This is a guest post from our friend Sunny, who blogs over at The Sun Always Shines. After seeing dramatic acne improvement using dietary changes, topical strategies, and The Purely Primal Skincare Guide, she has continued to share her skin care experiences with us.
Sunny has struggled with a common, yet often ignored, addiction: skin picking. We want to open a dialogue about this frustrating addiction that affects the skin, and the confidence, of so many people. We thank Sunny for sharing her experiences!
Dermatillomania. Acne excoriée. Compulsive skin picking. The irresistible urge to pick at imperfections, real or perceived, on your skin despite the damage you know you’re causing.
I have picked my skin every single day since fourth grade. That’s a good 15 years I’ve been scratching and scraping and popping. The crazy part is that I didn’t realize this was an actual medically defined condition until a year ago, when I was at work, and I realized I couldn’t keep my hands off my face and turned to the internet to find out why.
Out of the few websites that talk about it, most ascribe it to either Obsessive Compulsive Behavior or terrible childhood trauma. Quitting strategies include medication, cognitive behavioral therapies, fiddle toys, gratitude journals, stress reduction, loving yourself, having other people “call you out” on it, and so on.
I’ve tried everything except medical intervention or seeing a therapist, because I wanted to see if I could get rid of this habit on my own.
That key word: “habit.” I like to equate skin picking to smoking. Smoking is beyond a habit – it’s an addiction. So is skin picking.
Let’s take a look at the following example: I’ve asked my sister to grab my hand and stop me if she sees me picking. But when she does, I get inexplicably angry, even though I told her to do it. I snatched a cigarette out of the hand of a friend who wants to quit smoking, because he knows it’s bad for him, and his reaction was the same as mine.
This is the same reason things like gratitude journals and fiddle toys never worked for me. I bypass them completely. I know it’s bad for me, but my brain wants the “fix” of the addiction.
I’m not trying to freak anyone out. I’ve always been a happy person, and have never been prone to addiction as we generally conceptualize it. I waited until after midnight of my 21st birthday to take my first drink and don’t care much for drinking now. I’ve never tried other substances (okay, once I did in Amsterdam, out of curiosity, but the curiosity didn’t last). Now that I eat Paleo and focus my diet around real, healthful foods, I don’t find myself binging or craving or struggling with food addiction.
But perhaps that’s because I already have an addiction which helps my brain cope, and get me through life: picking.
Some days, I still try to wrap my head around this. It’s been a year since I realized other people do this too and I’m still trying to realize this is a problem. It’s been part of my identity forever.
I avoided pictures (or would pose with my hands or props to somehow cover a problem area). I would space out when I picked and think of unrelated scenarios over and over in my head. During the day, I have picked my lips and scratched at my pores while I think (or space out to avoid thinking of something stressful).
I truly believe this is an addiction, with consequences both emotional and physical – and it’s an addiction many people suffer from silently. While I don’t want to accuse anyone of having an addiction, if your story sounds like mine, consider what I’ve said: you’re not alone, and there are others working through this addiction.
Consider separating this part of you from your identity and re-examine it. Though I was scared to face therapy for a while, when I return home from my studies abroad, I will seek professional help. Don’t fear asking for help.
If you do pick, here are some avoidance strategies that have worked for me – no gratitude journals here. Just be warned: that they are not a substitute for professional medical help, or for talking to a therapist. While I still relapse, these strategies have reduced the intensity of each relapse (30 minutes once a week is an improvement over 3 hours every single night).
Strategies that have worked for me:
- Avoid the mirror entirely after a certain time at night. I won’t wash my face at night anymore, even if I’m wearing makeup. The certainty I’ll pick and the damage I’ll do is not worth the clogged pores.I use natural skincare practices from the Purely Primal Skincare Guide to keep my skin healthy enough that skipping my nightly face washing has actually improved my skin.
- Eliminate as much sugar and other problem foods as possible. I, personally, am Paleo with Fructose Malabsorption modifications. It has done incredible things to reduce my anxiety, which is the root of my picking. The Purely Primal Skincare Guide’s nutrition section has done more for my skin and stress level than anything else.
- Learn what stresses you out. Get really specific. Writing an email with details I’m afraid to get wrong will get me picking. I will do something stress-relieving immediately after encountering the stressful thing, if I can (even if it’s going on YouTube to look at puppy videos).
- Instead of having your friends or family pointing out when you’re picking (remember the smoking analogy!) ask them to say something nice to you, give you a hug, or (my favorite) a shoulder massage. That distracts me and reduces whatever anxious thought I’m currently beating to death, instead of antagonizing me.
- If you’re in the middle of picking or the urge is hitting strong, leaving the mirror is not always going to work. This one is tough, and is going to be personal to you. I find that if I change the picking to massaging and slowly lean away while breathing deeply, I can escape. Then I put on a guided meditation track (there’s an app for that!) to break the cycle of my thoughts.
Damage control for when you do pick:
- I try to go makeup-free. But if I relapse and really can’t bear the thought of a camera memorializing it forever in front of some European landmark, I use a green powder to cover up problem areas under my foundation. Green helps neutralize redness.
- Use a face mask (see the Guide for ideas) after picking. You have to be careful because if you feel like the urge to pick isn’t gone or is unsatisfied, it’s better to wash off the mask in the kitchen sink where there’s no mirrors or forego the mask until the morning.
- Tea tree oil and a healing moisturizer, such as a tallow-based option or one from Primal Life Organics. A little tea tree goes a long way, and I always put it on after the moisturizer to keep from further irritating my skin.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep that night. 6 hours or less? The inflammation will actually be worse.
- See a therapist for support and cognitive behavioral retraining. You can also go the medicine route, and see a psychologist.
Finally, forgive yourself, have patience, and remember that everyone develops their own ways to cope with life. This happens to be yours. It’s not fair, but it’s better than many other struggles – and there is hope and help available.
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