Clinical characteristics and medical complications of pathologic skin picking

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2008 Jan-Feb;30(1):61-6. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2007.07.009.


Objective: This study sought to detail the phenomenology and medical consequences of pathologic skin picking (PSP).

Method: Sixty subjects (11.7% males) with PSP (mean+/-S.D.=33.7+/-11.6 years) were assessed. Subjects seen in a pharmacological study as well as those from an ongoing outpatient longitudinal study comprised this sample. Subjects were assessed for current and lifetime psychiatric comorbidity (using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Disorders), clinical severity (using the Clinical Global Impression - Severity scale) and psychosocial interference due to picking (using the Sheehan Disability Scale). Clinical characteristic data, including time spent picking per day, sites picked and medical complications directly resulting from skin picking behavior, as well as family history, were also obtained.

Results: The mean age (+/-S.D.) of onset for PSP was 12.3+/-9.6 years. The face was the most common area picked. Subjects reported picking a mean of 107.6 min each day. Scarring, ulcerations and infections were common. Few had ever sought psychiatric treatment for their behavior. Current comorbid Axis I psychiatric conditions were found in 38.3% of the sample. Trichotillomania (36.7%), compulsive nail biting (26.7%), depressive disorder (16.7%) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (15%) were the most common current comorbid conditions.

Conclusion: PSP appears to be time consuming and frequently associated with medical complications. Research is needed to optimize patient care for individuals with this behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / complications*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / pathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Skin / injuries*
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / complications*
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / pathology
  • United States