According to medical research, dermatillomania is more common among women than men. Unfortunately, there’s no consensus on what the actual differences are. Part of the problem is awareness about dermatillomania. Many people have no idea that they are suffering from a mental disorder. But perhaps there are also other reasons for this that we don’t understand right now.
I am in the minority. I am male and have had dermatillomania for 20 to 30 years. I’ve had it for most of my life and I can’t even remember when I first started picking. It’s just a part of my life. Sometimes my picking can be out of control where I pick for hours a day, while other times I don’t even think about it and don’t pick at all.
So what is it like being male and having dermatillomania? I don’t think there are many real differences. But perhaps the biggest one is make up. I don’t wear make-up, thus I can’t easily hide my scars or scabs. On my blog, I read a lot of posts where people have tips for covering up with make-up, or asking which make-up products are good for covering scars. I don’t really get to do that. My face is always my own bare face with all the scars, scabs, spots and other imperfections.
I remember too many times when I picked my face in the morning and then had to go to school or work. I had to quickly try to stop the bleeding and then somehow avoid bleeding throughout the day without wearing make-up or putting on a band-aid. Usually I would leave the house with a few napkins so I could quickly mop up any blood oozing out of my wounds on my way to work and hope that it would stop bleeding by the time I got there.
I don’t usually pick my face, at least not anymore. I can remember some spots very clearly, like one on my upper lip, another around my neck. A few around my cheek. They are how I can see the passage of time, see how my life has progressed. After picking and opening the wound, many spots seem to last a very long time, usually months. Sometimes I can still see a brown spot or a deep indentation on my face which shows evidence of a long ago picking session a year or more later. Yes, skin heals itself. Skin does grow back but it can also leave a scar or a dark spot that can take years to completely go away. It seems that just a few minutes of face picking can mean months or years of dealing with healing and spots.
One advantage to being a male skin picker, however, is facial hair. I’m lucky because my facial hair grows very quickly. I frequently have a five o’clock shadow at 11am. So I can use facial hair to hide some of the scars on my face. If I have a spot on my face that I’m actively picking, then I can hide behind my goatee or beard. Many people won’t look too closely, especially underneath a bunch of facial hair.
Sometimes when I feel like shaving off my beard, I find out that I have some active spots that are bleeding or that have scarred over. That’s when I feel an instant pang of regret. Not that I shouldn’t have picked, but that I shouldn’t have shaved my face yet. If I had waited just a few more days or a week, the spot might look better. But now I have to walk around the world with bloody scars or scabs on my face.
Most of the time, I don’t even remember doing this damage to myself when I grow out my beard. I probably use my facial hair as a crutch to pick at my face, or touch my face more than usual. To anyone looking at me, I can pretend that I am just rubbing my facial hair or scratching my chin and thinking thoughtfully about something. But most likely I’m really just picking my face under the cover of my beard.
Because I’m a guy, I can probably get away with more face picking than some women. One of the lies I used to tell people if they ever asked about blood or scabs on my face is that it was a shaving accident. It’s such an easy excuse and instantly shifts the focus away from my picking. “Oh, that thing, I just cut myself shaving.” I can use this excuse over and over because it’s true that shaving will tend to open up wounds. If I shave everyday, it can also open up the wound again. It’s difficult to avoid shaving over a scar or healing spot otherwise you’ll leave a patch of hair that will keep on growing and it looks terrible.
I think the big difference is in expectations. The world expects women to be pickers. After all, women are more often hair pullers or cutters and it’s more common that they have eating disorders, too. However, I have definitely pulled my eyebrows compulsively, and was worried about having trichotillomania especially when I would pick my scalp and pull out some hairs in the process. I also have an eating disorder, but I never want to talk about that either, and neither do a lot of men. It’s just more common for women, so men aren’t usually suspected.
Perhaps a lot of the differences between male and female pickers is that men have to be more secretive. Rather than picking my face, I pick places that people don’t normally see in every day situations like my scalp, back, thighs, crotch, or buttocks. For the most part, I avoid picking my face, fingers or arms or anyplace visible.
I also feel like men aren’t scrutinized as much as women, in terms of cuts or acne scars or other facial blemishes. My guy friends don’t usually ask me what’s wrong with my face, but I find that women hear these kinds of exclamations from other people a lot more. Women are expected to have perfect skin or at least can cover it up. Men can have acne or can bleed or be a bit scarred over, while women are judged more for these kinds of things.
Overall, I don’t think men have it any worse or any better than women with dermatillomania. We all have our distinct challenges, but I think that the most important thing is to help each other. On my blog, I sometimes get questions about make-up or what kinds of creams/oils can help heal skin and I don’t have all the answers. In these cases, I answer to the best of my knowledge, but I mostly appeal to my followers and readers to help me out. The derma community is so supportive and open that there will always be someone that comes along that has some answers or their own particular perspective.
That’s what I love about the derma community online. It’s about sharing experiences and sharing knowledge and supporting each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, or straight or gay or trans or anything else. You’re just a fellow skin picker and you’re part of the community. You are not alone and there is help available.
— Skin Pick Guy lives in New York City, and has had dermatillomania for over 30 years. He is dedicated to spreading awareness about skin picking and helping to support other dermatillomania sufferers. Visit his blog, Diary of a Skin Picker (http://diaryofaskinpicker.tumblr.com) or follow him on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/skinpickguy).