How to stop picking your skin when you’re stressed

Since the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve been made more aware than ever that touching our faces should be avoided at all costs. But for some of us, breaking the habit of a lifetime can be incredibly tough, especially when we have few distractions. Sometimes, constant face touching can lead to skin picking, which in turn can even develop into a more serious disorder.

skin picking
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In fact, Skin Picking Disorder (also named Dermatillomania or Excoriation Disorder) is listed by the NHS and Anxiety UK, so should undoubtedly be taken seriously. Working from home, as many of us will be doing currently, can really impact our ability to skin pick too, meaning the habit may become more and more common for those prone to it. We spoke to an expert to determine how best to tackle this increasingly damaging problem. 

Why do we skin pick?

Skin picking can develop from simply a compulsion to touch our faces, which sometimes we do unknowingly. One study found that on average we touch our faces a whopping 23 times an hour, sometimes without even recognising the problem. Obviously this isn’t ideal, as it means germs and bacteria from our hands is more easily spread to our faces, but it becomes a real problem when we start to pick at our faces, rather than just touch them. This, unsurprisingly, tends to start (or escalate) when we are anxious or stressed. 

skin picking
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‘Studies have shown that when dealing with stress, anxiety or negative emotions in general (which many of us are experiencing due to the current situation), we tend to pick more at our skin,’ explains Ksenia Selivanova, co-founder at skin consultancy Lion/ne. ‘When this happens, it can even become a habit or in more serious cases, a disorder.’

Unfortunately, notes Selivanova, ‘skin picking can dramatically increase while working from home,’ and particularly as things currently stand with the world. As we are not going anywhere, we are less concerned about causing marks on our faces that usually people would see, and because there may be less makeup application than normal, we do not have a barrier that stops us when we usually go to touch or pick. 

What damage can skin picking cause?

You may think it will just create issues right after the picking, but as Selivanova says, ‘picking skin can cause both short and long term damage to the skin.’ 

In the short term, skin can become inflamed, and unsurprisingly, even the smallest of pores can become large red holes that stand out. Usually, even squeezing a spot can do more harm than good, anyway. ‘When manually extracting, we actually damage the skin itself and slow down the natural healing process by creating a scab,’ says Selivanova. ‘The other thing that can also happen is simply to end up with a bigger pimple! We also increase the risk of spreading the bacteria in the skin, feeding fuel to the pimple’s fire.’

While this creates a cause for concern, perhaps the most worrying side effects actually come in the long term, as there is a chance of scarring and/or post-inflammatory pigmentation. This is much harder to get rid of and treat, so should really be considered when you go to pick. 

How do we stop skin picking? 

It’s worth pointing out that if you find yourself really really struggling with skin picking, and feel like it’s developed into a more serious condition, you should contact a doctor, who may recommend options like talking therapies. In the meantime, however, it’s worth trying the following tips: 

Ease your stress levels overall

Right now that may be easier said than done, but as skin picking is most commonly caused by feelings of anxiety and stress, it’s a good idea to tackle these head on if you can. ‘We are all living in a strange time right now, but try to take the most of it,’ says Selivanova. ‘There are such amazing yoga, meditation and breathing classes on Instagram that can truly help to stay calm and positive.’ In short, try and find ways to relieve your stress without attacking your face. 

Pimple patches 

Wearing pimple patches not only targets any kind of spot head on with its ingredients, but it also creates a direct barrier between your fingers and your face. Especially while working from home, this is a great deterrent. 

zitsticka pimple patches

Zitsticka Killa Spot and Blemish Clarifying Patch Kit, £26.99, Boots


Hydro Stars, £19, Starface

Stay away from the magnifying mirror 

One thing that can only make things worse is looking in a magnifying mirror, which can expose you to even the tiniest of pores, making it all the more tempting to pick. Trust us: step. away. 

skin picking disorder
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Keeping hands busy or wear gloves

The NHS recommends trying to keep your hands busy so you are unable to touch your face, and one way of doing this is by wearing gloves at times you feel particularly prone to picking. 

Do something else when you have the urge

This may sound simple, but whenever you feel the need to pick, choose another action to always go with instead. This may be picking up a book and trying to focus your attention elsewhere, or something skincare-related, like misting your skin rather than damaging it. 

You can read more about skin picking at

Feature by Rebecca Fearn