Skin Picking and Hair Pulling: Research for a cure

As many as 1 in 25 might have a Compulsive Skin Picking or Hair Pulling disorder. Compulsive Skin Picking has dominated my life for more than 20 years.

Art is my way of re-thinking and managing this disorder. It’s my daily reprieve in an arsenal of tools to keep my hand busy, and my imagination engaged.

There is currently no cure for Body Focussed Repetitive Behaviour such as Skin Picking and Hair Pulling. It is not known why it develops, although there is evidence it may be hereditary. These disorders are present in many animals as well as humans, including mice, horses, parrots, monkeys and even fish who pull off their scales.

In humans, medication works for some, psychological interventions work for others, but for many, there is no respite, and nothing seems to stop it. The disorders frequently wax and wane over time…

Picking and Pulling are very common but what doctors know about how to best treat people has been largely inadequate and only helps a minority.

TLC Foundation in USA is currently the ONLY place in the world researching these disorders with scientists and sufferers across the United States. A more united approach to studying and treating the disorders is being attempted.

Scientists are already identifying 6 – 10 subtypes of the disorders – there is no finite version. Because of there vairables, scientists hope to find more meaningful ways to treat individuals.

The BFRB Precision Medicine Initiative (BPM) is TLC’s major strategic research initiative focused on increasing remission rates for people who suffer from hairpulling, skin picking and other body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs).The BPM : research for a cure for hair pulling and skin picking

Imagine if:

  • we could pinpoint each person’s BFRB profile, identifying the motivations and habits that make up an individual’s particular type of picking or pulling behavior.
  • we had a suite of treatments carefully tailored to these genetic and biological factors for each BFRB profile.
  • we could match that BFRB profile to specific genetic and biological origins.
  • … those treatments resulted in complete BFRB remission for 7 out of 10 people.

The BFRB Precision Medicine Initiative is cutting edge, extremely exciting work. I hope in my lifetime, or even when I’m long gone, they understand why some of us develop these disorders. It was a privilege to have met many of the people in this film at the recent TLC Dallas Conference.


TLC Conference – Body Portrait : Stephanie’s Process 

This weekend at the TLC Conference in Dallas, I met Stephanie who has Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania and is blogging and sharing her experience of these illnesses. You can read her blog here 

She has kindly agreed I can share a description in her own words of how it felt to make her Body Portrait in my art session at the conference here in Dallas yesterday. 

“Thank you @liz_atkin for hosting this art session at #bfrbcon 2016. 

We were told to trace around our bodies and to first fill in the outline of our body. I chose paint. I had no idea what to do, I don’t consider myself artistic and I was convinced whatever I made would turn out ugly. But I didn’t care, I started with one long wavy pink paint stoke along my shoulder. I liked how it flowed so I added a few more, mixing colors. My body tingled and a rush of mixed emotions came over me. A couple of paint strokes made me emotional… Hundreds of paint stoke later I come home with a piece of art that depicts the inner struggles of my disorder. 

I’m surrounded by black to represent the darkness that clouds my mind. My hair is pink (typical color of love and passion) because I just want to love my hair and trichotillomania has become a passion of mine. My eyes are blurry because anxiety makes it hard to see what’s real and what not, as if my world is always blurry. My hand is black because I times I am not even aware of the damage I am doing by picking and pulling at my hair and skin. It’s ghostly, like it sometimes doesn’t even exist to me. My lips have crosses on them because for so long I suffered in silence. My mind is scribbled because I feel almost as if I can never keep track of make sense of all the thoughts. The black under my eyes are there tears that result from my fears and anxieties. 

The colors inside are the pieces of me that I try so hard to love. They are the pieces that make me who I am. They flow through my entire being, they mix with each other, and they work together to make who I am. Those are the pieces of me that I try so hard to shine a light on, to bring to the surface. Right now though, they are stuck inside, surrounded by the darkness of anxiety. 

This conference has taught me so much. Loving every bit of myself is one of those things I learned. Even surrounded by what I feel is darkness, I will move on and one by one let the pieces inside me come to the surface.”


Leading Body Portrait workshops for kids, teens and adults living with Skin Picking and Hair Pulling

45 kids and teenagers with Compulsive Skin Picking and Trichotillomania took part in my Body Portrait Workshops this afternoon at the TLC conference, followed by a group of 35 adults.

Here are some of the beautiful creations from today. The room walls were covered with creativity by the end of the two hours. What a privilege to see these artworks appear and blossom. 

 Beautiful Body Portraits   


#mentalhealth #wellbeing #art #selfportrait 

Keynote Speech TLC 2016, Dallas

Spontaneous standing ovation from 500 people at the end of my keynote at the TLC conference…overwhelming and made me cry! I’ve never been in a room with so many people who understand this disorder. I will never, ever forget this experience. It’s taken a decade for me to get here. (For the record I made three jokes about my fascination for skin and serial killers…bit of a blur now, got some good laughs, but job done.)
Did a few #CompulsiveCharcoal drawings for new friends in the bar after the evening. 

Emotional and shattered but enormously grateful for all the support from home, and from all the new friends here. 


Day 1: 23rd Annual TLC Conference in Dallas Texas. It gets real!  

It’s impossible to put into words how it feels to stand in a corridor thronging with hundreds of people all wearing their lanyards, brought together in Dallas with the same purpose: to understand, connect with others, and find recovery from Hair Pulling and Skin Picking disorders. I had a lump in my throat watching a group of kids hurry by, laughing loudly together, aged between 8 and 12, and thought back to how troubled and alone I was with skin picking back then. Here the sense of community is very apparent. Warm smiles and conversations with people make this hotel buzz with good energy. 

I knew nothing of the recovery and adventure I would find through this disorder. 

It’s nuts to think I’m even in Dallas, let alone about to give the Keynote Speech at this Global conference. In just a few hours at two workshops I’ve found out more about the disorders than was possible elsewhere. 500 or more people are here, health professional, adults, kids, parents. People wanting to find ways to cope. 

I’m already meeting amazing people who know the disorders just as I do. Back to front and inside out.

So I’m speaking in just under 2 hours. A deep breath to tell my story, how I have found a way for art to transform and regulate my illness, how I use it to help others too. A deep breath to say the truth. 

I feel deeply honoured to be here.



Creative fodder for the soul: Dallas Museum of Art & Nasher Sculpture Museum 

Gorgeous day of art in Dallas. An adventure on a 183 bus to the Arts District Downtown.

Gave a number of free drawings to passengers beside me

Tweeted the bus company, DART. They had something to say about this…


Incredible 3 hours wandering in the Dallas Museum of Art, followed by Nasher Sculpture Museum just over the road. No guns, please! 

 Complete creative soul fodder for me in the Dallas Art District. 

Topped it off by having lunch with Anthony Gormley… Well, a sculpture of him anyway

Sitting at the best table looking out over the sculptures from the cafe. “Ma’am would you like a coffee while you take in the art?”

Me “yes please, latte please”

“Here you go. It’s on the house. You just enjoy”

 Gave two drawings to the waitress on my way out of the cafe at Nasher 

#compulsivecharcoal Dallas #art #free #publicart #speedysketch #1minutedrawing #Charcoal #Sketch #USA #Dallas