How I Keep 'Covering Up' My Dermatillomania


As a child, I’d notice my mom bent over the bathroom sink, peering into the mirror. She would be scanning her face with her fingers, having just scrubbed off makeup before bed. Through doors that were left ajar, I’d catch glimpses of my mom picking at her skin.

I remember the creamy, ivory mask she wore. My mom’s first task of the day was to conceal the blemishes that speckled her forehead, cheeks and chin with liquid foundation. I rarely saw her without this thick coating of makeup on her face. My dad would complain about my mom’s liquid foundation rubbing off on towels and clothing. He complained about stains, but I think he resented the barrier her makeup formed between his fingertips and her natural skin. The foundation seeped into every minuscule pore on her face.

While my mom was covering up her face, I was covering up my arms. I had been inflicted with relentless acne during my preteen years. I’d spend hours curled up on our basement couch, picking at the pimples on my arms. Then I agonized over going to school the next day, worried that people would notice all the constellations of red spots. I felt little choice but to wear long-sleeve shirts and sweat it out in my warm classroom.

At 30 years old, I’m still covering up. And like my mom, I cover up my face and feel a certain level of dependence on makeup. I feel exposed if I don’t wear liquid foundation. But I can’t cake on enough makeup to cover up the regret and shame I feel from having marked up my face — yet again.

I’ve played out a scenario in my mind. I go to apply my foundation in the morning, only to realize the tube is empty. The tube I’ve had for at least three years. It seemed bottomless. I feel relieved when I imagine my solution. I’d cut into the tube with scissors and use my finger to desperately scoop liquid off the sides. This motion reminds me of childhood; how I ran my index finger around the sides of a large mixing bowl, raking up cake batter while baking with my mom. With the last bit of foundation on my finger, I’d dab it only on my reddest spots.

I remind myself that I’m unlikely to run out of foundation. Just like my mom, who kept unopened jars of foundation in the bathroom cupboard, I have back-ups. I have sealed bottles of foundation tucked away.

I recently read a study that looked at the social impact of dermatillomania. The researchers found that most participants made efforts to conceal the effects of their skin picking. A majority of them used makeup, with clothing coming in as a close second for concealment methods. And in consistency with other studies on dermatillomania, most participants reported picking skin on their faces more than any other body part. It’s a wicked predicament we’re in — having a disorder that causes us to compulsively mark up the most prominent parts of ourselves.

Each morning, I dot the aggravated wounds and scars on my face. And then I run a concealer pen over my shoulders and upper back, wishing it were a Magic Eraser. I don’t leave home without my foundation and concealer pen. That way, if I pick my skin during class or while studying at the library, I can slip into the nearest bathroom and reapply. The need I feel to maintain my camouflage is a type of prison. The urges I feel to pick the skin on my face are an endless struggle. I am grateful for liquid foundation.

If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

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Thinkstock photo via mixformdesign.

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