Skin biting or dermatophagia is a condition in which you may bite or chew your own skin. Treatment can help you improve the symptoms associated with dermatophagia.

Body-focused repetitive behaviors are those that can cause damage to your skin, such as picking, biting, chewing, and hair pulling. For some people, body-focused repetitive behaviors can occur due to genetics or psychological distress.

Some individuals have challenges with body-focused repetitive behaviors that involve the skin. One disorder is called dermatophagia.

Dermatophagia is a condition where people bite their skin. This condition can cause disease and infections of the skin. This condition can be treated through habit reversal training and decoupling.

Treatments for this condition help provide redirection for repetitive behaviors. If you or a loved one have dermatophagia, help is available.

Dermatophagia is an obsessive-compulsive like disorder that refers to humans who bite their skin. Many people with this condition often have other related conditions that could include other body-focused repetitive behaviors.

Dermatophagia can cause thickening of the skin around your hands and nails. If you have this condition, you may need to see a dermatologist, as biting can cause infections and diseases of the nails that can cause problems.

Other types of body-focused repetitive behavior

Similar to dermatophagia, research suggests that other body-focused repetitive behaviors include:

  • Trichotillomania: hair-pulling
  • Dermatillomania: skin-picking
  • Onychophagia: nail-biting

Individuals with dermatophagia may be more likely to engage in other body-focused repetitive behaviors like those listed above.

If you’re curious if you have dermatophagia, there are some signs to look out for.

Common signs of dermatophagia include:

  • the urge to eat your own skin
  • the desire to bite your own skin
  • gnawing or chewing on your own skin
  • bleeding and discoloration around hands or nails
  • thickening of skin around bitten areas

In addition, you may be prone to skin infections due to the repetitive biting around the area.

It’s unclear what causes dermatophagia. One 2022 research study suggests that skin biting or chewing behavior could result from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or depression.

The study also indicates that dermatophagia may be associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, intellectual disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.

The exact cause of dermatophagia is unknown. It’s a body-focused repetitive behavior, and there has been debate about whether this is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) condition or an impulse-related disorder.

There’s still additional research being done on this topic.

If you’re seeking treatment for dermatophagia, various therapeutic options may be helpful. Habit reversal training is one of the most popular treatment options. Habit reversal training involves four distinct parts that help individuals reverse a habit.

The four parts of habit reversal training include:

  1. awareness training
  2. competing response practice
  3. habit control motivation
  4. generalization training

Research from 2021 suggests that habit reversal training has been highly effective for body-focused repetitive behaviors.

Decoupling is another method of treatment used for dermatophagia and other body-focused repetitive behaviors. The decoupling technique involves diverting the repetitive behavior and creating an irritation so that you can identify the repetitive behavior and intervene before doing it.

Other treatment methods may involve working with a mental health professional using cognitive-behavioral techniques to help identify the thoughts, behaviors, and feelings associated with the body-focused repetitive behavior.

One additional 2020 case study found promising effects of a revised decoupling protocol that integrates imagery into the diversion techniques used in decoupling.

The patient saw results with the revised decoupling protocol when, previously, the patient couldn’t find relief with habit reversal training and decoupling alone.

The researchers in the case study discussed the limitations of additional research and generalizability. Treatment for dermatophagia remains a work in progress.

This condition isn’t well understood, so diagnosing it may be difficult for doctors. If you’re seeking a diagnosis due to chewing or biting at your skin, you’re more likely to have this diagnosed along with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It’s likely that the obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis would occur first, and then later, a diagnosis of dermatophagia. You may see a dermatologist (skin doctor) to help aid in diagnosis, as they may be able to help diagnose and treat the condition effectively.

Skin biting or dermatophagia is a condition where people chew and bite their skin, often linked with OCD. Researchers believe it’s related to anxiety, as many body-focused repetitive behaviors are rooted in anxiety.

Dermatophagia isn’t well understood or researched. There are a few treatment options available that can help you find relief. If you’re looking for education and support for dermatophagia, consider visiting The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors to learn more.