What Is Dermatophagia?
Dermatophagia is a condition where someone suffers from excessive skin rubbing or scratching. The term dermatophagia comes from the Greek word ‘derma’ which means skin and phage which means to eat. Dermatophagy (skin eating) was first described by the ancient Greeks and it’s been practiced since then throughout history.
The term dermatophagia came into common usage during the 20th century when it was discovered that some people were able to experience pleasurable sensations while they rubbed their skin. These sensations included tingling, burning, itching and even numbness. Some people reported feeling pleasure through touching certain parts of their body such as the soles of their feet or the inside of their ears. Other people experienced no sensation at all and others felt intense pain when they touched these areas.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists began studying dermatophagia and found out what caused it. They learned that people with dermatophagia had abnormal nerve endings in certain parts of their skin. These nerves are called mechanoreceptors and they are responsible for detecting touch, temperature, pressure, vibration and other stimuli. When these receptors were stimulated abnormally, the person would feel pleasurable sensations. In most people these sensations are mild or non-existent but for people with dermatophagia the sensations are much stronger.
People with dermatophagia don’t just scratch their skin because it feels good. It is also a way for them to deal with emotional stress or even boredom. Since it’s not a life-threatening condition and dermatophagia isn’t contagious, many doctors do not consider it to be a medical condition. Instead, it is considered to be a habit or a minor mental disorder.
There are many ways that a person with dermatophagia can treat their condition. The most common way is to apply a protective coating to the skin so that they can’t touch it. This works especially well for people who have the condition on parts of their body that are hard to reach. Doctors often prescribe a thick layer of hydrocortisone cream which creates a protective barrier on the skin. When this is done, patients are advised not to wash the medication off for at least four days so that the barrier can “cure”.
Some people also try to treat their condition with hypnosis. Sometimes it works for some people, but not for others. Dermatophagia is not deadly or life threatening but it can be very disruptive in a person’s life. It can cause sores and wounds on a person’s skin, exhaustion, and social anxiety when they have to be in public. Some people with the condition also report feeling a “negativity” or “bad feeling” after they have been touching certain parts of their body for too long.
If you think that you or someone that you know suffers from dermatophagia, there are many ways to get help with it. Many doctors can treat this condition with medication and other solutions. The first step is to speak up and realize that there is no shame in having a skin condition. Many people have them and they are not a sign of uncleanliness or lack of personal hygiene. It is also important to speak up and get help because dermatophagia can cause exhaustion and even depression if it goes on for too long.
There is no reason to suffer needlessly from a condition that can be treated or cured.
Sources & references used in this article:
Dermatophagia:” wolf-biter”. by MJ Scott Jr, MJ Scott 3rd – Cutis, 1997 – europepmc.org
Dermatophagia simulating callosities by K Al Hawsawi, K Al Aboud, V Ramesh – Dermatology and …, 2003 – karger.com
Tragic Teenage Boy Presenting With Calluses Due to Dermatophagia by ALZ AA – Dermatol Case Rep, 2018 – researchgate.net
Dermatophagia or dermatodaxia? by P Mitropoulos, SA Norton – Journal of the American Academy of …, 2005 – jaad.org
Recovery from pathological skin picking and dermatodaxia using a revised decoupling protocol by S Moritz, M Rufer, S Schmotz – Journal of Cosmetic …, 2020 – Wiley Online Library