Pharmacological Interventions for Primary Psychodermatologic Disorders: An Evidence Mapping and Appraisal of Randomized Controlled Trials

J Cutan Med Surg. 2023 Mar-Apr;27(2):140-149. doi: 10.1177/12034754231155888. Epub 2023 Feb 20.


Background: The lack of clinical guidelines for the treatment of primary psychodermatologic disorders (PPDs) hinders the delivery of optimal care to patients. The review aimed to identify, appraise, and summarize the currently available evidence about the safety and effectiveness of pharmacological management of PPDs through randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

Methods: The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses (PRIMSA) statement and the Global Evidence Mapping Initiative guidance were followed. Medline, Embase, PsycInfo, Cochrane and Scopus were searched, and two reviewers independently completed article review, data extraction, and quality assessment.

Results: Among 2618 unique studies, full texts of 83 were reviewed and 21 RCTs were included. Five PDDs were identified: trichotillomania (n = 12), pathologic skin picking (n = 5), nail biting (n = 2), delusional parasitosis (n = 1), and dermatitis from compulsive hand washing (n = 1). Seven different classes of medications were investigated: SSRIs (i.e., fluoxetine, sertraline, and citalopram), tricyclic antidepressants (i.e., clomipramine and desipramine), antipsychotics (i.e., olanzapine and pimozide), anticonvulsant (i.e., lamotrigine), N-acetylcysteine, inositol, and milk thistle. RCT-derived evidence supports the use of antidepressants in trichotillomania (sertraline and clomipramine), pathologic skin picking (fluoxetine), pathologic nail biting and dermatitis from compulsive hand washing (clomipramine or desipramine); antipsychotics in trichotillomania (olanzapine) and delusional parasitosis (pimozide); N-acetyl cysteine in trichotillomania and skin picking.

Conclusion: Few pharmacotherapies for primary psychodermatologic disorders are assessed through controlled trials in the literature. This review serves as a roadmap for researchers and clinicians to reach informed decisions with current evidence, and to build on it to establish guidelines in the future.

Keywords: delusional parasitosis; nail biting; psychocutaneous disorders; psychodermatology; skin picking; trichotillomania.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use
  • Antipsychotic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Clomipramine / therapeutic use
  • Dermatitis* / drug therapy
  • Desipramine
  • Fluoxetine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Olanzapine
  • Pimozide
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sertraline / therapeutic use


  • Sertraline
  • Fluoxetine
  • Clomipramine
  • Olanzapine
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Desipramine
  • Pimozide
  • Acetylcysteine