Skin Picking In Children: Signs, Causes, Effects, And Treatment

Skin Picking In Children Signs, Causes, Effects, And Treatment

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Skin picking disorder is characterized by repeated picking of one’s skin anywhere on the body. While some people indulge in skin picking occasionally, others develop a habit, leading to skin picking disorder, which can further result in skin lesions and significantly disrupt one’s life (1).

Also known as excoriation, dermatillomania, or body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), compulsive skin picking is not just a bad habit but is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Although skin picking is more common in teenagers, children below ten years indulge in it too (2).

Read this post to learn more about the signs, causes, manifestations, and treatments for compulsive skin picking in children.

Signs Of Skin Picking Disorder

As per the criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the following signs and symptoms could confirm a diagnosis of skin picking disorder in children (3).

  • Recurrent skin picking resulting in lesions
  • Repeated attempts at changing the behavior
  • Skin picking that causes significant stress or impairment to one’s daily life
  • Skin picking that is not associated with the effects of a medication or medical condition such as scabies
  • Symptoms are not linked to a psychiatric condition

Causes Of Skin Picking In Children

The exact cause of skin picking disorder in children is not known. However, research suggests that skin picking is more prevalent in individuals with OCD, and their immediate family may be genetically predisposed to this condition (1).

Major depression and anxiety disorders are the other most common psychiatric disorders that coexist with skin picking. Besides, anemia, uremia, or liver diseases may also cause compulsive skin picking.

In some cases, certain stressful events or situations may trigger skin-picking episodes in children. In contrast, a few children might indulge in skin picking as they associate it with feelings of relief or pleasure (4).

Manifestations Of Skin Picking Disorder

How and where people pick their skin may differ from person to person. The face, head, cuticles, back, arms, legs, hands, and feet are the most common areas people pick their skin. Some children might pick their skin with their nails and fingers, while others might use scissors and tweezers or resort to biting (5).

Effects Of Skin Picking Disorder

The effects of compulsive skin picking in children can range from mild to extreme. Some children might pick the skin from scabs or a rash, which can worsen the wound and cause bleeding, bruising, and secondary infections. In severe cases, the itching may lead to wounds or sores that warrant hospitalization or even surgical correction (5).

Compulsive skin picking can also lead to alteration to one’s appearance and cause a feeling of shame. Teens with permanently disfigured skin may resort to wearing clothes that cover their wounds or using makeup to hide their scars. In some extreme cases, they may isolate themselves and avoid social situations (4).

Treatments For Skin Picking Disorder In Children

The treatment for skin picking disorder depends on the child’s motivation and readiness to address the problem. One of more of the following treatments could be followed (2).

  1. Placing barriers
  • Using a band-aid can help prevent the child from picking the skin to an extent. You could also use a paint-on liquid bandage, which can help distract the child when they feel the urge to pick their skin.
  • Although this approach may not help eliminate the habit, it can prevent the child from acting impulsively.
  1. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • It is the most successful treatment for skin picking.
  • It mainly focuses on teaching the child more effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
  • It helps children find similar but less damaging behaviors to focus on.
  1. NAC (N-acetyl-cystine)
  • It is an over-the-counter ointment that can be effective on some children.
  • It is a safe option as it is devoid of side effects.
  1. Antidepressants
  • If the skin picking habit is triggered by anxiety and depression, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant, can effectively help manage the condition.
  1. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • This therapy is a combination of CBT and mindfulness techniques.
  • It focuses on accepting emotions instead of suppressing them or resorting to coping mechanisms such as skin picking.
  • It helps in training the child to accept that they may experience negative emotions, and when they do, they need not succumb to self-destructive habits.

Skin picking is a habit that needs to be addressed early. It is easier to treat skin picking disorder in children when they are aware of the issue and are willing to resolve it. You could consider consulting your healthcare provider if you suspect your child has a skin picking disorder.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Excoriation Disorder (Skin Picking Or Dermatillomania).
  2. What Is Excoriation, or Skin-Picking?
  3. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet].
  4. Compulsive skin picking.
  5. What is Skin Picking Disorder?

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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more