How to Stop Obsessive Skin Picking: 5 Things That Helped Me (And 5 That Didn’t)

I have a confession to make: I am an obsessive skin picker.

Obsessive skin picking, also called dermatillomania or skin picking disorder, is a disorder where you can’t stop picking your skin. It affects an estimated 1 in 20 people.

I didn’t always realize I had a problem. Picking was encouraged in my childhood home (close family members are also obsessive pickers), which did nothing but fuel my focus on my skin. I remember picking when I was a teenager to the point that I had noticeable scars on my arms, and a friend in high school once asked about them.

But I didn’t realize my skin picking was an issue until I was in a long-term relationship with my now-husband and tried to hide my picking from him, which led me to wonder how to stop obsessive skin picking.

I have struggled with skin picking for two decades. It has been worse at times and better at times, but it has always been a problem.

I won’t say that I am in recovery because I am and will always be a skin picker. But I will say that my picking has improved dramatically, and it has been almost two years since I have gone on a “picking binge” where I have obsessively picked at and ruined my skin to the point that I either refused to leave the house or had to cover up my arms (my target area for picking).

So what helped me? What didn’t? Here are five things that did and didn’t help me when it comes to how to stop obsessive skin picking.

1. Keeping My Nails Short

The longer my nails are, the more damage I can do to my skin. The more damage I do to my skin, the easier it is for me to quickly ruin my skin and feel angry, depressed, and hopeless, which fuels my unhealthy cycle of picking and abstinence.

I started keeping my fingernails trimmed really short, which helps prevent my fingernails from cutting into my skin when I pick. This way, when I do pick (and I want to be clear that I do still pick, just not obsessively), it doesn’t cause as much damage and I feel more at peace about picking without ruining my skin.

This is how short I like to keep my nails at pretty much all times.

I have spoken with another skin picker who says that she finds it helpful to have fake nails, which makes it impossible to pick her skin. I thought I’d mention this because the short fingernail trick may not work for every picker wondering how to stop obsessive skin picking.

2. Paying Attention

Mindfulness has been one of the most helpful things for me in stopping the obsessive-picking tirade that I would engage in almost daily.

I read many books, including all of Eckhart Tolle’s books, that talk about mindfulness and noticing how you feel and being present in your body. I started noticing things that were major clues on my journey to not picking obsessively.

First, I noticed that I was never present when I was picking. I was in a type of trance (I hear other pickers talk about this) where I am hyper-focused on my picking and nothing else matters. The second I become present, I am able to stop picking.

Secondly, I was almost always upset, stressed, or angry when I was picking. I started to realize that my emotions were directly linked to my picking the majority of the time. When I was picking, I was usually upset about something that I didn’t even consciously realize because I was using picking to distract myself from the feeling.

By paying attention to my body, my emotions, and my current state of mind, I am free to not pick. Even now, there are times when I will be stressed and zone out and start picking, but I can quickly reign myself in by realizing how I’m feeling, taking a deep breath, and coming back into the present moment.

I also noticed that I needed to be much more mindful of my picking in the summer because I wear a lot of tank tops (one of my major life goals is to look like Channing Tatum in Step Up), and since my arms are my area of choice for picking, I am much more likely to start picking in the summer than I am in the cooler seasons when I am wearing a hoodie.

3. Addressing My Core Issues

Like many people, I have a lot of unhealed mental and emotional wounds.

Mindfulness and many of my self-help readings made me realize that deep down, there was a wounded child inside me that never healed from her childhood trauma. By giving my inner child a voice—and more than that, making her a priority in my life—I was able to start healing.

How did I do this?

For one, I started working with a therapist. My therapist has been instrumental to my growth and helping me shine a loving and compassionate light on the dark, terrified parts of myself that never healed and were slowly rotting inside me and poisoning my life.

These parts were trying to protect me from what I had falsely learned would harm me—but those things are no longer true for me.

I realized that my childhood trauma formed the foundation for my social anxiety and my obsessive skin picking. It also fueled my feelings of unworthiness and shame.

By addressing my core issues, which is an ongoing process, with therapy, a lot of journaling, and reading self-help books, I started to believe that I was worthy of having beautiful skin without obsessively picking at it. In other words, I was worthy of healing and having the life I wanted, which didn’t include obsessively picking my skin.

4. Taking Care of My Body

I noticed that taking care of my body helped encourage me not to pick. For me, taking care of my body looks like:

  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a skincare regimen

Working out helps me feel strong and confident. I like the way I look when I take care of my body, and it encourages me to maintain a healthy appearance I can be proud of by not picking. The same is true for eating healthy. I feel good and look good when I eat healthy and I am encouraged not to pick.

Honestly, having a skincare regimen has helped so much. I’ve gotten really into skincare the last few years and now use body lotion nightly (this is my all-time fave body lotion—not sponsored) and also skincare serums and creams on my face.

Taking care of my skin in this way makes me feel beautiful, worthy, and like I don’t need to pick my skin for it to look beautiful. It also gives me something else to do with my skin rather than pick!

5. Getting Tattoos

This might be a controversial one, but yes, it’s helped!

I originally didn’t plan on covering my body with tattoos, but that’s kind of where things are headed. Once I started getting more tattooed, I realized I could cover the picking scars on my arms with art.

First, I got my tiger, and I noticed that it helped hide both my picking scars and my current picking marks. It made me less ashamed of my picking habit, even when it wasn’t carried out obsessively.

I have a scar on my other arm of a broken capillary I tried to get rid of myself by burning it, which turned it into a bigger scar (when done properly, this method does make them go away, but I was a newbie at it). I covered that scar and a lot of my picking scars up with a second tattoo by the same artist.

My tattoos have made my skin feel more beautiful and help me feel better about my picking history and my current level of picking.

Thank you for making my arms so beautiful.

5 Things That DIDN’T Help

These are things I tried that did not help me when I was looking for the answer to how to stop obsessive skin picking.

1. Guilting or Shaming Myself

Wow, did this one not work. I did this for YEARS. I would tell myself these kinds of things:

  • “You have that pool party this weekend, you CANNOT pick!” This made the picking worse, as I would try to “fix” my skin before the event, which would turn into…
  • “Your arms look terrible. Look what you did. Everyone is going to see how messed up you are.”
  • “You have to wear a long sleeve shirt because people will notice your arms.”
  • “You are so stupid. You can’t stop this one bad habit you have.”

For anyone who obsessively picks their skin, you know that it is not merely a habit. It is something you cannot control.

Guilting and shaming myself either before or after picking never made me feel better. In fact, it often had the opposite effect—I would feel worthless and continue to pick because I figured it didn’t matter how bad my skin looked when I was such a shitty person who couldn’t control their life.

2. Making My Skin Slippery

I tried this one too many times. I would use oils or lotions to make my skin slippery and impossible to pick. The oil or lotion WOULD make my skin impossible to pick. But here’s the thing—it didn’t get rid of the urge to pick.

Also, it was super inconvenient. The oil would stain my clothes, so I had to wipe it off before I got dressed. I spent some afternoons sitting in my house wearing a strapless dress with oil slathered all over my arms so I couldn’t pick. But eventually, it would have to come off. I couldn’t stay in my house wearing that strapless dress forever (although some days, I dreamed…)

So yeah, this was a waste of time.

3. Trying to “Manage” My Picking

I really thought this one would work.

I made rules for myself around my picking in an attempt to manage it. I thought that if I could exercise some control over my picking, I could get it to the point where it was manageable.

(For the record, I find my picking manageable now, but it’s not because I “control” it. It’s because I’m addressing the underlying factors that drive me to pick, like negative emotions and unhealed trauma. So instead of trying to control the urge to pick, I’m reducing it in the first place.)

The rules were:

  • No picking in the bathroom
  • No picking in the closet
  • No picking at night
  • No picking my arms

These were my two primary picking locations, my primary picking time, and my primary picking spot. So guess what happened?

  1. I found time to pick outside of these times and locations
  2. I started picking my legs, back, chest, and face
  3. I eventually ended up breaking the rules (because I wasn’t present or mindful of what I was doing) and would guilt and shame myself when I did so, which fed the cycle

My picking only became manageable when I stopped trying to control it and instead focused on healing myself from the inside out.

4. Trying to Stop Picking Completely

Oh man.

Ok, so I knew when I started looking for how to stop obsessive skin picking that it was impossible for me to stop picking completely. But I had seen people online say that they tried this. I remember watching one YouTube video of a girl who said she was X days into not picking and she had a pimple on her face.

I don’t care how strong of a person I am. I would never be able to not pop that pimple. I could not have arms and that pimple would still get popped.

I will always be a picker. I have accepted this about myself. And here’s the thing—I LIKE picking. I just don’t like obsessively doing it because it makes me feel terrible about myself and my skin looks like I got in a fight with a very aggressive rose bush.

Trying to stop picking completely is not realistic for me. I have tried it. It did not work. And I will always WANT to pick certain things at my skin. I am at peace with my picking nature.

5. Wearing Long-Sleeve Shirts

Yes, I pick less when my skin is covered. No, it does not stop my picking or the urge to pick. I will find other things to pick.

It’s true that I pick less in the winter when my arms are covered. But I still pick at my face. And for years, my nighttime routine was stripping down before getting in the tub and doing a full body pick, then soaking in Epsom salt and herbs to try and calm my red and wounded skin.

Wearing long-sleeve shirts was just another way I tried to manage my picking, which did not work.

Do I Still Pick?

Yes! I do still pick.

Do I still pick obsessively? No.

For me, there is a difference. For some people, there may not be. Everyone is different.

Are you a fellow picker? If so, I’d love to know if you’ve found anything that has helped or hurt you on your journey to having a healthier relationship with your skin and feeling good about yourself.

Thanks for reading and not judging!

9 Insanely Transformative Books I Read in the Last Year That Changed My Life

I’m an avid reader and although I haven’t done an insane amount of reading the last few years, this past year I really focused on reading self-help books and what I felt were transformative reads to help me on my life journey.

After losing two of my beloved rabbits in April 2020, I was blindsided by my grief and looking for a way to cope with everything. These books led me on a process that not only turned my grief into a catalyst of self-healing and transformation, but I learned so much and am so happy I found them.

Shoutout to my mother-in-law Colette who got me a gift card for my birthday that funded the purchase of a lot of these books, and also to my tattoo artist Anka Lavriv whose reading suggestions led me to find many of these works!

Feeding Your Demons

Tsultrim Allione

My tattoo artist Anka Lavriv recommended this book and holy crap! It’s incredible. I had never heard about or done demon work before reading this book.

I would highly recommend reading it and also working with your demons. It’s such an incredibly transformative process and you learn things about yourself and your trauma that you otherwise wouldn’t have learned. I really can’t overstate how transformative this has been for me.

The basic idea is to approach your demons with compassion rather than ignoring them or trying to fight them. This perspective allows you to communicate with your demons and have compassion for both them and yourself so that true healing can happen.

The book is written by a female monk and contains a step-by-step guide for working with your demons as well as many real-life examples. I also just love how beautiful the book itself is. I’m keeping this one on my shelf forever. I’ve worked with three demons so far and hope to work with more!

The Heart of Addiction and Breaking Addiction

Dr. Lance Dodes

I stumbled across the work of Dr. Lance Dodes while learning more about addiction. I not only work with women who struggle with addiction at my on-call job at a women’s homeless shelter, but I also personally know people who live with addictions, and, according to these books, I myself have an addiction (obsessive skin picking).

I wanted to learn more about addictions and why someone becomes addicted to something. Dr. Dodes’ incredible experience and insight is a huge eye-opener. I would highly recommend his works to anyone who is trying to understand addictions better, whether you have an addiction, think you may have one, or know someone who is suffering from one.

Dr. Dodes also has another book called Breaking Addiction that I also read, which is a seven-step handbook for people who are trying to overcome addictions. I have read both works and felt that each was so helpful in not only understanding my own addiction but also what others who suffer from addictions experience. I plan on reading more of Dr. Dodes’ work in the future.

Many Lives, Many Masters

Dr. Brian L. Weiss

After my bunnies, Nadir and Fiver, died, my husband and I were adamant that we weren’t going to get any more animals. We have a rescued pit-bull mix who has behavioral issues (that we’ve been working with a reputable veterinarian and behaviorist to manage with good results), a recused leopard gecko, and two other bunnies.

Taking care of Nadir and Fiver, who were essentially on hospice for the last six months of their lives, was so hard and so stressful, although I feel so fortunate to have had this time with them before they died and miss taking care of them.

As fate would have had it, I stumbled upon an ad for a free rabbit on craigslist (I’m no longer allowed to look at the craigslist free section, haha). Upon seeing him, he looked just like Nadir and I felt an instant connection. Long story short, after getting my husband on board (read: I talked him into it), we drove over an hour to go and adopt this bunny in Virginia.

Upon seeing the bunny, he was much smaller than the picture led us to believe, and he looked like a perfect mix of Nadir and Fiver (Fiver was a dwarf and quite small, while Nadir was a normal-sized rabbit). We were both shocked and felt that this bunny was super special. We also found out that with his birthday, he would have been conceived very close to the day Nadir and Fiver died, if not on the same day.

We took him home with us and named him Ansel (but nicknamed him Mouse because he was so small when we got him). Ansel appears to be a perfect mix of Nadir and Fiver, both in appearance and personality, which raised so many questions in my mind: was he Nadir and Fiver? Was reincarnation real? Could two souls live in one body? Did they come back to find me?

Me and Mouse!

These questions led me to search books about reincarnation and I found this one. It’s an incredible story and, after trying to read different books to soothe my grief after Nadir and Fiver died, this one was the one that resonated with me most and helped me the most. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, anyone who has a fear of death, or just anyone who has questions about what happens after we die.

My husband, who doesn’t generally read much, also read this book and was fascinated by it!

The Body Never Lies

Dr. Alice Miller

My tattoo artist Anka Lavriv recommended a book about dealing with past trauma and how that trauma continues to live in the body. I don’t remember the name of it now, but when I researched it, I learned from reviewers that it discussed animal testing, something I’m vehemently against. I also read that, in one person’s opinion, the author had essentially plagiarized his work from Dr. Alice Miller.

So I researched the work of Dr. Alice Miller and stumbled upon this gem. I’m so happy I did! This work is incredible.

It’s essentially about doing away with the notion of “honor thy mother and thy father” and forgiveness as a means to heal. In my interpretation, this book is about acknowledging the trauma most of us went through in childhood and how we are under no obligation to love and honor our parents, especially if they abused us. We are completely within our rights to hold our parents accountable for their actions and make healthier choices for establishing a genuine relationship with them.

What struck me most about this work was that Dr. Miller says that many of us have a relationship with our parents that is built on our perception of our parents as they were in our childhood. Instead, we need to acknowledge that they are not the parents of our childhood, and we cannot expect them to give us the things that they did not give us in childhood in our current lives. We must acknowledge their shortcomings and instead find comfort in our ability as adults to give ourselves what they denied us. Only then can we have a healthy relationship with our parents, or disconnect with them if that’s what’s best for us.

This work was so liberating and gave me permission to feel all the negative feelings I’ve had towards my parents, to acknowledge their shortcomings, realize that I cannot expect them to validate me now or give me what I was denied in childhood, and in many ways, was unconsciously still seeking from them as a 30-year-old adult. I have the power to do that myself now, and in this way, I found I was able to have a better understanding of my parents and a more honest view of my relationship with them today.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Marie Kondo

This might seem like a frivolous book to put on here, but I really enjoyed reading about how Marie Kondo views our homes and the objects we surround ourselves with as having a profound influence on our state of happiness and well-being.

Her views encouraged me to see the things I choose to have in my home as allies on my journey instead of just decorative pieces. It also liberated me from keeping gifts that I did not truly love, and to not feel guilty about getting rid of things that did not bring me joy.

I also read Spark Joy, the sequel to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, although I didn’t find it as helpful (it mainly goes into more specifics about tidying). I enjoyed reading both books and loved Marie Kondo’s insight and philosophy about tidying. For anyone that feels burdened by their stuff, can’t get organized, or isn’t sure what they should keep, these books are for you!

A Year Without a Name

Cyrus Grace Dunham

I was really excited to read this book after learning that Cyrus got top surgery—an elective double mastectomy with nipple grafts—which is a procedure I’ve wanted for over a decade (I finally got it, but I didn’t get nipple grafts—you can read the story here!).

I initially wanted to read this book because I thought it would validate my feelings about my breasts, which it did, but I also found Cyrus’ journey in discovering his gender so incredible and meaningful.

I thought the book wouldn’t seem as “good” because I’m a fan of Cyrus’ sister Lena Dunham, who is also a writer, and I thought it would be hard not to compare Cyrus to Lena. However, I found that Cyrus innately had his own voice, and I didn’t think about Lena at all when reading the book (except when she was brought up in the story).

For anyone who wants to read about what it’s like to question your gender, your identity, your very self, this book is an incredible read. Cyrus’ journey also influenced my years-long process of coming to the decision to finally get my breasts removed, for which I am grateful.

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents

Lindsay C. Gibson

THIS BOOK! Everything in this book made so much sense. If you were raised by emotionally immature parents (clue: most of us were), this book is so validating.

It was also hard to read because it was hard for me to finally realize, at the age of 30, that I will never have the relationship with my parents that I would want to have in a perfect world. Why? Because my parents aren’t emotionally mature enough to have that relationship with me, and that sucks.

While it was liberating to realize through reading this book that I’m an adult and I can give myself the validation, support, and caring that my parents couldn’t give me when I was a child and don’t give me now, it’s also super sad to realize that your parents are trapped by their pasts and the emotionally immaturity that their parents passed on to them.

At the same time, the book pointed out that by accepting our parents’ limitations, we open the door for potentially having a more authentic relationship with them now, although the author notes that this may not happen and so we shouldn’t hope too much, but it is possible by meeting our parents where they are at.


The Dark Side of the Light Chasers

Debbie Ford

So I have some criticisms about this book, but overall, I thought it was a great read and left me with a really positive outlook on things. Debbie talks about accepting all parts of ourselves, the horrible things as well as the positive things, as an agent for genuine healing and transformation.

I loved so many of the concepts and exercises she presented in this work. For anyone who is stuck, struggling to change, or having a hard time viewing themselves with compassion, this book is for you!

What Am I Reading Now?

I read some fiction after reading all these intense books. One of my absolute favorite books is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, so I read that (I’ve been reading it probably annually since I was 16). Do you love reading books you’ve already read a million times?? Or, just me?

If you’ve had any insanely eye-opening and transformative books you’ve read, I wanna know! Let me know in the comments below or email me at!