A Few Words About Dermatillomania (And Why False Nails Help Me)

The main point of starting this blog was to start talking openly about trichotillomania (the hair pulling disorder you always see me harping on about) in an attempt to try and start those incredibly important discussions and raise awareness of the illness from which I've suffered for the best part of 20 years. I promised myself that I would keep the conversation going through the good and bad times the disorder brings, regardless of how ashamed and embarrassed I was, and I think I've stuck to that vow quite well. However, despite being so open about my hair loss, one thing I've only ever briefly mentioned on this site is my battle with dermatillomania which runs parallel to the hair pulling. Perhaps, deep down, I haven't accepted it as a 'proper' illness that I have, or maybe I'm more embarrassed about it than I am about trich, but I think it's time to say a few things about it.

Dermatillomania is the posh, long word for a skin-picking disorder. I think there's something inherently squeamish about the words 'skin picking'- it sounds more gruesome to me, and perhaps forms some of my shame around it! It has been reported to affect around 2-3% of the population, which is quite a big chuck considering how little is ever said about it! The disorder is essentially picking, scratching, rubbing or repetitively touching the skin, but I also bite at my lips and the inside of my mouth, often until they are incredibly sore. However, the main thing for me is my cuticles.

I don't know how or why it started, but I assume it was an extension of and another physical manifestation of my anxiety, much like with my hair pulling. I also cannot remember when it first started, but I do remember sitting down to paint my nails when I was perhaps 14 or 15 and noticing that the shape of my thumb nails had started to change from my compulsive peeling of my nails when they had started to split and break, so I must have started before then. I had always picked my nails (a bad habit inherited from my Dad and Nan) and I guess it just escalated into the peeling which left my nails with permanent damage. My thumb nails now have permanent ridges running down the middle and are curved in shape (a bit like a claw!). These were the first to see permanent 'disfiguration', and now I've started to notice other nails following course through my obsessive picking.

The change in seasons are the worst for me; when it gets colder or the drying effect of air con when it's hot. It completely dries my skin out and tempts me to pick the skin around my nails. Of course, I can never resist, and my cuticles seem to be in a constant scabby, red state which I get really embarrassed about because it is unsightly. I often pick until they start to bleed, and if my fingers aren't enough to pick at the piece of skin that is particularly standing out, I have been known to subtly reach for the tweezers for a helping hand.

Dermatillomania is categorised as a body-focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB) that has links to OCDs (emphasis on link- it is NOT an OCD itself). This is the same as trichotillomania. Often the two go hand in hand, and many who have one also have the other (like in my case). Unlike trichotillomania, for some reason skin-picking never stood out to me as a disorder in its own right. As it stemmed from my nail picking, I just assumed it was a bad habit. I think many others do too. It was only when I started researching into trichotillomania more when writing for this blog back in 2012 that I came across the 'proper' name for what I did and realised my cuticle picking was actually a legitimate disorder. When I discovered this, everything clicked into place and I immediately saw the links between the two disorders. With both, I am so aware of things sticking out of place; if a lash sticks out or feels different, it needs to go. It's exactly the same with the skin. If a bit feels particularly dry and flaky, it needs to be picked off and this continues until it 'feels normal' (nothing noticeably sticking out), which of course can leave quite significant wounds which bleed and get very sore. When I notice something out of place, nothing will stop me until I rectify it.

Although I have always given more focus to stopping my hair pulling (for me it's the 'worse' of the two disorders and impacts my life more), I have started to explore ways to try and curb my skin picking. I always have a hand cream on me, and balms such as Dr PawPaw can be great at helping to soothe and heal the sores. Keeping the area moisturised with a thick lotion can protect against dry skin and subsequently give you less 'out of place' bits to tempt you. However, it's still not enough to stop my picking. The best deterrent I have found to date is wearing false nails. This also helps with the hair pulling too as I cannot grip the eyelashes/eyebrows/skin well enough to cause damage. Also, unlike with gel or other nail varnishes, you can't pick them off your nails; if you did, the whole nail would come off! Some of my favourites include Primark's false nails (full review here) or the Kiss range. Kiss do normal false nails (the glue is AMAZING- keeps the nails on for about a week, but it does get tempting to pick off after, causing further damage) or their Impress collection. The Impress nails are pre-glued which makes them easier to apply and avoids the horrible burning sensation of when you accidentally get glue around your nails and in your open cuticle wounds (yep, been there done that...OUCH). Although they don't last too long (around 4 days- although you can use a nail glue to pop them back on if they come off), it is long enough to let the sores scab over and heal properly- I am a sucker for picking at the scabs themselves too, meaning they never actually fully heal. Although it's not a cure, it's the best I have for now!

A few of useful websites for further information and personal stories are the NHS websiteskinpick.com, bfrb.org and The Mighty.

Click here to read more trichotillomania posts. 

Do you have dermatillomania? Have you found anything that helps you stop picking? If so, please let me know in the comments! 

Pretty and Polished



  1. This is EXCELLENT - first time I have ever seen a blog, let alone a beauty blog, dealing with dermatillomania. I've suffered since I was a tiny toddler (interestingly my mum does as well) and it has permanently changed the way my skin forms around my thumbs (which are my most affected area). Like you, it's only been very recently that I've accepted and acknowledged that this is tied to my mental health, and that I shouldn't beat myself up over it (I used to be furious with myself, putting myself down for my lack of willpower). I'm slowly getting better, and it's much more under control than it used to be, but it's so helpful to hear how other sufferers deal with it - every little helps! xx

    1. I'm so glad to hear you've found ways to keep it under control. Is there anything in particular that seems to help you? Also very interesting that your mum also has it! Xx

  2. I am a nail biter, cuticle picker since the age of 5. I can't stop. Even if I bleed, I don't stop. I would get a full set of acrylic nails to cover my stubby nails, but I would chew those off as well. I buy glue on nails as those are WAY cheaper than full sets of acrylic . I also pull out my eyelashes. I'm a mess.

    1. I pull out hair and pick cuticles and it really is a daily struggle for us. But you are not a mess. There are so many people like us and it is far more common/normal than you think...it's just that no-one ever speaks about it!


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