Every expert will tell you that picking at your skin is a habit that you should stop, yet most people don’t necessarily see the harm in it. Well, I can assure you that damage is occurring and for some, it can show up later in life in a very visible way.
Confessions of a skin picker
I am a recovered skin picker, so I am very compassionate to those who struggle with this. I have dealt with my own acne, particularly adult hormonal cystic acne, and couldn’t keep my hands off of my face. It’s actually why I became an esthetician. When I found out there was a profession where I could get paid to pick at people’s skin, I knew I had found my calling! No worries, I was a responsible picker with other’s skin but not with my own, sadly. I finally realized that messing with cystic acne was a no-win situation and gave up my bad habit.
There are four types of skin pickers:
You pick at your skin only when there is a blemish that may need attention. When there are no blemishes, you keep your hands off of your face.
You pick at your skin when you feel anything that is raised from the skin’s surface or anything with a rough texture. (This includes scratching at flaky skin.)
You pick at your skin over and over again, even when nothing is present. Your fingers are frequently on your face searching for something to scratch, pick at and mess with. You pick so aggressively to the point of make your skin bleed and scab.
“There are four types of skin pickers: mild, moderate, advanced and severe pickers.”
Your fingers are constantly on your face scratching, picking and messing with anything and everything—even healthy skin. You pick at scabs and never give them the chance to heal. You have no control. Your skin picking causes a lot of emotional distress and problems with work, social or other daily activities. You may have a condition called Dermatillomania, which is classified as an impulse control disorder. You should seek help with a counselor or medical professional for treatment options.
The later-in-life effects of picking at your skin
When I see someone who has been a chronic skin picker for years, it’s so obvious to me. Case in point, my client in the picture above who I’ll call Eve. She first came to me with visible scabs on her forehead, cheeks and chin, along with deeply pigmented, spotty and uneven-looking skin. That combination made it obvious to me what had happened, and after a thorough consultation, my assumptions were correct. Eve had acne in her younger years which triggered the desire and need to pick at her blemishes. As she got into her 30s, her breakouts were few and far between, but her picking habit had stuck. In her 40s, when pigment cells rise to the surface, the trauma and subsequent damage from messing with her skin started showing up in the form of discoloration.
Three common causes of skin discoloration:
Skin discoloration from acne
If you’re someone who gets, or has gotten, blemishes, you’re all too familiar with the red and dark mark it leaves behind—even if you never squeezed it. This is caused by melanin cells triggering an inflammation response indicating an injury (an infection) in the skin. However, if you happen to pick at it, the bleeding and scabbing will result in a longer-lasting dark scar. Eventually, the pigment cells will settle down especially when expedited by a fading product like Post-Breakout Fading Gel. When left on its own, a scar can take 1-4 months to disappear. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and is all too common whenever a blemish appears. Read how to fade your acne scars fast.
Skin discoloration from aging
As part of the natural aging process for all skin types (even for those who never had acne), pigment cells from past sun damage will rise to the surface and can show in the form of brown spots starting in your 30s. Your skin’s genetic makeup (not necessarily how much sun damage you have had) will determine how much of it will visibly show. Example: Those prone to freckles have far more active melanin cells in their skin and will naturally develop more visible hyperpigmentation.
Skin discoloration from acne, picking + aging
“For those who have caused constant trauma to their skin due to chronic picking, they can have increased melanin activity that looks very spotty.”
For those who have caused constant trauma to their skin due to chronic picking, they can have increased melanin activity that looks very spotty. This was evident with my client, Eve. I have seen so many people like this through the years, and they never even realize that it’s from picking at their skin. How do you get rid of it? The same way you get rid of any discoloration. Read how to get rid of brown spots.
How to stop picking at your skin
You must first have the desire to get better. For me, I gave it up as a New Year’s resolution. I was ruining my skin by picking at my cysts, so I finally had enough and stopped. (Of course, using a topical treatment for cystic acne helped prevent them in the first place so I was less likely to pick.)
- Sign a no picking skin contract
- Keep your hands busy with a no picking twisty toy
- Read these other tips to stop skin picking
For some people, it’s just not that easy. I gently addressed the skin picking with Eve, and she was fully aware of what she was doing to her face. However, giving up skin picking proved to be challenging. I did a few skin peels to help fade the discoloration, and while we did get nice improvement, her continuous picking was working against the goals we were trying to achieve for her skin.
I am fully empathetic to skin pickers, as I have been in those shoes. My intention of this post is to create an awareness for this condition and share an unintended result that might show up years later.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”