Build a personal emergency tool kit
Ms. Rouleau, a former skin picker herself, offers clients out-of-the-box solutions like a “no picking contract” taped to a mirror, or an accountability partner you can contact in a moment of weakness. “Call or text a friend to help prevent you from picking at that skin of yours. Being accountable to someone else will help those horrible habits when you’re not feeling your best self,” she said.
“One way to think about anxiety is that it’s ‘extra energy’ to help you deal with real or imagined stressors,” Dr. Howes said. “Exercise, deep breathing, or yoga can be powerful tools.” Something like a stress ball, a fidget spinner, or a pimple-popping toy (I have one and it’s disgustingly satisfying) can redirect your fingers from your face. You can even try wearing gloves or snapping a rubber band on your wrist every time you go to touch your face.
My absolute favorite item to stop me from picking is a hydrocolloid patch. I’ve been known to shamelessly wear 10 of these clear circles at a time, covering each spot I’m tempted to pick. If you’ve already picked a spot, these magical little stickers aid in healing, too. “Post-picking, you want to keep your skin in a moist environment for optimal healing,” Nava Greenfield, M.D., a dermatologist who practices in Brooklyn, said. “Aquaphor is great until the skin has healed and then Bio-Oil or a silicone gel as a scar prevention.”
Remember, it’s not your fault
Brains are mysterious and make us do all sorts of weird — and sometimes unhelpful — things, like picking, to deal with stress and anxiety. “Habits reside within neural networks that don’t listen to reasoning and can be very resistant to change,” Dr. Bender said.
So as easy as it is to beat yourself up about picking your skin, remember that, first, it’s O.K. if you can’t stop on your own, and second, there is good help available. “There’s no reason to blame yourself for having this,” Dr. Howes said. “Just like you need antibiotics to fight an infection, medical or mental health treatment for skin picking is exactly what will help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Tessa Miller is a health and science journalist who’s contributed to Lifehacker, The Daily Beast, Vice, Self, The Cut, and The New York Times. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter @tessajeanmiller.