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VIDEO: Dermatillomania (Skin-Picking) in Pictures

Olivia Epley

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!

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Below is a video that I made of my skin-picking story, and pictures of my journey. I hope this sheds some light on a pretty shrouded disorder. The transcript is below it.

Hey everyone! My name is Olivia and I run a little blog called Millennial Girl Interrupted, the link to which you can find in the description down below or, if you’re watching on the website, hi!

Today I want to talk about something that has been a major source of shame throughout my life.

I suffer from a condition titled Dermatillomania. It’s also known as Excoriation Disorder or Skin-picking disorder. It’s commonly associated with OCD and it’s diagnostically defined by four major criteria.

  1. You must pick, pull, scratch at your skin.
  2. You must have tried to stop doing so and must have been unable to.
  3. You must be clinically distressed or impaired by the behavior.
  4. The picking can’t explained by some other disorder or by something dermatological.

When I try to explain to people what I’ve been battling since middle school, and I’m 20 years old now, I’m often met with kind attempts at relating. People say they understand because they bite their nails, or scratch at acne, or pick at their lips. Those are all difficult to live with, but they are not the same as Excoriation disorder.

It started when I stopped pulling my hair out which is called trichotillomania and is closely related to dermatillomania. I’d keep my nails long and sharp so I could dig them into my upper arms, shoulders, chest, outer breasts, back, knees, and, of course, all over my face. I’d form perfect circles, making just the right scratch, achieving just the right pick. For years a around 11 at night, I could almost always be found huddled on my bathroom floor for 4 hours or more, lights bright and blaring overhead, scratching and picking away.

I’ve had to be extremely aware of my spots for years, when in public. I’ve bought scads of makeup, concealer and foundation, to cover up picking spots. I went through a phase when I’d only wear long sleeved swim shirts to beaches and pools. I then decided that a good way to deal with my spots was to burn my skin in the sun, so badly that the spots would be evened with the rest of my skin. This actually works, but at this point I’ll be shocked if I don’t develop skin cancer later in life.

I went through a phase a couple of years ago where I’d get a spray tan every few weeks, operating under the theory that if I couldn’t see skin discoloration, I wouldn’t be tempted to attack certain spots. My parents spent hundreds of dollars and it didn’t work.

We’ve gone to over half a dozen dermatologists who are at a loss for how to treat me, for while my skin is acne prone, it’s not severe by any means, so there was no pill or cream that would soothe what was plaguing me. It was all psychiatric, but if you looked at me, you’d assume I was a poor, extremely oily teenager or unhygienic or have chicken pox.

For years I’ve been using the app Facetune to conceal my spots. Before James Charles and Kendall Jenner popularized it, I was frantically “healing” dozens of blemishes all across my body, before posting absolutely anything. Everything ran through facetune. I always insisted on my phone being the one group pictures were taken on so I’d have control of the editing of every picture.

Here, I tried doing a photoshoot where I circled my spots with white painted hearts in order to signal that I wasn’t ashamed. And yet, I kept on Facetuning. The reality of my picking was more drastic than the pictures showed, and my shame was so all encompassing that it forbid me from really showing myself.

Dermatillomania is an OCD and anxiety based disorder. It’s not about whether or not I WANT to pick. I desperately don’t. I want clear skin. But if I don’t, my body and fingers prickle and buzz and it becomes so unbearable that I have a 3, 4, 5 hour session in my steamy bathroom at night. I’ve used it as a tool to release my anxiety, compulsions, and trauma for many years, and it’s so ingrained in me that it’s proven hard to stop. Skin picking disorder is way more complex than eroded nails or chapped lips. It’s destructive, embarrassing, and inhibiting in every social setting.

So it’s really important to consider that there are a lot of weird, extreme, disturbing conditions that the people around you are and will be experiencing. Simply practicing the act of not judging someone for the state of their hair and skin is a good start towards being an effective mental health ally. You never know what someone’s backstory is. I shower once a day, have tried every cream and pill under the sun. I’ve tried baking myself and tanning myself. I’ve tried taping my fingers, I’ve tried wearing gloves, I’ve tried painting over and covering mirrors. It’s not about lack of hygiene, lack of will, or lack of discipline. It’s a mental illness.

That’s it for the video, make sure you check out the blog with the link in the description, and I hope you have a happy and healthful week. Bye!

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