The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Do You Find Yourself Picking at Calluses? You May Have Excoriation Disorder!

Posted by on Friday, February 21st, 2014


“Nobody really knows what causes it, but every species with some kind of hair or soft covering seems to do a version of this,” said A&M Texas University psychology department head Doug Woods, speaking about picking at skin. “Dogs lick themselves in a particular area and open a bald spot. Cats and chimpanzees take the fur off themselves and others. Mice do barbering. Birds pull out their feathers.”


Just last year, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders added “excoriation disorder” to its index of medical conditions. Skin picking disorder may affect as many as 1 in 20 people, according to the International OCD Foundation.

Are You Just “Picky” or Do You Have a Problem?

People who pick at their scabs, bite their nails, and rip calluses off their heels may be eligible for treatment through their health insurance coverage provider. Yet, they may also have to admit they engage in behavior that was once considered “normal,” but now is considered a neurotic pathology by mental health practitioners.

Here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine, we encounter many patients who fret over imperfections with their feet. They cut their toenails down so low that they grow back into the flesh as ingrown toenails. They pick at calluses until a slow-to-heal wound is left behind. They pop their blisters and spread infection. They dig into their feet with tweezers and needles. They try home remedies like Vicks VapoRub or Listerine soaks in an attempt to cure nail fungus — or even use duct tape to rid themselves of a wart.

It makes sense that people engage in this sort of behavior. After all, it can be soothing to feel like you are in control of your own body and able to do something about what ails you. Some people do it consciously, while others don’t really even realize what they’re doing.

A 2006 study of 1,300 University of Delaware students found that 15% pulled their hair and 30% picked at their skin in response to stress or boredom. Yet, it’s reported that about 4% of the people who engage in this self-soothing behavior take it to the extreme — to the point of inadvertently injuring themselves.

skin picking callus
Giving yourself a relaxing home pedicure is much different than repeatedly picking at calluses until they bleed.
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What Is the Definition of Excoriation Disorder?

By definition, people with excoriation disorder exhibit the following DSM-5 criteria:

– Recurrent skin-picking, resulting in lesions

– Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop skin picking

– Impaired function or distress due to skin picking habit

– The absence of a physiological reason for skin picking (such as a medical condition or drug abuse)

– The absence of other mental disorders that may cause skin picking.

NY podiatrist
A NY podiatrist has the right tools to improve the condition of your feet, without injuring you further.
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Treatment for Excoriation Disorder

Since excoriation disorder is considered a mental condition, we won’t be able treat it here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City. You may need to work with a behavioral therapist who will help you reverse bad habits and manage your impulses to pick. However, what we can help you with is treating the causes of foot pain, such as blisters, corns, bunions, warts, ingrown toenails, infections, calluses, boils, ulcers, and traumatic foot injuries. We can also treat areas of your feet that you may have picked raw or opened up to pathogens. You will feel much better once your feet are back in order again.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.