior may result in skin discoloration or scarring. In more serious cases, severe tissue damage, visible disfigurement and infections can result.
CSP is now thought of as one of many Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) in which a person can cause harm or damage to themselves or their appearance. Other BFRBs include chronic hair pulling (trichotillomania), biting the insides of the cheeks, and severe nail biting.
Skin picking or other BFRBs can occur when a person experiences various emotions such as anxiety, fear, sadness, excitement or boredom. Some individuals state that the act of repetitively picking at their skin creates pleasurable feelings. Some people may pick their skin for a few seconds while others may devote many hours. If skin picking becomes more serious or extreme, it can negatively impact a person’s social life, work or relationships.
A person can suffer from skin picking in isolation. However, it can co-occur with other medical conditions such as anxiety or depression. Nevertheless, it is vital for a practitioner to identify whether the skin picking is a symptom of another condition that warrants treatment. For instance, skin picking could be a symptom of illnesses such as dermatological disorders, autoimmune problems, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance abuse disorders (such as opiate withdrawal), developmental disorders (like autism), and psychosis. Determining whether skin picking is an autonomous condition or a symptom of another disorder is critical in creating an effective treatment plan.