Matt Traube, MFT

Healthy Mind, Healthy Skin

Is Skin Picking the Solution or the Problem?

Resisting the urge to eliminate skin imperfections can be challenging.

Posted Jan 01, 2017

Clearing pores, popping pimples, removing scabs or skin irregularities can feel like an effective solution to make skin imperfections vanish. The mere sight of a skin imperfection can cause an overwhelming urge to take instant action to remove it. What if you suffer from a skin picking problem? Is picking your skin to remove unhealthy bacteria, bumps or scabs considered helpful or harmful?

This is a complicated scenario for many people who have trouble resisting the urge to pick their skin. The thought of having oil, dead skin, bacteria, dirt or debris clogging pores or a scab spoiling smooth skin, can feel unbearable. The idea of skin picking can feel blissful when the behavior is intended to produce a positive outcome. 

Learning how to manage the urge to pick skin is not easy. As a therapist who specializes in skin picking, I am routinely asking people to break a habit that has steadily developed over a long period of time. Managing the behavior is extremely difficult because it generates instant feelings of relief and gratification. Clear strategies are needed to challenge these feelings. 

It’s no secret that people enjoy the habit. Feeling like you have justification to continue the behavior, can be a rationalization that permits the behavior to control you for many years to come. This is where clarifying when it’s appropriate to remove a scab, unclog a pore or pop a pimple is important. 

If skin picking is a problem, at first, I suggest minimizing time poking, prodding or removing any skin irregularities. The habit can start from a scab, pimple, mosquito bite, or skin imperfection. Over time, it can gradually take over your life.

Scabs can easily turn into an impossible never ending cycle. Once a scab is formed from skin picking, removing it to create smooth skin comes next. The outcome is another scab.  Once again, people feel compelled to remove the scab. Instead of curing the problem, the chances of scarring significantly increase.          

Pimples are a tricky area, because in fact, popping them at the right time can speed up the healing process. However, if you suffer from a skin picking problem, the benefit gained from popping the pimple is usually outweighed by the inevitable continuation of the skin picking habit. 

According to acne.org, it’s generally best to allow the body to heal the pimple over time to avoid potential scarring. Although that feels like an agonizing suggestion, it can be an opportunity to practice self-control and learn how to better manage skin picking habits. It also can decrease the chances of scarring which usually will contribute to the need to pick.    

Skin picking is never the cure to the problem when you suffer from an uncontrollable skin picking habit. Pimples, scabs, and skin irregularities are tormenters for those that suffer from the urge to pick. They either encourage you to want to pick more or present an opportunity to practice control over the compulsive urges. Be careful not to trick yourself into believing skin picking is ever the solution.