Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Community
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Avatar universal

Compulsive Scalp Picking

I am 28 years old and have picked scabs on my scalp since I was about 12 years old.  Normally I find little imperfections, possibly dandruff or dry scalp, and I pick at it until it becomes a scab.  Once a scab develops, I find myself uncontrollably picking at it, so it usually never heals or takes an extremely long time or another scab to develop to stop.  Right now, I have a total of six scabs that I have created on my scalp.  When I am picking I can't necessarily say that it relieves stress like I have found on some of the other web sites, but more of an obsession that I can't control.  I have been treated for depression and PTSD, but have never mentioned my compulsive picking.  I have been prescribed both Zoloft and Prozac with Klonopin for the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but I still seem to pick at me head.  The kicker is that I also do this in my sleep.  I will literally wake up with blood under my nails.  What treatment options are there other than medication?  Should I tell my primary care physician or should I talk to a psychiatrist?  What are some of the causes of this, could it be OCD?  I don't really have any sort of rituals like you see or read about or extreme fears, but I can not seem to stop picking at my scalp, and although I am not pulling at my hair, I am noticing hair loss.  Any feedback would be appreciated.
374 Responses
Avatar universal
I just want to mention that is an OCD related behavior. Many folks that have your condition are diagnosed with OCD as well. You should mention it to a psychiatrist if you're not already seeing one.
506667 tn?1210976509
Definately speak to your psychiatrist. A psychologist would help you overcome your constant picking by getting to the route cause of the problem, why did you start doing it? when was it and what happened around the time you first did it? Questions like this would be asked and it's possible you do it as a coping mechanism of some kind. It could be an OCD or it could be described as a simple habit. We're all creatures of habit, drawn towards the comfort of the familiar, it may be the fact that if you found picking your scalp as a coping mechanism in the past then you may have just learnt to do it as you know it relieves you of stress or any imbalance of emotion. There could be some underlying cognitive or behavioral faults that could be sorted by a psychologist that could break the habit. Like you said, it may not relieve stress but it may be as a result of the stressor and this is how your mind attempts to cope with it.
Avatar universal
Hi, My daughter was just diagnosed with trichotillomania.  an impulse disorder in which she pulls her hair out.  In my research, skin picking is in the same catagory.  The treatment for this type of disorder is therapy and medications such as Zoloft and Klonopin.  These disorders are closely related to OCD. Good luck to you.
498132 tn?1217461482
Scientific evidence has supposedly found that OCD is a result of a chemical imbalance. Thus medication is usually prescribed to help with the compulsive side, whilst therapy, usually cognative behavioural therapy is used in combination with this to treat the obsession/reason for your compulsion. Prozac can be used to treat OCD, but usually needs to be at a much higher dose before it can take effect. I was told by my doctor 20ml for depression and 60ml for OCD, but it will vary depending upon patient. It's best for you to talk to your doctor about this compulsion, so they can start you on the best treatment option for you, Its very unlikely your doctor will judge you, but if you don't get on with your doctor, I'd go see another one. A doctor that judges you shouldn't be a doctor at all.
Avatar universal
I am 51 years old and have the same problem as you.  I find it relieves my anxiety and stress level.  It is very strange that something that hurts me also makes me feel better.  I take prozac and a low dose of xanax, but it isn't helping much.  My head it covered with scabs.  I hope you and I find an answer to our problem.  There are many people with this problem.  We are not alone.  God bless and good luck.
Oh my dear god, this is bizarre! My name is Maria and I'm 4ft9" and at this moment I'm 51 and  am known as Little Maria too. I have exactly the same as you. At this moment I have 5 scabs in my head and 2 on TH back of my neck, I pick them constantly as well as anything that appears on my face. Sometimes my head is so sore, I feel like I've got an infection in my actual skull, it's so bad. The pain to put a brush through my hair is unreal. A few members of my family are exactly the same, what the hell. Is this about? It hurts so much but I can't help but do it.
498132 tn?1217461482
I was searching online the other day about scalp problems cos my scalp looks white and there arn't flakes, but seems like build up. It sounds like you may have scalp problems/build up too. It seems like in picking the build up, you are causing your scalp to bleed. One way you could break the picking is to remove anything there to pick. Have you tried a tar/medicated shampoo? You can find them on shelf and they're used to things like scalp periosis (spelling?) serbaceous dermatitis and dandruff. It wont get rid of the scabs you keep picking, but it may help with the imperfections you refer to.
Avatar universal
i have had this problem for a year. I thought I had scalp problelms.  I realize that I have created it my self. I can't stop.I hate it. My scalp hurts
so bad. I cant stand if someone touches my head. I dont know what to do. it sounds like a freak telling someone that you can't stop picking. But, I think after I pick I do feel better.
Avatar universal
Your description sounds exactly like my scalp picking problem. I am 26 years old but I only started this 3 years ago. To be honest, I can't recall how this all started. it's as if I'm trying to clean/smoothen my scalp from dandruff/scabs with my nails..but it just creates more. I'm embarrased to go to the salon because of the scattered bald patches and newly formed scabs. How do I explain if asked what the scabs are from???

But i understand the frustration and embarassment of it all. My family can't stand it because they think it looks disgusting, which adds to the guilt of the behavior. They don't understand and say "Just stop" but that's easier said than done.  I was diagnosed 4 years ago with severe depression, Bipolar II and PTSD, although I've been suffering from the 3 with symptoms since I was 16 but did not get help until later.

When I told my doctor about my compulsive scalp picking, first she said to "cut my nails" but that does not help. Or wear mittens and a beanie =).....but that does not solve the underlying cause of the behavior itself. It's under "trictillomania" which is compulsive hair pulling even though I don't directly sit there and pull my hair out. The deep picking/bleeding/scab cycle eventually results in a small bald spot.
Avatar universal
I've had a scalp picking disorder for as long as I can remember. I can literally scratch my head for hours. It almost seems like I go into a soothing trance-like state. I don't even notice the pain until well after I'm done, or the next time that I shower and the water hurts the wounded areas. For me it feels comforting, but I too feel shamed with the yuckiness of this habit. I am aware of the fact that it is a disgusting activity but it seems to be like an itch that I can not possibly help but itch (pardon the pun). I am also obsessed with popping anything that slightly resembles a zit, and find enormous levels of satisfaction when I pop them. I assume these habits are related. It is comforting to know that I am not alone.
Avatar universal
I too have this problem. I have been doing it off and on for over 10 years. I typically do it for a six month period before I force myself to stop, then maybe a few years later I'll find a small bump on my scalp and start the process all over again until I wake up in the morning with blood under my nails or an infection sets in and there is pus. My husband thinks it's disgusting and it is. I have even gone as far as saving all the white scabs. For a period  of time I thought if I cut my finger nails all the way down I wouldn't be able to pick and therefore stop the habit, but I ended up using a metal nail file to get under a scab and then would pull the rest off with my fingers.

I always found it a relieving and satisfying point in my day when I get to finally sit down alone and pick. I have blamed the condition on the bad eczema that plagues the rest of my body but if the scabs did exist because of the eczema it still didn't excuse the compulsive picking. I suggest that you speak with your primary care physician about prescription shampoos or steroids to help speed the healing of your scalp, cut your finger nails, think how bad you would feel if you ended up with permanent bald spots and possibly work with a counselor or psychologist to get to what is really behind all of this.
Avatar universal
I pick my scalp like all the time!!! i dont know why but it just makes me feel good and its fun i guessss, but its a bad habbit cause now i bet without any hair my scalp looks really gross. i do it wen i get nervous i just pick my scalp and pick a big chunk of dandruff or scapl wutever it is and pull it out u oick my boy friends scalp toooo! and sometimes my moms or someone that lets me wen i have no more good scabs to pick off of my scalp
Avatar universal
im 16 years old, and i have been picking at my scalp sience i was about 6 or 7. it relaxes me and usually i dont know that im doing it. i do it in school and when i realize what im doing i feel embarrased because people who see me are probably grossed out when i pull a big piece of scalp out and flick it onto the floor. when i have no good spots that i can pick on my head i pick them off of other people. my boy friend lets me pick his head and i think he likes it and i like it because i just like picking things off of other things(: my mom picks her scalp tooo and i love when she picks my scalp its just so relaxing and i dont really think its weird but i dont think its normal because i dont see a lot of other people doing it but idk it just feels good and its fun
Avatar universal
Christi, I had struggled with the exact same problem as you for almost 20 years.  Sometimes it would get out of control and I would get down on myself because I couldn't stop.  I thought it was all about my lack of will power.

I recently contracted a skin fungus on my back and face and in researching it came to find out that my scalp condition was associated with the yeast Malassezia furfur.  My doctor prescribed a pill that women take for yeast infections.  The medication combined with alternating use of Selsun Blue and Head & Shoulders shampoos has eliminated my problem.  For the first time in 20 years my scalp is clear and I don't have the urge to pick at it!  I have determined that it was not a test of my will power after all;  I simply had an infection that was never properly addressed.  

I know there is a lot of misleading and unhelpful information out there on this difficult to discuss topic and I hope this helps you to have a clear scalp as well.  Best of luck.

Avatar universal
P.S. here is some supplemental information on the subject http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seborrheic_dermatitis

Avatar universal
Wow! This is the first time that I have googled "Obsessive scalp picking" and I have to say, it is amazing to see how many people out there have this same obsession. My obsession is really bad. I pick and pick and pick. Especially when I am reading or watching tv. I get in a total ZONE. It is so soothing to me. I guess it is stress that causes me to pick. I have picked for years and years; since I was about 8. (I am now 26). I pick so much that when it is time to wash my hair, it burns. But I love picking my scalp after I have washed my hair. That is my favorite time to pick. It sounds weird, I know. My husband says I look like a monkey, always picking at my head the way I do. I try to stay cleear of wearing dark colors cause of the dandrif I create. I usually wear white shirts or light grey so the dandruf doesnt show up. I found that when I would wear acrylic nails that I would stop picking so much. Acryllic nails arent sharp enough too pick the way real nails can. It is less satisfying for me. I do suffer from depression and anxiety and am currently on 20 mg Lexipro and .5 mg Klonopin. But it doesnt help my obsession. I cant say that I am ashamed of this obsession. I really dont care if anyone knows. It is just a part of who I am ( I know that it is not normal!) However I dont go around anouncing that I have this obsession.
I figured that I couldnt be the only person in the world who does this, but seeing just how many people there are that have this same strange obsession makes me feel a little less weird!
PS- I was picking the whole time I was reading through all of these posts and I am going to continue to read on and pick on!
Avatar universal
I do this too! I even collect the scabs. Euuuuuuuch. I don't know how to stop this awful habit. Head and shoulders shampoo doesn't help, on the contrary, it makes my scalp even dryer and more tempting to pick
Avatar universal
I started picking my scalp around age 10 - I am 22 now - and never knew until today that there were others like me!  I have never been diagnosed with depression, but I'm a nervous person in general so it wouldn't surprise me at all if I had a mild form of anxiety disorder.  It really amazes me that I can be picking my scalp and not even notice it.  It's a gross habit because I do a lot of picking while I lay in bed before falling asleep, and my sheets and pillowcases get dandruff all over them.  :(  The other major time I get the urge to pick is while looking in the bathroom mirror.

I completely relate to what others have said about a trance-like state that occurs while doing this.  I remember my mom and grandma yelling at me for it as a kid, but I really couldn't stop.  

Has anyone had any success quitting this habit without drugs?  I have found it helps to keep my nails short, or to paint them so that I don't want to mess them up.  I have been able to stop for periods of a few months, but always start up again, usually after or during a particularly stressful event.  I really want to stop this, not just for myself, but because now I am seriously grossing out my husband!
Avatar universal
I'm surprised there are so many with the same condition as me.  I've had it since I was a child but have progressed now to pulling whole leathery scales from my scalp that I've caused due to the irritation.  It itches, then I dig into it.  Sometimes, I would take dental sticks to loosen the thick skin.  Now I have balding spots.

As I am afraid of taking psych meds to control this, I have to consciously tell myself not to do it.  Now I'm wearing 3 tracks of weave in my crown area.  I'm so disgusted at myself.  But I found that applying thick acrylic nails helps me control the nasty habit.  Also, when I see how I damaged my hair has become with a very patchy crown but near waist-length hair overall...just so disappointed.  The acrylics are back on my nails now.  If I don't scratch, it won't itch later.  To transition, I massage gently with a soothing hair oil and pamper myself.
Avatar universal
I have recently dropped out of uni and although i have always picked at my head it has become obsessive over the past few months. It has come to the point were i cant control myself from doing it in public, until the skin bleeds, it stings when i am in the shower and i only stop when my arm aches from being upright for so long. I'm scared that i also have depression as i have very low self worth and choose to sleep in the day and stay awake alone all night. I was wondering if the head picking and deppression could be linked?
Avatar universal
im 23 years old i thought i was the only person in the world that does this!i constantly get headaches bc my scalp hurts so bad! on the crown of my head i have a huge bald spot with a houseshoe shaped scab thats bigger than a quater!!!!i cant stop picking it burns in the shower i pull out the hair to get the scab or the hair normally comes with it!everyone thinks its nasty  and wish id stop!i do it all day and everyday i zone out and i pick to were i make faces kick my feet,etc..i want to find a way to stop somekind of medication im on prozac and an add med. but what makes it stop!!!!
Avatar universal
I too have the same problem. There are many on this site comparing picking procedures but few solutions to what is clearly a serious condition for all of us. Has anyone any positive, constructive advice? Has anyone had any medical, psychiatric help? Is there any good practice to be passed on? In short, can anyone offer any suggestions as to how I can stop this debilitating, disgusting habit, please?
Avatar universal
So I have had this issue for years. Since I was a little kid. I had bad cradle cao as a baby, and then again in middle school. I just have ALWAYS picked my head. My mother always yells at me, "stop picking your head". The fact is that I don't even realize I'm doing it anymore. And I pick my lips too. I mean I dnon't look like a freak or anything. In facet im a 25 year old hairstylist. I've always judt thought it was normal. Until now, I feel like I never wanted to aceept that I have a disorder.

I recently this year was diagnosed with adult adhd. And I was put on a 20mg a day dose of adderal. I'm not sure thats made a difference with the picking, although great for my adhd. So it def gose in spurts, sometimes I have nothing and others like now, my head is covered in scabs. I believe I do have some sort of ecsema or phoriosis, Because my ears are always dry and scabby. But anyways I always have flakes and dryness around my hairline. And recently I have made this giant scar in front on my part that is loosing hair. Im a hot mess, but no ones else knows I do it. I havent ever even told my shrink. Im going to now though, I just dont want to be on other meds.

As I am sitting here right now I am picking, last week I even looked in the mirror and picked a scab with a tweezer, that **** is bad.

I have also read in the hair world, that mineral build up in you tap water causes a build up on the scalp and then that could be what is being picked. Any way, good luck to you all, I hope you find a solution! :)
Avatar universal

I basically have the same thing going on. (I'm in my mid 50's and it started when I was around 12-ish) There are periods when I stop for a month or two (without realizing it). But usually it's all the time. I haven't sought help for it, and I was surprised that it is so prevelant (sp). Let's hope we can get this under control. But as we all know it's close to impossible. Thanks for listening.

Avatar universal
I have since I can remember always picked at my head. I don't do it to the point of pain but I will scour my head with my nails until I find something to pick at. I will do it and not even realize it until later when my arm is tired. I think it is a gross habit to be constantly picking at my scalp. Does anyone know why some people do this? I would like to stop but it is something I do when I'm stressed, deressed or bored. I would love some answers!
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