Derm DMs: Does Picking My Skin Cause Acne?

March 10, 2022
Ariel Wodarcyk
By: Ariel Wodarcyk | by L'Oréal
Derm DMs: Does Picking My Skin Cause Acne?

I first started picking my skin in high school, and it’s been a hard habit to break since then. I’ve always engaged in what are called body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs, such as nail biting, but skin-picking caused the most noticeable damage — after all, it was literally on my face. I do it much less often now, and typically on areas of the body that are easier to cover, but it’s still hard to resist the temptation to pick at a new breakout. To find out what skin picking, also known as dermatillomania, does to the skin and to discover some healthier acne treatments, I spoke to Dr. Lian Mack, a board-certified dermatologist based in NYC. 

Can Picking My Skin Cause Acne?

According to Dr. Mack, “picking at active breakouts in an attempt to make them resolve is more common than one would think,” even if you don’t typically pick at blemish-free skin. “Picking at pimples does not necessarily cause new breakouts to form, but does make the acne look worse,” she says. “Acne excoriee, also known as ‘picker’s acne’ occurs when acne is compulsively picked at, resulting in scars, hyperpigmentation and multiple wounds at different stages of healing.”

Is There Any Way to Reduce the Harm Done by Skin Picking?

Compulsive skin picking is a very difficult habit to quit, which is why Dr. Mack recommends seeing a therapist if you are able to help you pinpoint the cause behind your picking and find healthier coping mechanisms. “Aside from stopping completely, if you are suffering from active breakouts, I recommend seeing a board-certified dermatologist who can help bring relief quickly without injury,” Dr. Mack says. “For cystic breakouts, cortisone shots can help bring down inflammation within 24 to 48 hours. For whiteheads and blackheads, gentle extraction may be performed as well.”

Can’t make it to a derm? If you’ve picked at your acne and the skin is broken, Dr. Mack recommends applying an over-the-counter antibacterial ointment or a petrolatum-based product, such as the CeraVe Healing Ointment, to help the skin heal faster. “Both products help the skin to heal by adding moisture, which ultimately helps the epidermis regenerate,” she says. They can also reduce the risk of an infection.

CeraVe Healing Ointment

If you have a fresh breakout and you’ve avoided the urge to pick, a spot treatment such as the Vichy Normaderm S.O.S Acne Rescue Spot Corrector, can help dry out the pimple and make it shrink faster. I also find it helpful to cover the breakout entirely with a pimple patch — the Ollie Belle Cover Dot Acne Care is a personal favorite.

Ollie Belle Cover Dot Acne Care

How Do I Fade Marks Left by Skin Picking?

There are several unfortunate physical side effects of skin picking, including redness, scarring and hyperpigmentation, but there are treatments that can minimize the resulting damage. “From least to most invasive, there are creams, peels and lasers,” says Dr. Mack. “I love the C.Radiance Illuminating Serum by Monat, which is packed with vitamin C, niacinamide, ferulic acid and licorice root extract to correct hyperpigmentation and unevenness.” Chemical peels range from “light superficial peels containing glycolic acid” to deeper peels with ingredients like phenol, which penetrates deeper into the skin. “Lastly, lasers like Clear and Brilliant and Fraxel are also helpful in treating hyperpigmentation secondary to picking,” says Dr. Mack. 

Design: Hannah Packer 

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