Here at CBSN, we often talk about the stigma that comes with BFRBs. Spread the Word. Break the Stigma. That’s one of our main taglines, but while we talk about stigma a lot, we don’t really speak about the different kinds of stigma.

I remember at one peer support meeting I attended, we were talking about this. Specifically how the stigma of skin picking is different than that of hair pulling. Not how it’s better or worse, just how it’s different. I remember the people there being shocked that there was such a stark difference in the stigma we face.

For instance, when it comes to hair pullers, people often assume at first glance that a person is a cancer patient or has alopecia. Don’t get me wrong, that sucks and is embarrassing because ultimately people are still staring and making assumptions, but it almost seems like, for the most part, people would feel more concern for someone in that situation.

For skin pickers, it is so much different. When people look at our marred skin they assume we’re drug users. While society has painted hair loss as being a symptom of cancer, society also paints picked up skin as being a symptom of someone on drugs hallucinating about something they need to tear out of their skin. Either that or the symptom of some disease that is seen as contagious.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

Society doesn’t make it any easier when the beauty ideal is clear, perfect skin. Even the “real woman” advertisements exclude women with scarred or wounded skin. Freckles and moles are one thing, but scars and wounds are entirely another. We’re bombarded with skin care products, for both men and women, and words that tell us that anything less than smooth and even toned is unacceptable.

Proactiv advertisement.

Proactiv results.








Over the 19 years that I’ve been personally dealing with dermatillomania, all the sideways glances at my skin have been burned in my mind. Even my most confident days can be ruined by someone looking just a bit too long. I feel the judgment searing into me, and wonder which option they’ve chosen for me: diseased or drugged.

In all honesty, it’s a sick feeling. It ruins the day, my mood, and especially my self-image. Most of the time I would rather just wear pants or long sleeves, regardless of the weather, to avoid it (although then people start asking about why I wear long clothing in the summer…).

What’s worse is that people have no filters or sense of boundaries. “What’s wrong with your skin?” has been asked of me more times that I can and care to count. If they can get past the disgust, if there is any (usually is), then comes the advice. Try this product. Use that method. See this doctor. Whether we’ve divulged the reason our skin is like this or not, these people have suddenly become experts in something they don’t understand. It can be anywhere from uncomfortable to irritating being stuck in that situation.

And if they’re the ones who don’t get over the disgust, then they avoid us. I can’t remember many instances of being outright made fun of for my skin and picking when I was younger, but I remember feeling ostracized because of it. I was the nice girl that everyone liked, but who no one seemed to want to be around. I wrote a lot of poetry in those days, and in too many of them I described people avoiding me as if I were diseased. Those thoughts destroyed me every day. This was before I even knew what dermatillomania was, and it became my internal dialogue.

Oftentimes, stigma feels external—something that is being imposed upon us. The truth is we can fall into that stigma trap, too, especially when we’re just as unknowledgeable as everyone else, and sometimes even when we are armed with the facts.

To this day, despite how much I’ve grown and learned, I still feel the stigma and shrink from it to some degree. People staring at the dark scars and Band-Aids makes my heart and stomach plummet. Like I said, which option have they picked for me: drugged or diseased? Which fate have they chosen for me?

Being on drugs or being diseased each carries their own sets of stigma; both more often than not are seen in a negative light. For drug users, we think rehab, relapse, lowlife, lost cause. For diseased, we think contagious, dangerous, incurable. The stigma that comes with cancer and alopecia is that these people need treatment, help, support, a cure. We run races for them and raise money. That’s what I mean about the difference between the hair-pulling and skin-picking stigma.

But in the end, we all face stigma with BFRBs. In all cases, we can be shunned, embarrassed, heartbroken and downtrodden. We can be spoken down to and negatively of because people just don’t understand. They all come with bullying and self-hate.

When we say break the stigma, we mean all stigma. The stigma that each of use faces with each of these disorders. The stigma that we’ve all shrunk under and cried over. The stigma that has the power to destroy us.

This is why we need to break the stigma. This is why we need awareness.


3 Comments, RSS

  • Beth

    says on:
    December 31, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I suffered with this for 60 years. My family was uncomfortable with any kind of “defect”; you just kept it all hidden and pretended it wasn’t so. The shame combined with social anxiety and depression made it very difficult for me to function as a normal person.. It affected every area of life and held me back in so many respects. One thing I’ve never seen mentioned is that you can develop severe disabling eyestrain from excoriating skin at close range, making reading and sustained eye contact difficult. My HMO offered behavioral health treatment and I tried many times to get help, but no one seemed to know what to do. Usually they would switch quickly to working on the depression and ignore the excoriation disorder. Maybe it distressed them too. Cognitive therapy and meds did help with depression somewhat so that I was able to have a career for ten years – until the meds stopped working.

    But the amazing thing is this: I developed cataracts & when they implanted new long distances lenses into my old myopic eyes, I was no longer able to see my skin up close. That meant an end to the skin picking, overnight! The urge is still there, but my skin is now clear. If I don’t bare my arms or chest now, it’s because of wrinkley skin, not scars. Sometimes I think that if I had known this, I might have asked for long distance lenses to be implanted years ago to cure the excoriation disorder, although doctors probably would have refused.

    I feel the medical world does not really want to deal with this disorder and does not take it with the seriousness it deserves., probably because they see it as distasteful. Or maybe the sufferers are too ashamed to come out of the closet and insist on more attention. Hopefully behavioral science will some day catch up to those of us with mental/neuro disorders and offer some kind of effective treatment.

  • Michelle

    says on:
    July 12, 2015 at 2:49 am

    I have suffered from skin picking associated with body-dysmorphic disorder for 10 years now. It has gotten really bad this last year. My face has areas of swelling and repeated drainage that I can’t cover up and other areas of dark scars that forever haunt me. I have to go to work and smile and try to avoid looking at people (though that is hard because I work in a teamwork centered environment caring for other people). I know people see it, I see them staring at certain spots of my face, but they are nice enough most of the time not to mention anything. But, the staring just reinforces that I cannot hide it. I do appreciate the online support groups, but I have searched and searched for a support group in the city where I live so that maybe I can meet with other people face to face. Online, I sometimes feel like it is always somewhere else in the world. that I am the only one in my city with this problem. Perhaps that is true. None of the doctors in my city that I have seen have heard about this condition. I have been referred to a specialist in a larger city, but have not hear back yet. I hope that I will have the strength to end what I call ‘this addiction’.

    • Canadian BFRB Support Network

      says on:
      July 13, 2015 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Michelle,

      Where are you from? We can try to set you up with a support group in your area, or even see if we can find someone who’d like to meet you for coffee or something! Shoot our groups coordinator an email ( Also, double check out groups page to see if there might be one in your area.


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