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I Can’t Stop Scratching Up My Face

From a teen in the U.S.: I have a “habit” of picking at my face. I’ve tried to stop, but the thing is I don’t even realize when I’m doing it. I don’t know why I do it or how it even started.

Every time I encounter a mirror, I get the urge to dig my nails and scratch out all the flaws visible on my face. I’ll just be changing in the bathroom and the next thing I know blood is running down my face. Of course, then I end up with awfully nasty scars. My grandmother has no qualms about pointing out how ugly they are, and I feel like that makes things worse. She tells me to stop and I want to, but I really can’t. I’ve broken bad habits before and this is a lot tougher to tackle because of the fact that I don’t know when I’m doing it. It’s like I go into a trance. Whatever good sense I have is gone. I’ve spent an hour locked in the bathroom solely picking at my face.

It’s unsettling to me that I can’t stop. I try really hard to keep my hands busy with little trinkets or keeping them in pockets and even putting gloves on, but I always end up directly in front of the mirror with blood on my face and under my fingernails. Keeping my nails trimmed helps, but I can manage to get the right angle and still do some damage, although much much less than it would have been originally.

Apologies if this is a bit messy, I”m just not sure what to do about it.

A: I’m so glad you wrote. It takes courage to confront a problem when you feel so much shame about it.

I want you to know you are not alone. I’ve heard similar stories many times before. Everyone who falls into skin-picking as a habit for “self-improvement” wants to stop and feels that they can’t. But there is treatment and you can learn to control the urge.

Skin picking is generally a form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Dr. Sabine Wilhelm and her team at the Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) Clinic & Research Unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School have dedicated years of research in how best to treat it. A combination of medication, cognitive behavior therapy and support will help you do what you can’t do for yourself. I suggest you go to their website to learn information and to use their therapist locator to find a therapist who specializes in the problem.

Please follow through. The longer you delay getting treatment, the more damaged your skin will be — and the more your self-esteem will suffer. You deserve the good help and support that a therapist can provide.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie



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