Dermatophagia: what it is and how to treat it


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

Dermatophagia what it is and how to treat it

In the following article we will talk precisely about dermatophagia: what it is and how to treat it, so if you suffer from this usual disorder, read carefully and find out what exactly its causes and consequences are.

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 during a short period of time caused, for example, by an episode of stress, 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 your lips, biting your fingers or biting your cheek inside are the clearest symptoms of this disorder, since the areas that suffer the most are the skin around the nails, that of the lips and that of the inside of the cheeks. A person suffering from dermatophagia can bite to injure and bleed, which is a problem for the health of the affected.

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 tensions. This pleasure is precisely what reinforces the action and the one that leads these people to repeat the behavior, thus entering a vicious circle that is very difficult to break.

However, there are people who do not bite each other 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 a physical pain and forget the emotional one. Let's look more specifically at some causes of dermatophagy:


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

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 goes through a complicated and difficult personal moment 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'll find more information about what the symptoms of depression are in this other article.


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

Although the most effective and fastest solution is to seek professional help, in this other article we offer you some tips on how to manage anxiety and stress.

Consequences of dermatophagia

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

  • Skin lesions: As is obvious, if the origin of this problem is not treated and the bites persist, it is most likely that lesions will appear on the skin. The most common are dryness and swelling, as well as irritations. Biting your lips, for example, can lead to chafing and swelling, while biting your fingers can lead to minor injuries. Biting your cheeks inside can also cause wounds, 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 wounds bleed and hurt, a person with dermatophagia can continue to bite without problems, which is a worrying pain tolerance, since it could obviate serious wounds and not treat them 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 channel of coping with stress. If this occurs, it is essential to seek professional help to stop the vicious circle of this behavior and address the root causes that infuse it.

How to treat dermatophagia

Being an obsessive-compulsive behavior it is very difficult to stop biting on your own. Therefore, experts always recommend going to a specialist to receive the appropriate treatment. Keep in mind that only good psychological care will help you treat the problem at its root 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 cope with problems with healthier and more effective tools. In severe cases or more difficult to treat in a short time, the professional may propose to complement 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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