As an anxious child, I always had my fingers in my mouth. I’d bite my nails and peel my cuticles until I bled. My parents tried different strategies to help me, but nothing worked. And then I hit puberty and developed a new obsession: my skin. Picking at my breakouts felt like stress relief. I’d head to the mirror after a long day of school to see what I could find and “fix.” It didn’t seem like a big deal at first—I was simply cleaning out my pores, after all—and besides, most of my friends picked their pimples too.

But after I was assaulted in my early teens, skin picking became a coping mechanism, a way I could feel a sense of control over my body. I started grazing (when you “scan” your skin with your fingertips, looking for bumps) my entire body throughout the day. Whatever I found, I picked. At home, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and dig into my skin, scraping off scabs and squeezing zits until I was spotted with inflamed and bloody welts. Physically, I looked like a plucked chicken, but mentally, I felt a release, something akin to a pure dopamine hit.

Reply to @head.hypocrite ignore the foundation mark on my hand🤦🏼‍♀️😅 #dermatillomania #skinpicking #skinpickingdisorder #excoriation

Eventually, sometimes up to an hour later, I’d snap out of my trance and assess the damage. And I’d feel flooded with guilt, frustration, and shame. Nobody knew what I was doing—this was my lonely secret. I hid the marks with makeup and clothes. If anyone saw, I told them I had skin allergies. If only my acne went away, I would think, I could stop. But even when my skin did look clear, the picking didn’t end, it just shifted. Dry flakes on my lips, ingrown hairs on my legs—anything was a target.

Finally, after seven years of picking, I nervously opened up to my doctor. That’s when I learned I didn’t have a “bad habit”—I have dermatillomania, a compulsive skin-picking disorder that’s related to OCD and often triggered by anxiety or trauma. What was even more shocking was the fact that I was far from alone (3 percent of people in the U.S. have been formally diagnosed with dermatillomania, while countless other cases exist in secrecy).

A post shared by Kim | Skin picking help & support 💛 (@kimonskin)

My doctor suggested antidepressants, but they did nothing to curb my picking. Dermatillomania isn’t just a surface-level issue—it’s also a psychological one, and meds didn’t help me understand the source of my picking. So even though I now knew there were others just like me out there, I was back to feeling alone.

My true road to healing started when I began working with a therapist to understand my triggers and to learn healthy coping techniques, like self-care and self-acceptance. Instead of sulking after picking, I’d turn on a funny show and apply my favorite skincare products. I deleted my old social media accounts and started fresh with @KimOnSkin, following skin-positive creators who helped me learn to love myself.

FYI: Picking happens. Here’s how I self-soothe:

After an episode, I’ll often shower and cleanse my skin with this chemical exfoliant to feel cleaner and keep my pores clear.

I like to put a physical barrier on my spots, like these salicylic-acid patches, to keep my fingers from messing with them again.

This fancy light-therapy mask makes my skin brighter and clearer, but I also feel happier wearing it—and that’s important.

This lotion is also exfoliating and oil balancing. From day one, I saw acne flare-ups, inflammation, and flaky skin visibly reduced.

My own platform started as a lighthearted way to keep me on my growth journey—I posted silly picking memes, jokey videos, informative posts. I know humor isn’t a cure, but my upbeat content helped me and my followers feel included and understood…and it quickly grew into an accidental brand.

The more I opened up, the more I discovered just how vital my “safe space” was for other people. So many sent me messages of hope, grief, and despair. They confessed to hiding their skin picking for decades, explaining how dermatillomania made them feel “wrong” or “disgusting.” Many, like me, didn’t even know their condition had a name or that an entire community of us existed.

A post shared by Kim | Skin picking help & support 💛 (@kimonskin)

Social media changed me too: I’m not the same Kim I was when I started my accounts three years ago. I still have the occasional picking episode, but, like I tell others, that’s okay. I’m no longer waiting for some total transformation. Dermatillomania doesn’t have a magic fix—you have to actively manage your compulsions and be kind and gentle with yourself, which can also help dismantle some of the shame and guilt.

I’m proud I’ve been able to channel my experience into giving others the help I didn’t have for myself. I’ll never forget what it felt like to struggle every day in silence. If this still sounds like you, please hear me when I say that you are not alone. I know how it feels when someone comments on your skin. I know the low, out-of-control thoughts that flood your mind. I’ve lived the confusion of picking to feel better, knowing it’s the very thing that made you feel bad in the first place.

Silence is what keeps so many of us stuck, which is why I won’t stop speaking up. Having dermatillomania is not a weakness—it takes immense strength to persevere through something so psychological that it leaves physical scars. I believe you can get to a better place. I hope one day soon, you’ll believe that too.

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