Horrifying Facts About Excoriation Disorder, Your Skin's Worst Nightmare

We've all picked at a scab or two before - no big deal, right? Well, what if you simply had to pick at your skin, and not just scabs or hair, but other parts of you - and you just couldn't stop? These are the symptoms of excoriation disorder, a sneaky condition that most people don't even know exists. You may be wondering what excoriation disorder is, and how does someone even get it? Well, fear not, because we're going to explore what excoriation disorder feels like, as well as some of the more terrifying facts about it.

This disorder is actually not all that uncommon, and it tends to be more annoying and stressful than life threatening. That being said, that doesn't make it any less serious. Excoriation disorder has destroyed lives and is often a symptom of a greater problem. What's more is it's incredibly difficult to stop once you start doing it.

Try not to feel too itchy as we explore what having excoriation disorder is like and how it happens. Some of the facts contained here are bound to make you squirm.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • It's More Than Just Picking At A Little Skin

    Pretty much everyone picks at their dry skin, sunburns, scabs, or zits - so, does that mean that everyone has a hint of excoriation disorder? Well, not exactly. While it is pretty common - with one in 20 people having it - in order for it to be considered a disorder, some specific conditions have to be met.

    First of all, the skin-picking has to be recurrent to the point that there are constantly lesions on your skin, or basically until you're ready to tear yourself open. You must have also tried to stop before and failed, proving that this is more than just a bad habit. The skin-picking must cause you distress, or impairment, in your daily life, as in it has to upset you and make your day-to-day activities more difficult.

    Lastly, the skin picking cannot be associated with another cause such as a dermatological issue, a medication that makes you itch, or another psychological disorder that messes with your sense of reasoning.

  • You Could Use Your Fingernails Or Tools

    When imagining skin picking, you probably think of someone using their fingernails to scratch away at their arms or face. And while that is common, people also use tools to remove skin and scabs, sometimes to the point of an open wound. 

    While using tools can be slightly more hygienic in some cases (your nails can be dirty!), it can also be more damaging and dangerous to the skin, as well as more painful. In some cases, people even use their teeth to bite off skin, especially around the cuticles of the fingers. Afterwards, many people eat the skin they have removed from their body.

  • Some People Destroy Their Bodies Because Of It

    Speaking of serious health issues, it's worth noting that most excoriation experiences are minor (though problematic), or are focused on one specific part of the body. But there are also extreme cases, and those are the ones where things get really nasty.

    Specifically for those who pick at their faces, the disfiguration their itching causes can be permanent. They can end up with patchy and discolored skin, a lumpy appearance, and chronic wounds all over. People who suffer from this may also try to hide their faces, or go to extreme lengths to hide the problem altogether, leading to secrecy, stress, and strained personal relationships.

    Some people also pick at their entire body, which means that their skin never really gets to heal entirely, and they're just about always suffering from an infection. In extreme cases such as these, surgery may be required in order to fix the damage, which can be too expensive for many people to afford.

  • You'll Be Left With Lumpy Scars

    One of the biggest problems with excoriation disorder is that it leaves a very specific type of scar. When you pick off bits of your skin, it leaves open lesions and sores - some that are circular and some that are longer and skinnier. These lesions may heal, but if the person picking their skin keeps coming back to them, then the wound never fully heals and scars begin to develop.

    But these aren't just any scars - these scars will begin to protrude from the skin, and are called nodules. These nodules may also have a layer of crust on them, to show where they are continually being irritated, and may turn a different color than the rest of the skin.

    These scars can develop anywhere on the body, from the face to the hands to the cuticles of fingers. Either way, the scars are definitely noticeable and can be very difficult to get rid of.

  • You'll Probably Get Infections
    Photo: Splintercellguy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    You'll Probably Get Infections

    As you might guess, picking at your skin is a great way to irritate your body. In fact, your fingernails are great harborers of bacteria that can be harmful if it gets into your body, so skin pickers often have to contend with infections. This is especially true for those who bite their skin off, because the human mouth is full of germs that can irritate and infect a wound.

    The unfortunate part of this is that infected wounds often scar more easily, meaning that nodules are more likely to form. Infected wounds also take way longer to heal which means more scab-picking time, potentially making the disorder even worse.

    To top it all off, infections can lead to fevers in extreme cases, and can cause other health problems if left untreated, so this is one way that excoriation disorder can really mess with your health.

  • It Tends To Be Associated With OCD

    Just because this disorder cannot be caused by another psychological condition, that doesn't mean it doesn't often go hand-in-hand with one. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves the repetition of an activity, thought, or behavior over and over... and over again without being able to stop.

    That might mean having certain rituals that must be completed upon leaving the house, needing items to be arranged in a certain way, or that things simply must be really clean. Just like OCD, excoriation disorder involves a repeated behavior - picking at your own skin.

    People who happen to have OCD may be more susceptible to Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior, of BFRB. Excoriation disorder is more well-known as a type of BFRB, so it stands to reason that the two tend to go together. In some cases, excoriation disorder is even classified as a type of OCD.