How to Stop Picking Your Face Once and for All, According to a Psychologist

a woman with her hands touching her face

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I have a confession. When I was younger, I would pick my face. It wasn’t until around the time I was in college that I quit for good. How did I do it? It was with the help of an aesthetician in Los Angeles. To quickly jump ahead, I spoke with New York licensed psychologist Sanam Hafeez to learn ways others could stop picking their faces, and the different reasons why we do it.

Meet the Expert

Sanam Hafeez is a New York licensed psychologist specializing in behavioral and forensic psychology. Along with her practice, Hafeez teaches at Colombia University, runs CCPS to advocate for mental health and learning disabilities, and expert witness for New York court cases.

But before we get to that, here’s how it worked for me:

I began seeing an aesthetician named Gohar for microdermabrasion to minimize the scars I had because of said picking. I then took preventive measures and would schedule regular visits regardless of whether or not I had breakouts. But what really changed my skin—and life—was when she offered for me to drop in any time I had a major blemish so she could do the extraction instead of me. What a novel idea to let a professional do it, right? This shifted my relationship with how I cared for my skin. But what I didn’t understand or think about was why I picked my face in the first place.

This was a lesson that came in New York on a beauty assignment at Dangene The Institute of Skinovation. I remember the visit vividly. During my appointment with the professional I saw, I explained to her that I would pick my face when I was younger… and I said that I couldn’t tell her why I did it. I explained that it didn’t fit my personality: I am type A, disgusted with germs (I’m that girl on a flight who sanitizes the tray table), and hyperaware of good hygiene and etiquette.

She shared that she has the same personality and suffered from adult acne and scarring too (which you’d never know if you saw her porcelain skin). She explained that because of this aspiration for perfection, there was a sense of necessity and satisfaction to smooth skin immediately. In that moment, it all made sense. Understanding why I would do this helped me tremendously. I understood that I was striving for clear skin, but what unblemished skin meant to me was distorted.

Of course, my journey is different than others, and to help others who pick their face to quit, I asked Hafeez (whose areas of expertise include body image, workplace stress, and anxiety, among many more) for her professional advice. Ahead, I talk to Hafeez about the secret to quit picking your face for good.

3 Common Reasons People Pick Their Face

Feeling anxious? Hafeez says, “Oftentimes people pick their face when anxious about another aspect of their lives. It’s in the same realm of OCD and an impulse disorder.” Another common reason for picking is due to concentration. “Sometimes people pick while deeply focused on other tasks such as watching TV, reading, driving, or at their desks.” Or it can even be satisfaction-driven. For instance, she explains some people claim to feel a touch of satisfaction when they spot a bump and have the itch to pop it on their own. Which, of course, can lead to infection, additional pimples, and scarring. Not good. 

Hafeez says that we’re all prone to picking our faces. She adds, “Obviously, people who don’t struggle with breakouts won’t have much to pick. Picking is a form of control, so it’s common for people who tend to break out when stressed to then pick their face instead. They feel stressed, so they break out. Then they stress out over the breakout, which leads to the picking. It’s a vicious cycle.

6 Tips to Quit Picking Your Face


1. Try Journaling

Instead of defaulting to picking your face as a coping mechanism, journaling every morning or night can help ease any frustration and anxiety creeping their way into your headspace.


2. Hide Your Mirror

Do as recommended by Hafeez and kick the bad habit of staring into a magnified mirror. They can reinforce picking by putting every "flaw" on display, which incites temptation.

3. See a Dermatologist
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"Enlist the help of a professional to help heal your skin and determine a healthy skincare regimen designed for your specific skin type and skin concerns," says Hafeez.


4. Consider Therapy

"Consider therapy if the picking is leading to scarring and perhaps even is interfering with other aspects of life or if it leads to self-sabotaging thoughts, low self-worth, and even depression," Hafeez continues.

5. Clip Your Nails
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The key to not exacerbating your skin even more? Keeping your nails short. Plus, it makes picking to begin with more of a challenge.


6. Occupy Your Hands

Whether it’s something as simple as keeping a stress ball or Silly Putty by your desk or simply getting into the kitchen and making a batch of cookies or a loaf of bread, keeping your hands busy (and thus, off your face) is another great option if you're trying to wean yourself off the habit of picking your face.

Next up: A celebrity esthetician explains exactly how to banish blackheads overnight.

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated by Erin Jahns.

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