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Lesser Known Effects of Dermatillomania

Many people like to downplay the severity of Dermatillomania.

“Oh, I pick at my skin too” is a common refrain skin pickers hear when they open up about their disorder.  

What people fail to realize is that the negative consequences of dermatillomania far transcend the split second of pain associated with popping at a pimple or scratching or picking at the skin.

In case you needed evidence that dermatillomania (also known as skin-picking disorder) is a serious, life-pervasive condition (the lack of awareness around this disorder suggests that people do need this wake-up call), check out this scary list of the lesser known costs of having dermatillomania.

The following content may be troubling to some readers. People experience dermatillomania in differently ways, and a person can still have dermatillomania without experiencing any of the effects mentioned below.

Skin Infections:

A wound that comes about as a result of picking can becomes infected and lead to more severe health conditions down the line such as staph infections, contraction of MRSA and other dangerous bacteria or fungi, rashes, painful blisters, sepsis, general sickness, etc.

Pulled Tendons/Pinched Nerves/ Arthritis:

Dermatillomania can cause damage to the finger muscles. Just ask Picking Me Foundation Founder and CEO Lauren McKeaney.

“I have pinched nerves in my fingers, largely around my knuckles [because of my picking],” McKeaney said. “I didn’t really realize I had been pushing them in ways they weren’t meant to go and doing it for extended periods of time over and over again. It built up and pinched certain nerves so now when I’m driving and talking on the phone or anything where my hands are up in the air my fingers go numb because the blood isn’t able to get to the tip of my fingers.”

“I’ve damaged two fingers so severely I wasn’t able to hold a pencil properly,” McKeaney continued. “I was coming into work and I was at a table with a bunch of coworkers. I knew I could hide the fact that I couldn’t hold a pencil at that moment and get away with it and move on with my day. But I felt so small and so ashamed and unworthy of being at that table with them because I couldn’t hold a pencil because I picked my skin for hours.”

Blood Loss:

Naturally, excessive picking can lead to substantive blood loss. Effects of blood loss can include confusion, dizziness, weakness, cool or clammy skin, paleness, trouble breathing, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Muscle Fatigue:

This is a symptom that you wouldn’t readily associate with dermatillomania, yet muscle fatigue is an all too real occurrence for many skin-picking sufferers.

“In episodes where I’ve been stuck in a mirror for hours hunched over a countertop, I will often not feel the pain my elbows are experiencing as they are developing a bruise until my back gives out,” McKeaney said. “My back is giving out to alert me that it’s tired of being hunched over in that position. My brain didn’t even register that my body was feeling that because at the moment my fingers and my action in the mirror was more important.”


According to, an abscess is an inflamed, tender, pus-filled mass generally surrounded by a pink to deep red colored area that is painful to the touch. It looks like an infected white-head pimple. An abscess can rupture and/or spread to skin tissue or into the bloodstream causing sickness.  

Sleep Loss:

Skin picking time cuts into sleep time leaving sufferers feeling sleep deprived and drained of energy. As a result, performance at work and in everyday activities regresses causing an overall reduction in quality of life.

“This disorder takes up a lot of your time,” McKeaney said. “Not only the actions that are involved in the disorder, but a lot of the care and the aftermath of the disorder are quite time consuming. Lack of time, lack of sleep, not a proper sleep schedule. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night triggered by something, then engage in the behavior for hours and then go back to sleep.”

Iron Deficiency:

Known as anemia in medical circles, iron deficiency can come about as a result of losing iron-rich blood through picking. Anemia leads to dizziness, full-body fatigue, paleness, cold body temperature or chills, and lightheadedness.


Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that causes infection throughout the body. This strain of bacterium has developed resistance to many common antibiotics and is therefore very dangerous.

“In 2014, I was hospitalized from picking an area into an abscess for the sixth time except on this visit I contracted the life-taking bacterium MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and almost lost my right leg,” McKeaney said. “After having eight inches of my inner thigh removed, a vacuum placed inside that I wore like a purse 24/7, and put on a walker and into months of physical therapy, I could no longer silently suffer.”

Tissue Damage:

A major distinction between casual skin picking and dermatillomania is the latter causes tissue damage. Most people don’t realize that sometimes tissue damage is so severe that sufferers can’t grow hair on damaged areas of their bodies anymore.               

General Sickness: 

Dermatillomania can make you sick.

“Sometimes I could feel the pulse of my body where the picked area was,” McKeaney said. “It felt hot and swollen, but what was really bothering me is that I could feel my pulse on the inside. A lot of times I’d have a fever from the different areas I’d pick from my face. I had swollen glands, sore throat, and coughed up mucus  because my body was trying to drain the infection I was experiencing, but my fingers were having a tough time letting it do its job.” 


A potentially life-threatening bacterial infection characterized by swollen and red areas of the skin that feel warm and tender to the touch. It usually originates in the lower limbs.