Picking your pimples will almost always make them worse, but it can be hard to resist the urge.
Knowing your triggers and creating physical barriers to touching your face may help you kick the habit.
If you can't stop picking and it's causing you distress, you may want to seek professional help.
I've always been a picker — pimples, scabs, nails, you name it.
Sometimes I'll spend what feels like an eternity in front of the mirror, squeezing any bump or blackhead I can find. Even when I'm not consciously trying to pop something, my hands will wander to my face, searching for something to pick.
I thought once I outgrew my acne I'd be able to kick the habit. But it's become clear to me that my picking is prolonging my years of bad skin.
I spoke with a dermatologist and a psychiatrist about how to end this harmful habit for good.
Know that picking your pimples inevitably leads to more harm than good
You might think that popping a zit will shorten its lifespan, but dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner said that's not the case.
"Red, angry pimples may be uncomfortable and unsightly, but they do not have a clear connection to the surface of the skin and cannot be picked out," Zeichner told Insider in an email.
By picking at those unpoppable red bumps (the hard, painful ones that grow so large they deserve a name), you're disrupting the skin barrier and creating a wound where there wasn't one.
Aside from making an even worse-looking sore, breaking the skin barrier allows more bacteria to enter, which can lead to infection.
The best case scenario is that the wound will scab and heal without leaving a mark. Picking the scab will only cause more irritation and possible scarring, Zeichner said, so your best bet is keep your hands off your face while it heals.
Take note of emotional and situational triggers that make you want to pick
One of the most effective ways to stop picking is to identify and address your triggers, said Dr. Lisa Zakhary, a psychiatrist who specializes in skin picking disorder.
Zakhary said many people will pick as a coping technique to deal with anxiety, depression, or negative emotions. If you notice a feeling that makes you want to pick, she recommends engaging in a competing response (like clenching your fist) and waiting for the urge to pass.
If you're more likely to pick at a certain time of day or location — for me, it's in front of the bathroom mirror post-shower — you should be intentional about avoiding situations where you'll be prone to picking.
For example, Zeichner advised against staring at your face in the mirror before bed. "When you're tired, you are more likely to pick and pick poorly," he wrote in an email.
He also recommended throwing out your magnifying mirror altogether, as it will reveal blemishes that wouldn't be noticed by the naked eye.
Make it harder to pick by covering your face or fingers
Another way to stop picking is stimulus control, or making it harder to pick by changing the environment, Zakhary said.
Hydrocolloid bandages (sold as blister bandages or pimple stickers) can act as a physical barrier to keep your hands off a pimple while absorbing excess fluid and helping the healing process.
Zakhary said you can even wrap the bandages around your fingers to make it impossible to pick. The hydrocolloid material is particularly long-lasting and inconspicuous (and chances are no one is seeing your hands these days anyway).
Alternatively, you could keep your nails short, or Zakhary said some of her patients find it more difficult to pick when they have acrylic nails or gel manicures.
You can also keep your hands busy with fidget toys if you find yourself picking when your hands are idle.
If skin picking is causing you distress, seek professional help
While most people pop their pimples on occasion, skin picking can be a symptom of a psychological disorder.
Zakhary defined skin picking disorder as "skin picking resulting in skin lesions, with repeated attempts to stop the behavior and that is causing distress and impairment."
If you're able to stop picking on your own, you're just engaging in a normal human behavior, she said. But those who can't stop should seek professional help, as skin picking disorder can be treated by cognitive behavioral therapy and medication if necessary.
"Less than 20 percent of patients who pick will actually seek any kind of treatment for skin picking," Zakhary said. "That's because most people don't know that skin picking is something that can be helped or treated. And also, many people are ashamed or embarrassed about it."
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