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how to stop picking skin off fingers

By Edited Oct 4, 2016 2 6

Peeling skin from my fingers, in particular my thumbs, is something I have done since I was a kid. Interestingly rather than this be an issue unique to me I have discovered that there are many skin pickers who remove bits of skin from various areas of their bodies including, face, lips, chest, hands, feet, shoulders, etc. The common thread running through accounts I have found online appear to be that it helps people who pick skin from their bodies in a weird way to relax. It is also something that people perhaps do unconsciously and as a stress reliever when we are uncomfortable or anxious.

When I was researching about picking skin off my fingers online I discovered on the Wikipedia site that this is actually a medical condition with a "proper" name. It is known as dermatillomania, sometimes called compulsive skin picking (CSP). So rather than this be something that people should feel ashamed of and try to deal with alone, there are options to find and get professional help. As with many compulsive disorders talking with a therapist is one option to try to get to the root of the issue and develop coping strategies that do not involve picking skin from your body when you become stressed, anxious, worried or whatever triggers your current skin picking behaviour. On top of this there are many support groups that we can join online. These offer sufferers a chance to learn from other people's experiences and hear about the techniques they use to reduce their self destructive actions.

Peeling skin from my thumb is certainly not an attractive behaviour. In my own case it is possibly to do with anxiety however recently I have started to notice that this destructive behaviour is a form of procrastination. Rather than get on with things I know I want to do, instead I may think about things while picking my thumb. These days I am better at controlling myself than when I was a child. In those days I can remember picking so much that it was really painful. This was because I was literally picking from the tip of my thumb all the way down to the first joint. I would do this not on the same side as the nail but on the soft finger print side. On top of this I would pick fart too many layers of skin. Just thinking about it makes me cringe!

Strangely enough I have never had an desire to pick skin off of any of my other fingers. Apart from picking off rag nails (or hang nails) and the bits of skin that sometimes peel back from the cuticle. However picking these areas is simply as finger maintenance and there is no excessive or compulsive behaviour going on. I find it interesting that I arbitrarily chose my thumbs to be the areas where I would attack my own body.

People who bite their nails sometimes cover them with a nail biting treatment, for example, Control It. This is an attractive option as it both produces a bitter taste while the natural ingredients offer nutrition to help improve the condition of the nails. As for people who pick their own skin, while this may sometimes be because they want to eat it, a lot of the time it is simply the picking action that provides the stress release that they are looking for. So covering the affected area with a nasty tasting cream or lotion will not have much, if any, effect. Certainly however skin creams that help to repair the affected area may be well worth considering. Part of the possible trigger for picking skin off the body is becuase of a perceived deficiency of that part of the body. Certainly when people pick spots this is often because they want to improve the look of their skin. So it seems reasonable that picking other areas may have something to do with how we look. Perhaps though when the picking behaviour becomes habitual we do not realise just how disgusting and harmful our own behaviour has become.

Depending on how serious people's dermatillomania conditon is they may be able to deal with it themselves simply by becoming more aware of it. Every time I go to pick my thumbs or other people picking their fingers, if we just stop and think about what we are about to do. Perhaps by trying to work out what at that precise moment is making us want to peel off skin we may better be able to deal with the underlying causes. The skin picking is a reaction to some stimulus or how we feel so learning how to cope with our feelings more successfully could help with how we express ourselves. One suggestion that has helped some people who bite their fingers was to simply sit on their hands. So rather than idly biting while watching TV or reading a book they were consciously keeping their hands out of harms way. This helped them to see that rather than stress or anxiety causing their behaviour, it was more of a pacifying habit that they had fallen into. This will not work for everyone. There are many times when sitting on your hands is simply not feasible however the fact that some people have been able to give up their skin biting and picking by using this technique makes it worthy of note.

So rather than focussing on trying to stop biting, picking and peeling skin from fingers or other bodily areas it may be more beneficial to try to establish the root cause. Working out why we do something will help us come up with ideas to change our behaviour. Perhaps we could avoid certain situations that act as stimulus for CSP behaviour. If we can cut out the trigger then we may be able to stop the action. Or by establishing what makes us them want to pick skin away they may be able to work on coping strategies to deal with their emotions in a less self destructive way.

The internet is a great resource to discover how to stop picking skin off fingers.



Jul 5, 2010 2:32am
i dont know how to stop but i think it is ocd becuase i been pick my skin off all of my fingers for 35 yrs. i dont know why i start when i was 5
Jul 27, 2010 4:33am

try sitting on your hands. i did it as soon as i read this article, suppressing my anxieties and before you know it you are doing what you are supposed to do. i mean you'll be focused to your tasks at hand, instead of peeling away precious skin. i am 5 years younger than you, and i think i started this habit when i was 5 too.

all the best,

Jul 27, 2010 4:36am

great article! csp has been my dillema for a long time. i had a brief stoppage of this habit, but life sucks and **** happens so i did it again and again.

finally, i found an answer to this behavior thanks to your article. good luck and keep sitting on those hands!

all the best,

Aug 13, 2010 8:14pm
@mengks Sitting on your hands! I stopped peeling skin off my fingers completely at the start of the year. Sitting on your hands is kind of similar to what I did.

The key for me was to "do something". I think the picking was down to stress/boredom. So if I was in my apartment and I was about to start picking, I would get up and start tidying, maybe put some music on too and before I knew it, my mind was taken up with other things.

Hope it goes well for you.
Mar 23, 2012 8:25pm
OMG i name to my problem! your a life saver! ive had dermatillomania sense kindergarten, mom noticed at started because of school. Its always been my fingers, my thumbs,my index and my middle fingers. now at age 16 im starting to get nerve damage from the deepness of my picking. my writing at school looks like crap cuz i cant hold the penicil right anymore. also at my job i have to handle hot foods like toast and my nerves some times get litterally fried. I NEED HELP!
Oct 23, 2013 7:00am
hi..i used to bite my nails since childhood. On a serious advice by a friend i quit this habit but then i dont know why i started peeling of my thumb and index finger's skin as well as toes fingers skin. Currently i am 26 years old and now i want to get rid of this habit. I tried several times by having band aid on my thumb and index finger but it was useless. I seriously want to get rid of this habit. Please help me.
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