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Have you ever felt frustrated when friends or family members tell you to simply stop repetitively picking at your skin, biting your nails, or pulling out hair when you know it’s just not that simple?
Both skin picking and nail biting, as well as hair pulling, cheek or lip biting, and even nose picking can fall into the category of body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs. While many people pick at their skin or body, a BFRB is defined as any recurrent, problematic, and destructive behavior that is directed toward the body.
“What distinguishes the condition from a habit versus a disorder is that there’s either repeated attempts to stop picking or pulling and it’s very hard to stop,” said Dr. Lisa Zakhary, medical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for OCD and Related Disorders. “Most importantly, the defining feature is that the condition is really causing distress or impairing social relationships or work in some way. Habits don’t tend to do that.”
About 5% of the population is affected by one of these conditions, according to BFRB.org, an organization that offers support and resources to connect people in the BFRB community and help them manage their symptoms.
How BFRBs are treated
While BFRBs share some characteristics with obsessive-compulsive disorder, they are not the same.
“OCD is considered distinct from OCD-related disorders,” Zakhary said. OCD is characterized by having intrusive thoughts that are difficult to stop or having compulsive behaviors, whereas hair pulling, known as trichotillomania, and skin picking, known as excoriation disorder (or dermatillomania, as it was previously known),…