Health

Young woman spent years hiding face after ‘daily skin picking sessions’

A woman has admitted she spent almost a decade trying to hide her face after ‘daily picking sessions’ of up to six hours left her looking like she had permanent chicken pox.

Aubrey Wagner, of Columbia, South Carolina, said she first started picking her skin when she was aged 13 but this soon progressed into an ‘unhealthy coping mechanism’ to help her relieve tension and anxiety.

The 24-year-old said her habit intensified during stressful periods to the extent she’d find herself in a ‘trance’ in the mirror picking her face, leaving her with so many bloody scabs it looked like she had chickenpox.

The assistant boutique manager was diagnosed with dermatillomania, a disorder where you cannot stop picking your skin, aged 18 and found herself withdrawing from social situations to hide her face’s ‘open wounds’.

Aubrey Wagner was left with skin that appeared to have ‘permanent chickenpox’ after pick her skin for up to six hours per day 

Aubrey would often be left horrified at the damage she had done while she was unconsciously picking for hours

Aubrey would often be left horrified at the damage she had done while she was unconsciously picking for hours

The picking would extend to her back, arms, face, legs and feet, and Aubrey often felt unable to stop

The picking would extend to her back, arms, face, legs and feet, and Aubrey often felt unable to stop

Since reducing her stress after graduating from university, Aubrey's skin picking has largely subsided

Since reducing her stress after graduating from university, Aubrey’s skin picking has largely subsided

But last May, Aubrey ‘little by little’ began overcoming the condition and her skin has now more or less healed – progress she’s ‘very proud’ of and that has made her self-esteem sky-rocket.

Photos and footage captured by Aubrey reveal the red sores which covered her face, back and legs alongside more recent ones of her smiling make-up and spot-free with confidence.

Aubrey said: ‘The longest time I’ve gone was probably six hours before I snapped out of it and realised what I was doing.

‘I found myself sitting on my counter and that made the time go by even quicker because I didn’t realise how long I was standing.

Before her condition improved, Aubrey felt embarrassed to leave her house

Now, Aubrey's faced has cleared up and she has found keeping stress at bay helps her condition

The longest the graduate can remember picking as her face for was a whopping total of six hours

Aubrey's skin-picking started during puberty but became much more severe during high school when her stress levels increased

Aubrey’s skin-picking started during puberty but became much more severe during high school when her stress levels increased 

Aubrey would feel as if a 'monster' was picking at her body during a trance-like episode of non-stop picking

Aubrey would feel as if a ‘monster’ was picking at her body during a trance-like episode of non-stop picking

WHAT IS DERMATILLOMANIA?

Dermatillomania – or compulsive skin picking – is an impulse control disorder characterised by the uncontrollable desire to pick at one’s skin.

Some sufferers have the condition so severely they pick at their skin until it is damaged.

Sufferers usually start by picking at their face before moving on to other parts of the body.

The condition is often categorised as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

It can lead to bleeding, bruising and infections.

CSP will often be carried out after the individual has experienced a high level of tension which has caused an urge to carry out the behaviour.

The skin picking is often accompanied by a feeling of relief or even pleasure due to the reduction in anxiety levels.

However, once the damage has been done, those affected will often be left with a feeling of depression or hopelessness.

Although the damage that is caused can be very severe, the gratification experienced can lead the individual to carry out CSP again and again.

Treatment usually involves counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Source: Anxiety UK

 

‘My roommate finally had to use the bathroom after being gone pretty much all day and I was so traumatised to even come out of the bathroom because I knew what I had just done after I’d kind of snapped out of this almost trance so to speak. It was really scary.

‘I had an out-of-body experience when I stepped back from the mirror because I knew what I was doing at the time but didn’t realise how bad it was, and almost felt like there was a monster doing this to me, is the best way to describe it.

‘It’s so unconscious that once you step back from the mirror and you see yourself, it all really hits and it’s like a drop in your stomach. 

‘It’s really hard to look at after you’ve done something like that because the first thing you want to do is go and hide, and that’s what I would do.’

Aubrey said she first started ‘lightly’ picking at acne on her skin daily while she was going through puberty, but her habit worsened as her life became more stressful in senior high school.

When she started college she’d pick almost every day – only having a day off occasionally in order to give her skin a break if she’d done it so ‘intensely’ the day before.

Aubrey said: ‘Often, for me, it was when I found myself with the most schoolwork, stress or something on my plate. I would go into the bathroom, take a shower, whatever I needed to do.

‘I would then find myself in the mirror with just one little bump and I’d be like ‘that needs to get popped, I’ll pop that’ and then I’d find another one on my face because I was looking so closely.

‘It just never ever really stopped. It just felt like there was always a place on my face or my back that needed, in my mind, extra TLC one might say. I needed to pick it in order to make it better, that’s how I always thought about it.

 

When she started college she'd pick almost every day - only having a day off occasionally in order to give her skin a break if she'd done it so 'intensely' the day before

When she started college she’d pick almost every day – only having a day off occasionally in order to give her skin a break if she’d done it so ‘intensely’ the day before

In her mind, it felt like there was always a place on her face or her back that needed 'extra TLC' and attention

In her mind, it felt like there was always a place on her face or her back that needed ‘extra TLC’ and attention

Stepping into the shower would often trigger a picking episode, as looking at herself in the mirror would leave her scanning her body for places to pick

 Stepping into the shower would often trigger a picking episode, as looking at herself in the mirror would leave her scanning her body for places to pick

‘But after a few hours or a little while of picking, you step back from the mirror and look at yourself and I would really feel disheartened about what I just did and have a rush of “what did I just do?”.

‘Every time I pick, often I would find myself bleeding with red sores. Those would tend to scab over in the next few days but they were open wounds that I would create. It almost looked like I had chickenpox, some may say.

‘Often after I had picked my skin, if I was going to do school work or trying to do something that I had anxiety about, I would find myself just picking away at the scabs making it only worse.

The graduate started to create TikTok videos to spread helpful information about dermatillomania

The graduate started to create TikTok videos to spread helpful information about dermatillomania

Pictured recently after her skin picking has largely subsided, Aubrey is taking her condition one day at a time

Pictured recently after her skin picking has largely subsided, Aubrey is taking her condition one day at a time

Pictured now, Aubrey has managed to get on top of her debilitating condition, but admits it hasn't fully gone away

Pictured now, Aubrey has managed to get on top of her debilitating condition, but admits it hasn’t fully gone away

To hold herself accountable for the picking, Aubrey set up a TikTok account, where she soon found others with the same condition. Pictured now

To hold herself accountable for the picking, Aubrey set up a TikTok account, where she soon found others with the same condition. Pictured now

‘That was something I like to call ‘mindless picking’ – where you’re not intentionally doing it, like I have when I sat in the mirror.’

The 24-year-old most often picked her face and back because they were easiest to reach but also do so on her arms and even legs – and she’s still dealing with the scarring that it’s left.

Aubrey was finally diagnosed with dermatillomania while in college.

She said it was a relief as it made her realise that her habit wasn’t something she could immediately just stop but something that was going to be a process for her to do so.

Aubrey no longer feels like hiding her face anymore, and has felt an enormous surge of confidence in her looks

Aubrey no longer feels like hiding her face anymore, and has felt an enormous surge of confidence in her looks

Feeling 'ashamed' and not confident in her looks, Aubrey would hide herself away from friends and strangers

Feeling ‘ashamed’ and not confident in her looks, Aubrey would hide herself away from friends and strangers

Aubrey said: ‘I would find myself staying at home much more [pre-covid] because I didn’t feel confident in showing my face.

‘I got very good at covering it with make-up and so every single morning, no matter if I was just staying at home, I’d wear a face full of make-up just because I was so scared to show other people.

‘I didn’t want to meet new people who would see my face or would say ‘why is she wearing so much make-up?’ because of all the texture I would have.

‘I was not only ashamed. I didn’t feel pretty. I knew that a conversation was going to have to come about it and I just didn’t want to have it either.

‘When I put up my first TikTok videos, I really was doing it in order to hold myself accountable because I thought it was a way for some people to see it and hopefully see my progress, so that way I would feel like I owe something to those people in order to make that progress.

‘It was so surprising when it gained popularity with people dealing with the exact same thing and it was nice to know that honestly, I didn’t feel alone because for ten years I thought I was.’

Aubrey said the biggest reason that saw her largely ditch her skin-picking habit was the reduction of her stress levels after graduating from college.

She regularly shares informative TikTok videos about dermatillomania from which she has received a lot of support and amassed more than 831,000 likes and followers.

Aubrey was wary of meeting new people before her condition improved, as questions about her condition would arise

Aubrey was wary of meeting new people before her condition improved, as questions about her condition would arise 

After finding an online community, Aubrey felt less alone in her daily struggles with dermatillomania

After finding an online community, Aubrey felt less alone in her daily struggles with dermatillomania

Even when Aubrey would wear makeup, she found that the texture of her skin made it hard to hide her condition

Even when Aubrey would wear makeup, she found that the texture of her skin made it hard to hide her condition

Since Aubrey's skin has cleared up she's come to accept that her condition may never be solved completely and instead she celebrates the small milestones

Since Aubrey’s skin has cleared up she’s come to accept that her condition may never be solved completely and instead she celebrates the small milestones

Aubrey said: ‘A lot of people see my skin now and ask me ‘how did you stop?’ and the craziest thing is I never really fully stopped, and I still haven’t.

‘I think that’s because the goal for so many people with dermatillomania is to stop picking and that was my goal for a really long time too.

‘But I figured out that that didn’t necessarily work for me. What did was slowly back off, little by little and celebrating when I did make progress.

‘With my mental health, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully stop and honestly, I think that’s ok.

‘I’m very proud of the progress that I’ve made and the scars on my skin don’t really bother me compared to what I used to do.

‘I don’t feel myself hiding my face anymore, which was crazy because I was so used to doing that in social settings. The amount of confidence I have is much higher.

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