Do you pick at your hangnails? Doctor warns you could be suffering little-known life-wrecking condition

Hangnails are among one of the most irritating of cosmetic problems – and you can’t blame those who get them often for ripping them off.

The small bits of torn skin, which appear beside a nail, often get caught on clothes and jewellery, and can look unsightly.

But now skin experts are warning that a constant desire to whip off the skin can be a sign of a recognized mental health condition.

The repeated urge to pick at your own skin is the telltale sign of an illness called dermatillomania – a little-known type of obsessive compulsive disorder, according to the official definition.

In a clip posted to TikTok, LA-based podiatrist Dr Dana Brems showed her 2.3 million followers what the condition looks like using a video of a person picking at their own finger.

Doctors may diagnose the disorder when someone picks ‘even to the point of damage or wounds.’

‘The exact cause is not fully understood, but stress and anxiety can exacerbate symptoms,’ she wrote in a caption.

The post sparked nearly 200 comments, mostly from users who identified with the habit.

‘On today’s episode of things I didn’t know the name of that I have,’ wrote one young woman, named @anxiousshadoww on TikTok.

‘I have that and my hands hurt from it,’ wrote another, while one woman identified her skin picking was a ‘coping mechanism since I was a child.’

Dermatillomania is thought to affect up to five percent of the US population at some point in their lives, some 16 million people, according to estimates by the Cleveland clinic.

Dermatillomania is also known as skin picking disorder or excoriation, according to the medical literature.

Although it is considered a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, there are key differences.

For instance, the skin problem doesn’t always come alongside obsessive thoughts, and those with OCD don’t usually injure themselves intentionally.

A key element of dermatillomania is the relentlessness of the picking, to the extent that it begins to interfere with daily life either due to injury or stress. 

There are two types of skin picking in dermatillomania, according to the Cleveland clinic. 

Either automatic – which often happens without a person thinking about it – or focused, which is when time is dedicated to the habit. Focused picking is most associated with injuries.

This can leave patients vulnerable to potentially serious infections and affects work, social lives and other daily activities, according to the International OCD Foundation. 

The condition mostly affects women and those who suffer anxiety, studies show, and can be triggered by major life traumas.

Thankfully, research shows that treatment can be effective for easing the habit. This includes specific types of cognitive behavioral therapy and SSRI antidepressants – the same kind that are used to treat anxiety disorders.