How to stop picking skin around nails

Skin picking disorder - NHS

Also called dermatillomania or excoriation disorder, skin picking disorder is where you cannot stop picking at your skin. There are things you can try to help yourself, but some people may need professional treatment.

Check if you have skin picking disorder

Most people pick at their skin from time to time, but you may have skin picking disorder if you:

  • cannot stop picking your skin
  • cause cuts, bleeding or bruising by picking your skin
  • pick moles, freckles, spots or scars to try to "smooth" or "perfect" them
  • do not always realise you're picking your skin or do it when you're asleep
  • pick your skin when you feel anxious or stressed

You may pick your skin with your fingers, fingernails, teeth or with tools like tweezers, pins or scissors.

Things you can try if you have skin picking disorder


  • keep your hands busy – try squeezing a soft ball or putting on gloves

  • identify when and where you most commonly pick your skin and try to avoid these triggers

  • try to resist for longer and longer each time you feel the urge to pick

  • care for your skin when you get the urge to pick it – for example, by applying moisturiser

  • tell other people – they can help you recognise when you're picking

  • keep your skin clean to avoid infection

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you cannot stop picking your skin
  • you're causing serious damage to your skin by picking it, like cuts that do not heal within a few days
  • picking your skin is causing you emotional distress or affecting your daily life

What happens at your appointment

A GP will ask you about your skin picking behaviour and look at your skin.

If they think you have skin picking disorder, they may refer you to a specialist for diagnosis and possible treatment.

This could be with a type of talking therapy or medicine.

They may also refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) if your skin is badly damaged or you have any underlying skin conditions that may be triggering your skin picking, like acne or eczema.

Treatment for skin picking disorder

Talking therapy for skin picking disorder

Talking therapy is currently thought to be an effective treatment to help change skin picking behaviour.

If you're offered this, it'll usually be given through community mental health services.

The most common type of talking therapy offered for skin picking disorder is cognitive behavioural therapy, and may include a technique called habit reversal training.

Habit reversal training works by helping you:

  • recognise and be more aware of your skin picking and what's triggering it
  • replace skin picking with a less harmful behaviour

Medicines for skin picking disorder

Your doctors may recommend some types of medicine to help you control your skin picking behaviour.

This may be prescribed by a GP, but more often it'll be prescribed by a specialist (psychiatrist).

Causes of skin picking disorder

Skin picking disorder is related to obsessive compulsive disorder, where the person cannot stop themselves carrying out a particular action.

It can be triggered by:

  • boredom
  • stress or anxiety
  • negative emotions, such as guilt or shame
  • skin conditions, such as acne or eczema
  • other blemishes that the person wants to get rid of (these may not be noticeable to other people)

It's sometimes called a body-focused repetitive behaviour and is similar to repetitive hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania).

It's also related to other obsessive compulsive disorders, such as body dysmorphic disorder, where the person is excessively preoccupied with their appearance.

People with skin picking disorder often also have other obsessive compulsive disorders. These may require their own assessment and treatment.

Page last reviewed: 24 March 2021
Next review due: 24 March 2024

How to Stop Picking Cuticles in 2022 According to Doctors

I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t a cuticle picker. I know this sounds a little weird, but there’s something about picking the crap out of my cuticles that, IDK, soothes me? Especially when I’m stressed the f*ck out. But that brief moment of relief is usually interrupted by sheer panic when I look down at my fingers and realize my mindless picking has turned into a full-blown bloodfest.

I’ve ~flirted~ with quitting the habit every now and then, but the inevitable scabbing that follows a quick sesh is usually inconvenient enough to keep it under control (my coworkers and friends don’t need to see my bloody handiwork, TYVM). But as I settled into quarantine over the last couple months (and, you know, all the anxiety that comes with a global pandemic), my cuticle picking has slowly turned into a regular thing.

It wasn’t until I picked my way through an entire season of Love Island—yup, all 50 hours—that I decided it was time to actually do something about my situation. So I called up two experts, a psychologist and a dermatologist, to figure out (a) why I pick in the first place, and (b) what I can do to finally, really, officially stop.


Why do I pick at the skin around my nails?

Before I jumped into any solutions (which, spoiler alert, I have many), I first wanted to learn a bit more about cuticle picking in general—namely, why TF it happens. “Cuticle picking is a ‘body-focused repetitive behavior,’ which, in simple terms, means a repetitive self-grooming habit,” says Sanam Hafeez, MD, a neuropsychologist in New York City.Unlike a ‘constructive habit’ that we repeat daily, like washing our face, cuticle picking falls under the category of a ‘bad habit,’” she says, adding that “people often pick their cuticles to relieve stress or when they’re bored and fidgety.” Which, tbh, has been my entire mood during quarantine.

According to Dr. Hafeez, 75 percent of all skin pickers are women—so apparently I’m one of the chosen ones. And remember when I said picking my cuticles felt oddly satisfying? Yeah, that’s super common for people with body-focused repetitive behavior (or BFRB), since “pulling, picking, or bitting can actually produce relaxing and pleasing feelings.” So when someone with BFRB feels stressed or anxious (it me!), “engaging in picking can have a soothing effect on the nervous system,” says Dr. Hafeez. Ding, ding, ding.


Is picking your cuticles and nails bad for you?

Look, it’s not like I thought I was doing my skin any favors by picking my cuticles for years, but other than a few days of sores and scabs, I hadn’t experienced any long-term side effects. But apparently, I was playing a game of Risk the entire time. “Nails harbor all kinds of bacteria—in some ways, they’re dirtier than our butts," says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale University. “So when you pick, you’re basically giving your skin the green light for a potential staph infection.” Scary.

Bacteria aside, cuticle picking can also f*ck up your nail health. “That little moon shape at the base of your nails is called the lunula, and it’s where a healthy nail originates,” says Dr. Gohara. “If you destroy it by picking, things can go awry.” Think: disfigured and puffy nail beds.

How can I stop picking at my cuticles?

Now for the fun part. I asked Dr. Hafeez and Dr. Gohara for all their tips and tricks for quitting my habit for good and immediately put them all to the test. Here’s what worked for me:

Figure out your triggers

Dr. Hafeez suggested I start my journey by “establishing” my triggers. This process can look a little different for everyone, since you need to find something that works for you and your lifestyle, but for me, I decided it would be easiest to keep a running list on my phone. So every time I picked (or felt the urge to pick) for one week, I grabbed my phone and quickly jotted down what I was doing (e.g., 11 a.m.: stressed with a deadline, 8 p.m.: anxiously scrolling through Instagram).

By the end of the week, I had a fun little list of the situations where I’m most likely to pick my cuticles (and, no surprise here, they all were all triggered by stress). Not only did this step help me feel a bit more in control of my habit, but it also gave me a roadmap to the areas of my life that I should maybe, probably try to improve if I want to feel less stressed and anxious. BRB while I book a Zoom appointment with my therapist.

Get regular manicures

Dr. Hafeez’s second suggestion was something I could a hundred percent get on board with: getting—or giving myself—regular manicures. After cutting, filing, and (*cough* sloppily) painting my nails, I was kinda surprised by how aware I felt of my fingers. Every time I even touched my cuticles, I was immediately reminded to back the hell off. I loved how easy this one felt, and I definitely plan on keeping it up through quarantine (even if I have to rely on some nail stickers every now and again).

Your at-home mani kit:

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Try a nail-biting serum

I’m more of a cuticle picker than a biter, but I did appreciate how genius this trick was: coating your nails with a nail-biting serum or polish so you get a bad, bitter-AF taste when you go in for the kill. You can even layer one on top of your manicure (almost like a top coat) for good measure.

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Slap on a hydrocolloid bandage

You know those pimple patches you have lying around your bathroom? Yeah, you’re gonna need them for this step. “If there’s a single nail you often go at—like the thumb—put a hydrocolloid dressing on there to heal and protect your skin,” says Dr. Gohara. “I also love a little Vaseline there for the same purpose—the glide from the lube makes the pick less easy and helps heal the skin.

I personally found that patches worked better during the day (I’m on my computer for most of the day, so I can’t hang with slippery fingers), while a thin coat of Vaseline was best right before bed. BTW: You’ll want to use a bandaid that’s made with 100 percent hydrocolloid because additives like salicylic acid aren’t exactly ideal for open wounds. These colloid patches are a safe place to start:

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Keep your fingers busy

Remember: Bored and fidgety are two feelings you want to avoid when you’re trying to kick your cuticle-picking habit, so it’s not a bad idea to give yourself a few harmless distractions. “I suggest picking instead at the bottom of a pen or a pen cap, since it has a little ridge that is cuticle-esque,” says Dr. Gohara. I also tried two of Dr. Hafeez’s suggestions: squeezing a rubber ball and snapping a hair tie on my wrist (loved the former, could do without the latter—it kinda hurt?).

Moisturize your cuticles daily

Last but not least, Dr. Hafeez said I should try to keep my cuticles super soft and hydrated. “Moisturizing your cuticles so they aren’t dry makes it harder and less tempting to pick at them,” she explains. Alongside my favorite hand cream, I added a cuticle oil into my routine (which, like the Vaseline, was a lot easier to use at night) and loved how silky they felt after a few nights.

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The final word

I’m now on week two of my journey and I’ve already noticed some minor improvements. Like, my cuticles aren’t 100 percent healed (and I haven’t completely stopped picking...I’m not perfect), but I’m way more aware of my habit than ever before. And, for me, that’s a big enough win to feel like I’m finally gaining some control over it. But I definitely plan on keeping up with Dr. Gohara and Dr. Hafeez’s tips—who knew cuticle serums were so damn nice?—while also trying to minimize a few of my triggers. Catch me in 2021 with the prettiest hands (and clearest head) of all time.

Related Story
  • Your Nails Need One Of These Cuticles Oils ASAP

Ruby Buddemeyer

Ruby was the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covered beauty across print and digital. Her work has appeared on The Zoe Report, Fashionista, and StyleCaster. Follow her on Instagram. 

How to stop biting your nails once and for all: 8 proven ways

September 22, 2017 Likbez Health

As a rule, the habit of nail biting appears in childhood, persists for quite a long time (sometimes for life) and leads not only to cosmetic defects, but also to more serious problems. If you still have not managed to get rid of this ugly habit, try a few proven methods.

Why you shouldn't bite your nails

Constant nail biting won't kill you, of course, but it can cause a lot of trouble. Here are the main dangers that await those who like to put their fingers in their mouths:

  1. The shape of the nails and the condition of the skin around them deteriorate. Burrs appear, and if you also accidentally damage the top layer of the skin, an infection can get into the wound and cause severe inflammation.
  2. The condition of the teeth worsens: chips and cracks in the enamel are possible. But teeth, as you know, are not nails and will not grow back on their own. In addition, the front teeth are under threat, the condition of which is striking to others. You can also earn inflammation of the gums and oral cavity.
  3. Increased risk of digestive disorders. On the hands, especially under the nails, a huge number of microbes live. If you drag your hands into your mouth again and again, sooner or later, harmful microorganisms from under your nails will attack you from the inside.

How to break a bad habit

1. Trim your nails regularly

The shorter the nail, the harder it is to bite.

2. Get a professional manicure

You will be sorry to ruin your manicure. Firstly, because it is beautiful, and secondly, because it is expensive. For the sake of parting with a nasty habit, you can cover your nails with gel or acrylic: it is quite difficult to bite off this.

3. Start saving one nail

Quit the habit gradually: first, forbid yourself to bite a nail, for example, on the thumb of your right hand. At first, it will be difficult to remember the ban, but in the end you will be able to remove one finger from among the nibbled ones, and the appearance of the nail on it will surely please you. After that, add the nail of the index finger to the number of guarded objects, and so on, until the habit disappears completely.

4. Use special bitter coatings

There are varnishes and enamels against nail biting. These funds are sold both in pharmacies and in cosmetic stores.

5. Wear gloves or plaster your nails

Dramatic, but effective: in this case, you can not physically reach the nails.

6. Observe yourself

Try to understand in what situations or in what emotional state you put your hands in your mouth. Perhaps you are provoked by an uneven edge of the nail or a hangnail, or maybe you are just bored or anxious. Find out the reason, and it will be much easier for you to control yourself.

7. Change one habit for another

Hold something in your hands more often - squeeze an anti-stress toy, spin a spinner, drive a coin between the knuckles or just click a fountain pen. Instead of nails, chew an apple or chew gum. In a word, occupy your mouth and hands with something less harmful.

8. See a doctor

Sometimes nail biting signals mental or emotional overload. If you have already tried everything, but the habit turned out to be stronger than you, consult a doctor.

Biting nails, pulling out hair, eating skin. Check: you may have this mental disorder, and you did not know about it

If your child - a preschooler or teenager - bites his nails under the root or pulls out his body hair, you should not write it off as a bad habit. These actions may be a manifestation of a mental disorder that often persists into adulthood.

Chances are you've never heard of trichotillomania, onychophagia, or neurotic excoriation. All of these are mental disorders in which a person (child or adult) causes damage - consciously or automatically, without thinking - to his body.

There is little research on the diseases listed below. Therefore, we asked Oleg Aizberg, , Associate Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Narcology of BelMAPO , to help us understand what each of them is, who should be contacted for help, and whether it is realistic to cure such disorders once and for all.

Oleg Aizberg, psychiatrist;


This is a mental disorder in which a person pulls out body hair : most often from the head, but also from the eyelashes, nose, eyebrows, sometimes from the pubis. Often it is combined with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As a rule, the disease begins in childhood or adolescence, the two main peaks are 6-9 and 12-13 years. In some children, it goes away as spontaneously as it started, while in others, the disorder remains into adulthood.

According to Oleg Aizberg, such patients often mistakenly turn to a dermatologist: patches of baldness appear on some parts of the body, the cause of which they are trying to find.

“There are cases,” says the specialist, “when a child who is not allowed to pull out the hair on his body begins to pull it out from dolls or, worse, from a younger brother or sister. But in preschool age, this disease is benign in nature - as a way to explore your own body. It usually goes away on its own over time.

And this is how the disease trichotillomania begins to develop a little later - at the age of 9-13, and in this case, as a rule, it passes into adulthood, acquires a chronic course. If trichotillomania began to develop in adulthood, then most often the person already has any concomitant mental disorders.

Often trichotillomania is not some kind of action on which the person focuses and concentrates, but occurs in a trance-like state: the patient pulls out his hair and does not notice it.

And here is a documentary about trichotillomania, which in 2003 won the international Health & Medical Media Award for the best film in the field of psychiatry.

Neurotic excoriation

Condition in which patients in any way injure their skin: scratching, picking, scratching, pinching , sometimes squeezing out acne elements. The danger of such a disorder is that a person can infect the wounds he creates, which in some cases leads to sepsis.

Many patients with excoriation choose one area of ​​the body and then move on to another so that the first one has time to heal. Most often, the choice of location depends on the presence of irregularities on the body, which a person detects with his fingers.

- Many researchers believe that the development of excoriation is associated with an increased level of anxiety, arousal or stress in a person, with psychological trauma suffered at an early age, the specialist explains. - In children - with the suppression of anger towards domineering and strict parents.

Also, some scientists consider excoriation as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are similar in that both involve repetitive activities that are out of control, and both are generally able to reduce anxiety.

Unfortunately, people with excoriation, as with some of the other conditions listed here, rarely seek treatment because of embarrassment, alienation, lack of awareness or belief that the disorder can be cured.


This is a disorder in which a person compulsively bites, chews, gnaws or eats their skin (most often on the fingers). Such actions, as in trichotillomania, may be conscious or unconscious.

Most often, patients with this disorder bite the skin around the nails, some on the knuckles, leading to bleeding, pain and calluses. There are cases when the patient chews on the mucous membrane on the inside of the mouth, cheeks or lips, which causes blisters to appear inside and outside the mouth. At the same time, blisters can cause a desire to tear off or bite off the affected skin, which is quite dangerous: an infection can get into the wound.

Most often, dermatophagia occurs in children, but sometimes it also manifests itself in adulthood and may be associated with the manifestation of increased anxiety in a person or the appearance of unpleasant forebodings, says Oleg Aizberg.


With onychophagy, a person bites his nails - this compulsive habit is quite common, especially among children. More severe forms of this condition are classified as obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

In patients with onychophagia, most often all ten nails of the hand are bitten to approximately the same extent. In this case, a person can, against this background, damage the skin on the cuticle. The danger of such a disorder, like the previous ones, is the possible infection in the wound.

Most often, onychophagia is accompanied by other disorders that we mentioned above: excoriation, dermatophagia and trichotillomania. In children, nail biting is often associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other psychiatric disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Here's what you need to know about these disorders

- Are these disorders standalone diseases or are they just symptoms?

– Trichotillomania and excoriations are really separate independent diseases, says Oleg Aizberg. But they are often combined with other diagnoses. For example, trichotillomania often occurs with manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), when a person has intrusive or frightening thoughts, and with them anxiety, which he tries to get rid of with the help of obsessive actions.

Some researchers believe that these conditions are manifestations of OCD, but in fact they are not. The fact is that with OCD, a person, experiencing anxiety, drowns it out with so-called rituals (frequent washing of hands, checking electrical appliances).

In trichotillomania, there are two mechanisms of development: the presence of anxiety , when the condition really resembles OCD, and getting pleasure (similar to gambling, when a person gets high from his actions). Therefore, it is possible to make an accurate diagnosis only with individual work with a psychotherapist.

The remaining disorders that have been listed are more difficult: unfortunately, today they are little studied. There are isolated cases of treatment all over the world, so it is difficult to find studies as such.

How does a person feel when they injure themselves in this way?

- Before performing these actions, the patient feels tension, after - relief: either anxiety relief, or pleasure. For some time, the manifestations of these disorders may stop, and then begin again.

Where should I go for help with these disorders?

- If they begin to interfere with a person, then you can first contact a psychotherapist in your clinic. If parents notice such manifestations in their child, then first of all it is worth paying attention to whether there are any provoking factors for this.

In children, these disorders are most often caused by an unfavorable family climate (for example, when one of the parents has an anxiety disorder or there are conflicts between mom and dad to which the child reacts), difficult relationships with teachers at school or classmates.

Next, you should try to resolve the current situation in the family or school, or contact a child psychologist. And I note that most often the disorders that we have considered begin to manifest themselves precisely in childhood or adolescence, often spilling over into adulthood. But, as mentioned above, few dare to turn to a specialist with such diseases.

– Is it possible to get rid of such conditions once and for all?

- In some cases, no treatment is even needed: they can pass as suddenly as they begin. If the disorder still interferes with a person and he decides to contact a psychotherapist, the doctor may prescribe antidepressants for him.

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