If you're part of the 4% of the population that suffers from skin-picking disorder, I have good news for you. First, you're not alone. Many people who suffer from this compulsion to pick or scratch at their skin, which can lead to disfigurement or dangerous infections, think that they're the only ones with this disorder. That simply isn't true. In fact, it's common enough that studies are being conducted to help find a cure. That brings us to a second piece of good news: There's an antioxidant that may be able to help.
Not only do a lot of people suffer from skin-picking disorder, it's also quite common in laboratory mice. In fact, this disorder is the primary avoidable cause of death in these animals. As laboratory animals are quite important and valuable, researchers are highly motivated to find a way to cure this disorder. Fortunately, the results will likely translate to humans as well.
In a study published in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill divided 16 mice with skin-picking disorder into three groups. One group received the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Another received a different antioxidant, glutathione, an important antioxidant in the brain. The body actually uses NAC to make glutathione. The third group served as the control.
The NAC helped almost all of the mice. However, it worked slowly, typically over the course of six to eight weeks, and there was significant variability in the results. Some mice got almost completely better. Others showed only a slight improvement.
NAC is a powerful nutrient that's getting a lot of attention for its ability to help with mental disorders. Studies show it can help with nicotine addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and hair pulling (Trichotillomania).
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The glutathione group, however, was quite different. It helped about half the mice. But when it did help, it worked quickly — typically within two to three weeks — and completely. It either worked or it didn't. Glutathione also offered an advantage in that it had fewer side effects than NAC, which can cause gastrointestinal problems. The researchers are hopeful that people who can't tolerate NAC may still benefit from glutathione.
The researchers believe that NAC helps combat oxidative stress in the brain. And because it's a precursor of glutathione, the glutathione may be having similar effects, while saving the brain the trouble of having to make the glutathione itself. So, if you or a loved one is skin picking or hair pulling, you can start by trying 1,500 mg twice daily.
If you would like to try a liquid that is pure glutathione, consider Advanced Bionutritionals Lipoceutical Glutathione. This is a powerful antioxidant that benefits not just the brain, but the heart as well. Skin-picking can be a chronic and painful disorder, as it can cause disfigurement and ultimately skin infection. In fact, 35% of people who seek help require antibiotics. It's best to never let it get to this point — consider prevention. NAC or glutathione can help you increase the oxygenation of your tissues and ultimately avoid the need for antibiotics.
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Nneka M. George, Julia Whitaker, Giovana Vieira, Jerome T. Geronimo, Dwight A. Bellinger, Craig A. Fletcher, Joseph P. Garner. Antioxidant Therapies for Ulcerative Dermatitis: A Potential Model for Skin Picking Disorder. PLOS ONE, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132092.
Dodd S, Dean O, Copolov DL, et al. N-acetylcysteine for antioxidant therapy: pharmacology and clinical utility. Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2008;8:1955–62.