Understanding Skin Biting Disorder

Individuals with skin biting disorder often consider the action of biting at their own skin as “soothing”. The act of biting the skin helps to de-stress the individual and usually is the conclusion to an episode of anxiety. Be it externally motivated (bills, relationship problems, job issues) or internally motivated (disgust with one’s own body) the act itself has the ability to calm the individual affected by the condition. It is similar to (and sometimes even begins with) nail-biting. Individuals who bite their nails are not necessarily self-grooming, but calming their own nerves with a repetitive motion. In fact, this condition is most commonly inflicted upon the hands and fingers, causing in many cases permanent damage to the nail, skin, and cuticle.

Skin biting disorder, due to its relation to what society considers to be the benign behavior of fingernail biting, can go unnoticed and untreated until it is serious enough to cause infection or permanent damage. The action of biting the skin in many cases begins in childhood with self-calming behaviors such as finger sucking or fingernail chewing, and therefore can be more difficult to treat than skin picking as this behavior will have already been manifested and embedded into an almost concrete compulsion by adulthood.

The primary treatment for any form of obsessive compulsive disorder is psychotherapy. It is a compulsion and considered an addiction by many within the medical community. It is often treated using drugs, cognitive therapy, stimulus control (SC), or habit reversal training (HRT).

Stimulus control and habit reversal training have a solid foundation of success with addiction treatment programs. Understanding the triggers to why an action is performed helps individuals control or avoid them. SC therapy enables the individual to find pathways around the factors that influence their behavior. HRT is useful in providing an alternate and benign action for an individual who suffers from compulsion (versus physical dependency) to enjoy the stimulus or soothing mechanism of the action without being harmed by the self-mutilation.

A skin biting disorder can leave scarring, cause infection, and diminish self-esteem. It must be treated before the condition progresses. Individuals who suffer from this disorder can find many helpful resources across the web, be it natural remedies, online communities, groups, and forums, or links to therapists and recovery resources. As more information is uncovered through neurobiological and behavioral research, better and more effective treatments for OCD become available to individuals who suffer with this condition. A few years ago dematillomania and dermataphagia had no classification or “name”. Today these conditions not only have a name to put to the behavior but a range of effective treatments.