Dermatophagia: what is it and how to treat it


Do you have a bad habit of biting the skin of your nails, lips or the inside of your cheeks? If so, you most likely suffer from dermatophagia, a psychological disorder of impulsive control that can have great consequences if not treated properly. However, to correctly treat dermatophagia, it is essential to know what incites this bad habit in each person.

Dermatophagia what is it and how to treat it

What is dermatophagia

As we have seen, dermatophagia is a psychological disorder that consists of compulsively biting the skin . It is a condition that has singularities of three classes of disorders: anxious, obsessive-compulsive and impulse control, which is why people who suffer from dermatophagia are usually very nervous.

If the bites occur punctually over a short period of time caused, for example, by a stress episode, there is no need to worry or seek help. However, if the behavior persists or worsens, it is essential to seek specialized psychological attention.

Biting the lips, biting the fingers or biting the inside of the cheek are the clearest symptoms of this disorder, since the areas that suffer the most are the skin around the nails, the lips and the inside of the cheeks. A person who suffers from dermatophagia can bite himself until he hurts himself and bleeds , which is a problem for the health of the affected person.

Causes of dermatophagia

Although each case is different, the person suffering from this disorder feels a calming pleasure when biting the skin, since doing so releases tension. This pleasure is precisely what reinforces the action and what leads these people to repeat the behavior, thus entering a vicious circle that is very difficult to break.

However, there are people who bite not to feel pleasure but to feel pain; In this case, we would talk about a self- injurious behavior that the affected person would carry out to focus on physical pain and forget the emotional one. Let’s see more specifically some causes of dermatophagia:


Extreme stress can trigger disorders such as dermatophagia, since in these cases the affected person tends to bite the skin to release tension .

Anxiety and nervousness

People who are very nervous are more likely to develop OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), so they use repetitive and compulsive actions to channel their nervousness, which would explain dermatophagia.


Depression is a mood disorder that can affect all kinds of people in different ways. In many of these cases, when someone is going through a complicated personal moment that is difficult to cope with, they try to decentralize the emotional pain through self-injurious actions. In this way, physical pain becomes a “distraction” from constantly thinking about emotional pain.

You will find more information about what are the symptoms of depression .


Boredom is a feeling of demotivation that is more closely related to depression than we think. Although it sounds extreme, resorting to biting your skin out of boredom is a form of nervousness linked to stress and apathy.

Consequences of dermatophagia

We have already seen what the main causes of dermatophagia are, however, to better understand this disorder it is essential to see what its consequences may be:

  • Skin lesions : Obviously, if the source of this problem is not treated and the bites persist, skin lesions will most likely appear. The most common are dryness and swelling, as well as irritation. Biting your lips, for example, can cause chafing and swelling, while biting your fingers can cause minor injuries. Biting the inside of your cheeks can also cause sores, swelling, and even infections.
  • Oral problems : due to the constant compulsive use of the teeth, dermatophagia can cause dental and oral problems as well as make it difficult to swallow food.
  • Pain tolerance : Although the wounds bleed and hurt, a person with dermatophagia can continue biting without problems, which is a worrying pain tolerance, since serious injuries could be missed and not treated properly.
  • Other psychological disorders : although dermatophagia is a consequence of problems such as stress, anxiety or nervousness, it can also be the cause of other more serious psychological disorders, since bites and pain can become the only coping channel to stress. If this occurs, it is essential to seek professional help to stop the vicious cycle of this behavior and treat the root causes that fuel it.

How to treat dermatophagia

Being an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it is very difficult to stop biting on your own. For this reason, experts recommend always going to a specialist to receive the appropriate treatment. Keep in mind that only good psychological care will help you treat the root problem and will be able to offer you the most appropriate solutions for your case.

In these cases, psychologists often use cognitive-behavioral therapy to modify the patient's behavior and help them deal with problems with healthier and more effective tools. In severe cases or more difficult to treat in a short time, the professional may propose supplementing the therapy with medication.

The most important thing is to keep in mind that dermatophagia has a solution and that with the right help it can be treated. The first step, and perhaps the most essential, is to identify that there is a problem and have the will to eliminate it with the support of a professional.


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