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a person sitting on the toilet picks at her skin

When the Bathroom is an Unsafe Place for Your Skin

We all talk about the dangers posed by the sun, but a dangerous place away from the sun, that is not usually mentioned in skin safety literature, is…drumroll…the bathroom.

The bathroom?

You might wonder why that would be, or maybe you know. It’s something we don’t talk about a lot because it’s kind of embarrassing. Or maybe I’m the only one. I don’t know because nobody has taken a poll. It’s the habit of sitting on the toilet and picking at your skin while waiting to finish your business. Or looking at yourself in the mirror, really closely, and picking something off of your face and or neck.

Here’s what happens with me

My hands and arms are ripe targets when I’m on the toilet. I have so much going on that I don’t know which is which. Some are little scabs after Efudex treatment. Some are flakey pre-cancers (almost always squamous cells), some are actinic keratoses which may or may not turn into cancer, and some are scabs created by a good freezing. I look down and I absentmindedly pick at something. Then for a “bonus,” I look in the mirror and go for something else. These past few months that has meant a few spots on my neck.

Skin picking and skin cancer

Maybe it’s just that instinctively we want to look at clear skin. I think of it like a cat that’s grooming itself. Also, it has made me think of a problem (she would have said catastrophe) I had when cutting my daughter’s hair once. I made one side uneven and had to go back and cut more off the other side. With the skin, it’s like you get a little bit of a scab off and then feel the need to even it out.

A good solution might be to put some magazines or books in the bathroom, like some people do. It would be a distraction away from the urge to pick. In a New York Times story headlined “How This Chronic Skin-Picker Created a Sane, Affordable Skin Care Routine,” the writer said she taped notes to the mirror. Her case was extreme, but there are gradations. Like the writer, I know that anxiety can cause me to go after my skin. The result is never good. The spot may bleed. It may hurt.

I don’t even realize it

When I was at the house of my boyfriend’s relatives, I wasn’t consciously nervous, but I started scratching at a spot on my wrist. Scratching can lead to picking. He brushed my hand away. I moved it back. It turned into a little game, and the silliness of it made me stop. In fact as the author of the story stated, having a “buddy” can help make you stop. Several times I have texted my daughter when I have the urge to pick. We both have gradations of the problem. She texted back, “Mom, stop it,” or something like that.

In the New York Time story, psychologist Ryan Howes said, “Some people have underlying social anxiety and pick as a way to relieve stress or distract themselves before a social event. Others may have deep-seated problems with body image, and the picking is an attempt to make perfect the visual imperfections. Some experience clinical levels of O.C.D. or generalized anxiety and it’s an outlet for anxious thoughts. “

Mindfulness might help

You might have heard about mindfulness techniques to reduce anxiety. This story on mindfulness for anxiety has some short exercises that might help with a skin picking. Of course if your skin picking is out of control, it’s probably a good idea to add a mental health professional to your toolkit if you haven’t already done so. I sure have!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.