Excoriation of the skin is a somewhat technical term for damage that is done by excessive picking or scratching of the skin’s surface. This is an actual behavioral disorder and one that can be very dangerous, as it leads to sores, open skin, scarring, and the potential for infection.

Consider a few basic facts about what causes this, how to determine if you or someone else may have this disorder, and how to get proper treatment.

What causes skin picking?

Usually cases of excoriation of the skin start when a person is undergoing a time of stress. They may start to pick at their skin as a way of distracting themselves and then continue with this habit indefinitely. In other cases it may begin simply from picking at a scab or rash as it develops, and the person may enjoy the sensation or find that it calms them and they continue with the habit indefinitely.

How Much Picking is Too Much?

Everyone picks at their skin from time to time and sometimes a scab or dry spot can be itchy and irritating. A small bit of scratching or picking on occasion is usually no cause for alarm. It’s also not unusual for a person to develop the nervous habit of picking at a certain spot when feeling a bit tense, for instance, a person might occasionally rub the outside of their middle fingernail with their thumb without even realizing it.

This type of habit becomes dangerous when a person actually hurts themselves and causes open sores on their skin. They may dig holes in their skin that are so deep that they’re prone to infection or they may pick at moles and scars and in turn, may even need surgery to close up these wounds.

In some cases a person may also become so obsessed with their skin and this habit that it actually interferes with their social life; they may be self-conscious about their skin or the scars caused by picking so that they refuse to join a gym or visit the beach, or become uncomfortable in social situations.

How To Treat Excoriation Effectively

Excoriation treatment involves treating any open wounds so that infection doesn’t set in and at the same time, treating the impulses that cause a person to pick at their skin incessantly. An immediate solution is to cover areas of skin that are often the target of picking, for example, if a person picks at a certain fingernail they may cover it with a bandage. If they tend to pick at a mole on their arm, surgical removal of the mole can help.

Wearing gloves at night or when especially stressed and tense can also keep the urge to pick under control. Behavioral therapy can also help to calm the compulsion to pick at one’s skin. Because this condition is often associated with a nervous disorder, a therapist can work with a patient to determine why they feel the need to hurt themselves when tense and can offer other practical solutions.

For instance, a therapist may suggest regular physical exercise to help calm their nerves and hobbies that can keep the hands busy such as knitting or sewing or just keeping a stress ball handing to squeeze. In extreme cases, a patient may benefit from group therapy or anti-anxiety medications, or a combination of both.

If you think you or someone you know has excoriation of the skin, talk to a doctor or therapist. There are treatment options available and these can help to calm the nerves and in turn, protect your skin from long-term damage.