My Skin & Me: Living with Dermatillomania

Let’s be real—we all have popped a pimple at least once in our lives. There’s literally a TV series about popping pimples on TLC by Dr. Pimple Popper, Sandra Lee. It is satisfying to feel the pimple pop and also to get rid of that blemish. Blackheads, cysts, peeling skin and ingrown hairs are also satisfying to get rid of. The skin is prone to many blemishes (clearly).

However, we quickly learn the hard way that popping pimples is ineffective because it actually spreads the bacteria that caused the pimple in the first place, making more pimples! Then sometimes, getting rid of blemishes leads to unforeseen consequences. But what happens if you become obsessed with popping pimples, scratching your skin and getting rid of all blemishes because of body anxiety? Odds are that you’ll go through a relative of OCD called excoriation disorder, also known as dermatillomania.

The best way to describe it is to compare it to trichotillomania, which is when people compulsively pull their hair out. It’s basically the same thing but with skin. It involves spending excessive minutes, even hours, picking at skin and freaking out if it’s not perfect. Then it involves facing the consequences with scars, blood and even infections. Now you’re probably wondering how I know so much about dermatillomania. It’s because I have it myself.

I remember vividly that it started when I got my first pimple in the third grade and my mother popped it for me. From there, it was engrained in my mind that I have to pop every pimple because mother let me. Every time a pimple came, I instantly tried to pop it. I did not want any giant white spots, bumps or blemishes on my skin, so I picked it off. I did not think of the consequences and only cared about the now.

I was obsessed with picking my skin. Whenever I saw a bump, zit or pimple, I would try to pop it. However, let’s not forget it’s a relative to OCD. I would not stop picking at a blemish until I saw pus come out, because I was convinced that all blemishes have some sort of pus or whitehead in it. It was compulsive and painful. My skin would be picked raw, bleed and scab, and then I would have a symbol of shame on me. I would spend hours of my day just picking at it, because I couldn’t help it. I would put my body at risk of infection by doing such an unsafe thing. Now that I’m 21, I don’t do it as much because I don’t get acne anymore, but I have to see the scars of my obsession, and it’s affected my perception of my body.

Starting in the third grade, I always hid my forehead with bangs. I also tried putting concealer on a raw picking site, which was not a smart move. It was also before I learned what setting powder was. I was ashamed to show my forehead, and I did not feel beautiful in my body. In high school, this especially hit me as I had to cover my picking on my face all the time. I didn’t feel cute. I didn’t want to put effort in how I dressed. It wasn’t worth my time.

I would see my friends with their clear skin and lack of scars. I would envy them. What also freaked me out was that whenever I saw someone with poppable pimples, I wanted to pop them. That grossed me out, but I was couldn’t help it. Full disclosure, I never actually popped another person’s pimples.

As I walk around as an adult, I am always self-conscious and worried that people will judge me and think I’m a freak. My scars are all over my body. No matter how much I cover, a scar will be seen. I might be overexaggerating, but this extreme anxiety is what I feel every day. The way that I alleviate this is by continuing the vicious cycle and picking at my skin. If it’s a tiny ingrown hair, I will use tweezers to get the hair out even if I end up bleeding. The smallest of bumps? I will spend ten minutes in front of the mirror picking at them. Mosquito bites? Let’s not talk about that. But surprisingly, I am working to overcome this.

Things started to change for me when I got an IUD (intrauterine device), which actually affects acne due to the hormones being released. I saw a great decrease in my acne, and it boosted my confidence. I had fewer blemishes to worry about and only had to deal with the scars. It took me a while, but my skin is a part of me, and I wouldn’t be the same without it.

Sure, the scars on my shoulders may me look like I have hives. There will be random scars on my body. I’ve learned that I have to just suck it up and live with it. This method might not work for others, but the most direct method has always worked for me. I force myself to wear tank tops and shorts because I don’t want to hide anymore. My scars are like tattoos. They’re a permanent reminder that I have to work harder to love my body.

I love my unique body despite having moments when I hate it, but that’s okay. I am working to change my habits, and that’s what matters. It’s a learning process, but it will be worth it. Everyone should be able to love their body and not feel ashamed for it. Everybody is beautiful in their own unique ways.