Is Picking at Your Skin a Symptom of Anxiety? Excoriation

Medically Reviewed on 11/19/2021
is picking at your skin a symptom of anxiety
Skin picking may be triggered by anxiety as a way to relieve stress. When it becomes frequent and intense, it can become a mental health disorder

Skin picking may be triggered by anxiety as a way to relieve stress. When it becomes frequent and intense, however, it can become a condition called skin picking disorder or excoriation.

People with skin picking disorder do it out of habit and may struggle to control the impulse. The disorder is associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at higher risk of developing skin picking disorder.

What is skin picking?

Skin picking is a type of body-focused repetitive behavior in which a person constantly at their own skin to the point that it bleeds or forms ulcers and scars

People with the disorder may pick at small imperfections in the nails, acne, or small scabs, which can cause tissue damage, discoloration, and scarring. Some may even become embarrassed about this behavior and avoid social settings where these perceived imperfections may be noticed by other people.

Skin picking may be a result of occasional picking at a rash or skin injury, which causes further skin injury and eventually turns into a continuous cycle. It can also start as an absent-minded coping mechanism for stress that eventually becomes a habit.

What are the symptoms of skin picking?

Signs and symptoms of skin picking may include:

  • Picking at scabs, scars, or wounds or healthy skin regularly, which can in turn lead to cuts, sores, bleeding, scars, or infections that may require medical attention.
  • Spending a lot of time picking, which may disrupt the person’s social or professional life
  • Avoiding public or social settings due to self-consciousness about the skin’s appearance

Skin picking may increase exponentially during times of stress, anxiety, or depression

How do you cure skin picking?

Skin picking may be related to mental health issues, and treatment depends on the underlying causes involved.


  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This therapy helps the affected person recognize triggers and learn methods of controlling skin picking behavior. The goal is to retrain the brain to develop new behavioral patterns.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure and response therapy involves helping the person confront their fears by exposing them to their triggers and then teaching them new ways to deal with them
  • Habit reversal training: Habit reversal training is a type of behavioral therapy where unhealthy habits are replaced with healthy habits. For example, the therapist may provide the person with a ball to squeeze instead of picking the skin.


The FDA has not approved any drugs for skin picking. However, the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, may be effective in treating skin picking because it is used to reduce symptoms of panic disorders and depression

Anticonvulsants (such as lamotrigine) or antipsychotics (such as risperidone) have also been prescribed to treat skin picking.


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Medically Reviewed on 11/19/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

Shaw G. Skin Picking Disorder (Excoriation). WebMD.

Zakhary L. Picking your skin? Learn four tips to break the habit. Harvard Health Publishing.

Mental Health America. Excoriation Disorder (Skin Picking or Dermatillomania).