Skin biting disorder

Written by zoe nichols
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Skin biting disorder
For some animals, social grooming strengthens bonds and restores harmony to the group. (ape image by Natalia Pavlova from

Compulsive skin biting, or dermatophagia, is one of a spectrum of body-focused compulsive psychiatric disorders, which may also be categorised as a psychosomatic skin disease, or neurodermatitis.


The most common symptom of skin biting is self-explanatory---the individual bites his skin, typically around the fingernail and cuticle region. Over time, this behaviour can cause bleeding, permanent damage, discolouration, hangnails and callusing.

Skin biting disorder
The fingers are most often the focus of compulsive skin biting. (Flexible hand image by C.Y.Ronnie.W from


Research links repetitive, body-focused behaviour to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as body dysmorphic disorder. Early childhood trauma, genetics, neurological imbalances, stress and boredom can be driving forces behind compulsive skin biting. Many sufferers describe an "insatiable itch" or urge, relieved by engaging in biting behaviour.

Skin biting disorder
Oftentimes, body-focused compulsions begin in childhood. (nervous girl image by Lisa Eastman from


Compulsive skin biting has physical and emotional implications. Embarrassed by their appearance, individuals might withdraw from work, school and social interaction, in order to avoid public judgment and scrutiny.

Skin biting disorder
Compulsive skin biting is a vicious cycle of stress and shame. (symbole recycle image by Lounatiq from

Related Disorders

Compulsive hair pulling, called trichotillomania; hair eating, or trichotillophagia; skin picking, or dermatillomania; and nail biting, or onychophagia, are disorders closely related to compulsive skin biting.

Skin biting disorder
Trichotillomania can have especially stark implications for women. (sexy girl with hand in hair image by NorthShoreSurfPhotos from


The primary treatment for any OCD is psychotherapy. Discovering the circumstances surrounding onset, as well as its current triggers, are key to resolving compulsive skin biting. Antidepressants or anxiety medications, as well as support groups, have also shown promise.

Skin biting disorder
Medications prove an effective treatment for compulsive skin biting sufferers. (Pills image by ne_fall_photos from

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