COVID-19’s Impact on Nail Biting and Hair Pulling

Societal changes (read: social distancing, global lockdowns and quarantine) “have the potential to compound the increased social isolation already experienced by those with body-focused repetitive behaviors."

Stress stemming from COVID-19 has increased body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), including skin picking, nail biting and hair pulling.
Stress stemming from COVID-19 has increased body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), including skin picking, nail biting and hair pulling.

For more than a year, we have dealt with stressful and uncertain life rhythms stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. To say that people are in need of an outlet would be a vast understatement.

According to a recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, one way people have been dealing with stress is through body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), including skin picking and hair pulling. The study cites that societal changes (read: social distancing, global lockdowns and quarantine) “have the potential to compound the increased social isolation already experienced by those with BFRBs.”

To gather data for the study, BFRB Facebook groups and users of a BFRB awareness device, HabitAware, were surveyed, and responses were gathered between July 1-31, 2020. Participants were 460 individuals with a self-reported BFRB diagnosis.

The survey found:

  • 28.9% of survey participants reported skin picking.
  • 39.3% reported hair pulling.
  • 30.7% reported both skin picking and hair pulling.
  • 67.2% reported increased BFRB symptoms during COVID-19.
  • Of the 460 participants, 145 were receiving active treatment for BFRBs.
  • 37.9% of those receiving treatments experienced an interruption in therapy because of the pandemic.

In addition to skin picking and hair pulling, Doris Day, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist, was quoted in a recent byrdie.com article as saying she has seen an increase in cuticle picking. “Cuticle biting and nail chewing can lead to a scarring and deformity of the nails called habit tic deformity,” she explains.

According to the article, Day recommended applying nail ointments to the cuticles instead of pressing or pulling on the area. She also suggested covering up the nails with bandages to lessen the urge to bite or pick.

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