Health Self Care

Skin-Biter? You’re Not Alone: Tips & Tricks to Conquer Dermatophagia

I’ve lived with Dermatophagia for about fourteen years. I cannot remember a time in which I wasn’t biting my hands and nails.

I spent my life hiding my hands. I pulled my shirt sleeves to their very limits. I would avoid shaking people’s hands in fear of them feeling the rough, broken skin on the sides of each finger. At 25, I still struggle with biting my fingers, but I’ve found a few tips and tricks that help me keep it to a minimum.

What is Dermatophagia?

Dermatophagia is a compulsion that causes the sufferer to bite their own skin, most commonly on the fingers. Other spots include the lips and inside of the mouth and cheeks. For sufferers, it provides a temporary relief to feelings of anxiety or stress. Some causes can be genetic, others can be due to traumatic events during childhood, and it is linked to both Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Dermatophagia is also related to Dermatillomania, which is also a compulsive disorder that causes the sufferer to pull their hair, pick their skin, or both.


How Can I Stop Biting?

It’s helpful to remember that this is a compulsion, not just a simple habit. Keep in mind that conquering this will take conscious efforts and hard work. It has taken me years to even just cut back on the biting, but here are a few things I do that have helped immensely in the journey to being bite-free:

  • Keep a nail file on you at all times, in case you feel a rough trigger spot.

    Gently rub the file over the rough, dead skin until it smoothes out. Ta-da! Nothing to bite at!

  • Have lotion on you at all times.

    Same principal as the file, but I will also get a very strongly-scented lotion to prevent myself from biting. I currently use a lotion with a patchouli and orange scent, which tastes absolutely awful. It will not only moisturize and lessen rough spots, but it will prevent you from even wanting to raise your hands to your mouth in the first place. It also halts any unconscious biting. Almond oil on the cuticles and rough areas works well to prevent those tempting hangnails.

  • Moisturize your hands at night with cotton gloves and lotion.

    Slathering my hands with cocoa butter and slipping on cotton gloves before bed at least twice a week makes a world of difference! Your hands will feel so soft in the morning and there’s usually nothing to bite onto.

    • Vitamin E capsules are also great to put on more severely-affected areas. I’ll poke a hole with a pin and save the capsule in a baggy next to my bed. Vitamin E promotes rapid healing, and I see a drastic difference overnight.
  • Mark down each time you bite.

    As an avid Bullet Journaler, I have a tracker in my journal to tally the times that I bite each day. Having to mark it down is *extremely* annoying, as I have to grab my pen, open the journal, and flip to the page every. Single. Time. I bite. Marking down my bites, mood of the day, and any notes of stress aids in recognizing how all of these things are connected to the amount of biting I do.

  • Be mindful of peak biting times.

    Recognizing triggering moments and being aware of your hands wandering up to your lips is key. I attack my hands when I’m driving, or sitting at my desk at work with nothing to do. These are anxious moments for me. Sometimes I catch myself, but many times it’s too late, and my hands are already red and sore. Keeping in mind that these are triggers will help to prevent unconscious biting.

  • Practice self-care.

    As this condition is born from anxiety and stress, be sure to keep your stress levels down and take care of yourself! Your brain is an organ, and as such should be taken care of just as thoroughly as you would take care of any other part of your body. Personally, yoga has done wonders for my stress levels, and I’m finding that my biting has been slowly creeping away after each class I attend or routine I practice. Find your happy space and make it a priority.

  • Talk about it.

    Opening up to people about my condition has garnered only positive things for me. Friends of mine have actually sighed in relief in response to my admission, as they’ve also lived with this condition! Knowing that you are not alone is so helpful in aiding the recovery process. Being open and honest about this condition has helped me to break through the shame.

Remember: you are not alone. Dermatophagia is extremely common, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

You can conquer this. Being mindful and seeking out a great support system is key. Search through forums, try different tips and tricks, and see what works for you. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to work amongst many people who suffer from skin picking.

Comment below and tell me about your experiences. Do you have any tips on overcoming the urge to bite? I’d love to hear your thoughts.