Is Skin Biting Considered Self Harm

woman chewing on skin on fingers

Skin biting, also known as dermatophagia, has become a topic of discussion due to the increasing focus on mental health and behaviors associated with emotional distress. With ongoing research on this condition, a relevant question arises - should skin biting be classified as self-harm? This article delves into the concept of skin biting, its causes, symptoms, and potential treatments for those struggling with it.

What is Skin Biting?

Skin biting, or dermatophagia, is a repetitive behavior in which an individual bites their skin. Occasional skin biting is normal and experienced by everyone. However, excessive and frequent biting is not considered normal. Dermatophagia occurs when a person unconsciously bites or chews their skin, usually in the same designated areas such as arms, fingers, nails, and cuticles. In some cases, it may extend to biting other people's skin.

Causes of Skin Biting

It is important to note that the underlying causes of skin biting vary from person to person and differ from traditional self-harm methods. While self-harm is often driven by a desire to feel pain, skin biting is primarily a coping mechanism for relieving tension. However, both involve individuals struggling with overwhelming emotions that they cannot control. These strong recurring feelings, such as emotional distress, can lead to both skin biting and self-harm.

Common Symptoms of Dermatophagia

The following are common symptoms of skin biting to watch out for:

Compulsive biting

The primary symptom of dermatophagia is the irresistible urge to chew or gnaw at the skin. This repetitive behavior is what sets it apart from regular skin biting and is often accompanied by other body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as skin picking, nail biting, hair pulling, teeth grinding, and tongue chewing.

Anxiety or distress

Dermatophagia is often characterized by an overwhelming feeling of anxiety or distress. The act of chewing or biting the skin may provide temporary relief from the distress or serve as a distraction from their emotions. Individuals may not be aware of their actions during the behavior and only realize it afterward.

Visible skin damage

The area of skin that suffers from constant biting or chewing may appear red, raw, pale, sore, or damaged. It may often bleed or have bite marks. It may also result in discoloration and scarring.


People who bite their skin may feel embarrassed or have social anxiety, leading them to avoid public situations. They may perceive that they cannot control their urges and thus withdraw from social interactions.

Treatments for Skin-Biting

Treating skin biting may involve a combination of medical and psychological approaches. Therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be beneficial in addressing the underlying mental health issues. Other treatment options include medication, holistic treatments, habit reversal training (HRT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and joining support groups. In cases where skin damage is severe, it may be necessary to consult a dermatologist for treatment and possible cosmetic surgery.

Is Skin Biting Considered Self-Harm?

While skin biting and self-harm are distinct in their nature, repetitive skin biting can cause harm and pain to the person, making it a potential form of self-harm. It is essential to seek professional evaluation and treatment for skin biting to prevent any adverse health effects.

Seek Support at The TLC Foundation for BFRBs

Understanding the complexities of skin biting is crucial in addressing this condition effectively. Seeking professional help and recognizing skin biting as a symptom of stress, anxiety, and depression can aid in finding a comprehensive solution. The TLC Foundation for BFRBs aims to provide support and understanding to individuals with body-focused repetitive behaviors to help them overcome their struggles.

Skin Biting