How to not pick at my face?
April 24, 2008 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Hygiene Filter: Picking my face, fingernails, and more.

Well, this is slightly embarrassing, but I need to address this issue already, and no one else has been able to help me so far. I pick my zits, I peel my fingernail layers, and I pick scabs, especially when I am studying or reading or at the computer. I have had this dirty, unhygienic, and relatively gross habit since I can remember. I have a friend who will slap my hand any time I go to pick a zit, but when she's not around...well, I'm not even 30 yet and I am sure I will have a crater face in no time. I'm also sure this is partially related to my AD/HD (which I have been able to manage without meds). Suggestions for breaking this icky, grody, nasty, and rude habit?
posted by cachondeo45 to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Wear gloves.
Play with a pencil or a stress ball when you feel like picking.

Of course the picking is subconscious, but if you catch yourself doing it, you'll be able to stop doing it. This is how bad habits are taken out.
posted by PowerCat at 7:02 AM on April 24, 2008

Yeah, deterrents like gloves, alternatives like stress balls or even something pickable, like a stick. I had a professor who chewed on those rawhide sticks you can get for your dog.

Plus, invest in a manicure kit and maybe some facial products; set aside some time every day to do "proper" treatment for your nails and face; you'll start to take some pride in how they look and be more inclined to resist behavior that messes it up.

Tell a few friends what you're up to so you get positive feedback. My picking was limited to fingernails and cuticles; the manicure thing eventually worked for me.
posted by beagle at 7:36 AM on April 24, 2008

I asked something very similar a while ago. The hand cream idea worked best for me, and since I've started exercising more I don't have the same restlessness in me any more.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:45 AM on April 24, 2008

Best answer: I've had the same issue and mostly solved it over years (I still chew at parts of my fingers though).

I didn't have any sort of miracle cure. I just kept keeping my finger on the button. For example, I'd sit on my hands during movies; I'd gently slap my hand when I found it near my face (it's surprising how a tiny tap that doesn't hurt still reminds you); someone else here suggested hand cream, aloe-based worked for me because it has a bitter taste that reminds you...

But a lot of it was realizing that it's a mechanical thing and making sure mechanically to do things that mechanically prevent you from doing it. For example, when I'm standing up, I always stand with my hands palm-over-palm behind my back. It not only saves my fingers, it's good for your posture and looks really regal.

The ultimate key is awareness; you need to increase your awareness of what your body is doing and without getting angry at yourself, simply stop it when it starts to chew, pick, or whatever.

Start now, in two years you'll be much better. And thank the Lord you don't have anything worse. :-D
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:08 AM on April 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's tough because its so fun.

I managed to stop chewing on my nails last year after 20 years of chewing them.

It was tough and I tried dozens of times to stop over the years, but finally managed.

Once my nails got to a good length, I was able to turn my habit from biting my nails to 'protecting' my fingernails. The first two weeks took a lot of willpower, since then, the new habit has taken hold.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:11 AM on April 24, 2008

I started regularly getting manicures and I liked having my nails look nice. I still pick a little though. However, nicer nails make for better other picking. Damnit.
posted by k8t at 8:24 AM on April 24, 2008

I only have a problem with picking at my face & other scratching, but I find that keeping my fingernails really short prevents me from doing it. When they're too short to get anywhere, it makes scratching & picking too unsatisfying to bother with.
posted by tastybrains at 8:45 AM on April 24, 2008

Oh, and wash your hands as if OCD were your middle initials. It serves at least three roles:
    1. you'll notice the smell of "clean" when your hands get near your face so you can move 'em away.2. 70% of diseases are transmitted through your hands, so if you touch your face a lot you're dramatically increasing your chances of getting a cold or the flu. Washing your hands every time you enter from outside will reduce this a lot.3. It'll also cut down acne and that sort of thing, for the same reason.
Best of luck to you. You can do it, it'll just take a while.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:51 AM on April 24, 2008

Look up a bunch of pictures of MRSA infections. That might scare you out of it. Good luck!
posted by tiburon at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2008

Best answer: There is actually a clinical term for this: dermatillomania, or compulsive skin picking. It's defined as an impulse control disorder. (Not that you need to run around flailing going, "OMG, I have a disorder," but knowing exactly what it's called can help you find resources for support.) Here's the wiki page, which explains a little about it and related conditions, mentions some possible treatments, and has some external links. I don't know whether you feel like your own situation requires the help of a therapist, but I can say that cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective for managing specific problems/habits of this type, so if you do want to try it, it's got a good shot of working! The links are also worth a gander - one of them is a forum for folks with CSP, so maybe you can talk to people who've successfully managed the problem and get ideas.

Best of luck!
posted by bettafish at 9:07 AM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Recent research (the little that has been done) suggests that Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (skinpicking, nailbiting, cheekbiting, etc) are closely linked to trichotillomania (hairpulling). I have dealt with both in my life (picking more so as an adult) and find that the triggers/strategies/issues are the same. The bad news is, there is definitely no magic bullet or pill or solution for trich. I have found that regularly attending a local trich/skinpicking support group has helped immensely. My behaviors have reduced 90-some percent. Talking to others, regularly and in person, is like asking this question again and again and continuiung to get new ideas, suggestions, inspiration.

It's worked so well that at this point I'm realizing that I may no longer need the group so much. I've got a number of tools and tricks that work for me, I know which work in which situations, where my "danger zones" are, I've logged my behavior to incease awareness, etc.

You might check out TLC at (sorry not linked) and consider attending a TLC retreat or conference. Their annual conference is actually in Chicago this weekend, if you're anywhere nearby. Some interesting new research on diet and skinpicking in mice will be presented. There're more and more skinpickers attending TLC events these days. Or check out their website for list of local support groups.
posted by quinoa at 9:15 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have pretty much the exact same problem and have been diagnosed with mild OCD (CSP is in the spectrum), but my picking was very severe for years. I recently have been able to stop for the first time in 7 years. I did it by finding other ways of using my hands-- knitting, twirling a pen, doing a (I forget what it's called but those strings you do Cat's Cradle and Jacob's ladder on), doodling, compulsively doing sign language letters under my desk of words I'm reading, etc. That has been the best method for me, but other people may have different ways to stop.
posted by fructose at 11:30 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Keeping my nails very short makes it pretty much impossible to get enough leverage to give a loose bit of skin a good tug. Really takes the fun out of it. Worked for me!
posted by caek at 12:33 PM on April 24, 2008

Best answer: It is dermatillomania, and from my understanding, it is related to OCD. I have had this habit my whole life, and only in recent years began to piece together that my finger-picking, scab-pulling, callous-fussing, cheek and lip biting, and face-picking were all related and were part of something a bit bigger, rather than just unconnected idle habits. Like you, I've found it hard to address, because I have been a bit ashamed of it.

I've heard that sometimes meds used to treat OCD can help, though I don't wish to pursue that option myself. What has worked the best is what several other people have mentioned: forcing myself to be more aware, rather than "zoning out" and idly destroying my fingers again. Also, I try to keep moisturizer nearby and moisturize my hands or feet whenever I realize I'm starting to reach for them. Keeping them moist not only distracts me from the original urge, but allows me to touch my extremities in a way that is not damaging, and almost more importantly in the big picture, diminishes callouses and rough spots that are targets for me to pick. As far as the face stuff -- I try very hard to catch myself earlier in the process and remind myself that picking will only lead to more problems...which I will then pick at. It is a vicious cycle, and I am contributing to it with my behavior. If I can only leave it alone, it will actually get better. You're just sort of going to have to constantly be keeping an eye on yourself, mentally snapping the rubber band every time you realize that you've been doing it again.

I've also been advised to try to get regular manicures/pedicures and facials, as that may keep me slightly more at bay by creating a "nice" environment that I won't want to ruin with my fiddling. As you can see above, this does seem to help some people.

I have noticed that it's often more under control when I'm getting regular exercise. That helps my mood a lot in general, and also is helpful in keeping hidden anxiety at manageable levels. I think that low-grade anxiety is at the root of a lot of these behaviors, and it's not the noticeable Big Stress, but the very small, almost invisible tensions of the day that can trigger these habits, which operate as very small release valves.

My therapist also tried to get me to identify the situations and emotions that seem to trigger my fiddling, with the idea that I am sort of "drugging" myself with this soothing habit. I have a hard time sorting this out, because I definitely do do it when I'm anxious, but also when I'm calm and just sitting around not paying much attention. I feel like it's gone from purely an anxious behavior to also a mindless habit at this point. But I think it is still a worthwhile question to ask. What are you thinking/doing when you start to do this? Do you do it more often when you're stressed out? Are you trying to distract yourself from something? Are there some other, non-destructive soothing repetitive motions you could do instead, like knitting or dish-washing or tapping your hands?

I wish you luck. I still don't have it under control, but it comes in waves of better and worse. If it's any consolation, I picked at my face for decades, and I don't have a crater face. :) It certainly isn't good for you, but you may be able to recover unscathed.
posted by tigerbelly at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you don't have a crater face by now, why do you think you'll still get one? I wouldn't worry too much about that particular issue.
posted by serena15221 at 2:36 PM on April 24, 2008

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