January 8, 2007 10:41 PM   Subscribe

I compulsively eat bits of myself when I shed them. How bad is this for me?

I will eat any skin, nail, earwax, booger, eye goop, scab, toe cheese, or nose hair that comes free. If I have a blister or callous that peels, I chew and swallow it. When I have athlete's foot, at least some of the skin that's shed will end up in my mouth. I don't chew my nails, but if I split or tear some I'll chew it up. Hangnails too.

I'm a 30ish white straight American male. I've been doing this for as long as I remember. Honestly it didn't even seem strange to me until I began to worry about someone seeing me doing it.

Nothing sexual about it, specifically, I'm not interested in semen, urine, or feces.

Yes, I know this is totally gross. Especially seeing it written out. Yuck.

Anyway, is this totally abnormal, and am I facing any major health risks? I'm willing to be 'scared straight' if this is bad for me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to the effects on your health, but I imagine this compulsion of yours is some sort of evolutionary defense mechanism designed to protect you from predators. By making you kinda unappetizing.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:37 PM on January 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I'd imagine that if the bits of yourself you shed do contain harmful fungi, bacteria, or other germies, then the fact that you've been doing this forever means you've probably strengthened your immune system against them. (IANAD)
posted by pmbuko at 11:59 PM on January 8, 2007

The athletes foot infection may cause fungal infection to spread in places that could be much more uncomfortable than your feet. The rest? Meh. Kids have been doing it forever. IAND.
posted by IronLizard at 12:44 AM on January 9, 2007

eh me too. cuticle bits, dandruff. i admit it. some of what you've named is beyond me, but whatever. i really don't give a shit. at least i can chalk it up to being a nail biter and a stuff-under the-nail swallower at the outset.

you can probably stop, you know. it's likely a little OCD.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:06 AM on January 9, 2007

You, my friend, are a dermophage. Dermophagia ("skin consumption") has been linked to compulsive skin picking (CSP, or dermatillomania), which is considered a form of OCD. Of course, only a professional could ascertain whether your condition is truly a disorder or is potentially harmful. (For instance, one source indicates that kitties aren't the household creatures that can develop hairballs.)

See also pica^. Further information sources and support groups listed in both links.
posted by rob511 at 1:15 AM on January 9, 2007

If you smoke, your toenails may contain carcinogens, something to be aware of.
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:21 AM on January 9, 2007

If you pick pimples, ingrown hairs, cuticles, and so on, there is good information (on a terribly designed website) here. Its focus is on how to stop (which is not your question) but they also have an active discussion board.
posted by Houstonian at 3:18 AM on January 9, 2007

Could be a form of OCD. What happens if you don't allow yourself to do it? If you fear something bad will happen then I would suggest speaking with a psychologist. Might be able to help with the habit.
posted by tundro at 5:35 AM on January 9, 2007

I have read that eating boogers is good for the immune system. Otherwise you're mostly recycling protein. I don't think there's too much of a risk of athlete's foot or similar fungi taking hold in your mouth, the environment is pretty much wrong for them.

I say if it makes you happy, go for it. Just be subtle around other people!
posted by tomble at 5:35 AM on January 9, 2007

There goes my lunch.

Don't see any harm to it.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:28 AM on January 9, 2007

I have a mild form of Trichotillomania that causes me to do this to my eyelashes, been doing it all my life and was very thankful to finally find a name for it.
posted by ktrey at 6:40 AM on January 9, 2007

Oh, I totally bite my nails and nibble my cuticles. It seems intuitive (to me anyway) that you might have an exaggerated form of whatever compulsion it is that makes people bite their nails (which is relatively common) -- so I'd say no, you're probably not abnormal. But then again I have absolutely no academic knowledge on these things, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
posted by AV at 7:27 AM on January 9, 2007

The rest is probably fine—but you should not eat toe- and fingernails. That's a good way to get appendicitis or an internal tear somewhere.

You've apparently survived this far doing that, but...still not a good idea.
posted by limeonaire at 7:35 AM on January 9, 2007

And ditto Houstonian—the Stop Picking On Me! site is great.

(And FYI, I'm a compulsive skin picker, and have been since I was a few months old, so...yeah. Although I've been able to control it a lot better in recent years.)
posted by limeonaire at 7:38 AM on January 9, 2007

It's a form of Pica.

It can be a sign of various nutritional deficiencies or other problems. I would see a doctor about it, just to get a full physical and make sure everything is okay under the hood.
posted by empath at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2007

you know what's funny, is the fact that all of these behaviours are sort of gross, but i have a clear hierarchy that i was unaware of until your description of your habits violated the hell out of it.

cuticles- fine. delicious and entertaining.
blisters and calluses from hands- acceptable.
nails- grosser, but ok. i do it sometimes.
boogers- gross for adults, understandable for kids, mmm, salty. i won't hold it against that quarterback.
nose hairs- a necessary evil if you allow boogers. not worth looking for, but not problematic.
eye gunk- has no taste, i see no point, but, ok.
earwax- gross, that stuff is bitter.
scab- bordeline grossing me out. too crunchy.
anything off your feet- eeeeew gross gross gross. toe cheese? oh HELL no.

but really, none of this is rational at all. my feet are about as clean as my hands, so i dunno why i'd eat a fingernail but never a toenail. all i can say is, once you pass eating your cuticles, you're into fairly widespread "gross" territory- most people who see you eat any other part of yourself will disapprove. but if it hasn't hurt you yet it probably won't, and if my nailbiting habit is any indication, you'll never be able to stop for good. my advice: just do it in private, that's why god invented bathrooms.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:59 PM on January 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to be like you, but, for lack of a better term, I grew out of it. I never suffered any serious consequences (occasional cuticle infections from picking or chewing on them). The only thing you might want to consider if you're going to be picking and prodding is that your hands are a vector for disease. If you're digging deep in that nostril you'd better have washed your hands recently 'cause your finger is introducing all manner of bacteria to the soft, moist breeding ground in your nose. Same goes for your eyes and ears.I never had a problem with athlete's foot spreading to unusual areas, but you should be careful. Maybe switch your compulsive nibbling for compulsive hand-washing? You can never be too clean after all...
posted by lekvar at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2007

wisdom from youtube comments about the nosepicking quarterback:

everybody picks boogers PRIVATE AND PUBLIC God knows it

Normal AND God is at the very least looking the other way if not picking right along with you.
posted by felix grundy at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2007

Limonaire? Wouldn't stomach acid take care of the fingernails? I find it hard to believe that we're that delicate. And, um, my kids and I would have had to take a couple of trips to the hospital by now.

Now toenails! Those are scary.
posted by katier at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2007

katier: I don't know, actually. That's why I play it safe and don't eat fingernails...
posted by limeonaire at 10:59 AM on January 12, 2007

btw, I don't know why, but I just love this damn thread. That might be even a more unhealthy sign than cuticle nibbling.
posted by katier at 1:27 PM on January 12, 2007

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