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Friday, December 28, 2012 carolindigo, Community Member, asks

Q: Finger Picking

I have this terrible habit of picking at the skin on my fingers.  I used to bite my fingernails and pick at them until they bled, but I quit that.  My fingernails look nice . . . . unless you look closely.  The skin around the cuticles is a little ragged in places.  The bad spots  are between my fingers and on the sides.  I will pick at them until I rub blisters which become sores.  I have callouses on them.  I'm not sure what causes me to do this or how to stop.  Does anyone else have this problem?  Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Answers (1)
Jerry Kennard, Health Pro
12/28/12 9:55am
It's a hard habit to break but I have two suggestions. The first is a nail coating you can purchase from the chemist which gives a bitter taste and is meant to be unpleasant. The second is that you change this habit for another. That is, you concentrate on your nails and cuticles in order to make them healthy, keep them nice, perhaps put false nails over while they grow, use nail varnish or nail art. This shifts your focus a little and when in times of stress or habit you lift your fingers to your mouth you'll hopefully remember in time to stop. Good luck. Reply
Jerry Kennard, Health Pro
12/28/12 10:04am
Just on re-reading your question I missed the point about the issue between your fingers. Skin picking may happen if you are reacting to detergents or some other chemicals or even soaps that can irritate. It is possible you suffer with stress or anxiety, or even boredom. If it really troubles you it may be worth speaking to your doctor, who may suggest some psychological intervention. Sometimes the simple act of recording how often you scratch and when you scratch can raise your own awareness enough to break the habit. Reply
carolindigo, Community Member
12/28/12 12:14pm

I have tried the bitter tasting stuff, but since I rarely actually bite my nails any more that's not really the main issue.  Most of the damage is done on the webs and sides of my fingers.  It's almost like a hobby for me.  The one time I mentioned this to a psychiatrist, he just shrugged his shoulders and said something like, “What’s the big deal?”  I have seen several psychiatrists and counselors over the years, but have never really felt comfortable with any of them and never really felt like they were helpful.  The last one that I saw seemed to be more interested in writing prescriptions than anything else.  I think that I saw drug reps every time I was at his office.  I even saw on a website that he had received thousands of dollars in fees from drug companies for doing talks to promote drugs.  I didn’t feel like the meds helped either.  I knew that he wasn’t really helping me, but I think that I kept going just so that I could tell myself that since I was seeing a professional, I was at least trying to work out my problems.  Finally, I couldn’t even fool myself any longer, so I quit going and haven’t been for counseling in about six years.  

 

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Jerry Kennard, Health Pro
12/28/12 12:57pm
It does sound deeper than mere skin picking as a habit. Not sure how much you want to share online but I am wondering whether you actually form an association between the picking and some other emotional issue? Are there times when things are better? If so, what do you put this down to? Reply
carolindigo, Community Member
1/ 2/13 2:51pm

I tend to do the picking whenever I am thinking something over or trying to make a decision.  I have difficulty making any kind of a decision, including mundane things such as what should I have for dinner, it's pretty much a constant thing.  

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Jerry Kennard, Health Pro
1/ 2/13 5:05pm
Unless a dermatologist can suggest something like a barrier cream my suggestion is to use your own barrier whenever possible. Gloves might be useful at home and regular non irritant cream applied during the day when this isn't possible. Essentially you are trying to break a bad habit with a different one. The difference is you are behaving almost at a subconscious level and you need to switch to a more concerted, regular and conscious behavior that is less harmful. I also go back to a previous suggestion which is to keep a record. Stay away from detergents, soaps, bubble baths, or anything that may cause minor irritations that encourage you to scratch. Reply
carolindigo, Community Member
1/ 2/13 5:28pm

I am trying to be more conscious of when I do it and try to identify what is going through my mind.  I do wear gloves at night.  

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Jerry Kennard, Health Pro
1/ 2/13 5:38pm
Well done. Not sure if it will help but there is also a skin care site on healthcentral that might be worth checking out? Reply
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By carolindigo, Community Member— Last Modified: 01/02/13, First Published: 12/28/12