Stockholm Syndrome: Dermatillomania Makeup Tips

Learning to use makeup and learning about skincare has helped me with many self care techniques for my dermatillomania and otherwise.

Originally written for the Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Support Network (CBSN) during BFRB week October 1-7, 2017


I love makeup. Or rather, I should say that I have a Stockholm syndrome relationship with makeup. At 19, I was held hostage by makeup and my dermatillomania, having never before worn it or had any interest in wearing it.

When my dermatillomania was at its absolute worst in my early 20s, I quickly learned the ins and outs of how to conceal my awkward condition. Everyday I prayed to and thanked the makeup gods that I was able to cover up my horribly red, weeping, and marked face (or arms) just to give the appearance of functioning like a normal person. But I was not okay. I needed help. Makeup made me feel better and calmed my rising anxieties about my appearance. Even when I was home alone or ready to go to bed sometimes just applying makeup and wearing it through the night was enough to calm me and temporarily halt my urges.

At first, I did not know what I was doing at all with make-up. It started with just concealer but when I started using half a tube on face every day and realized it wasn’t blending well, I discovered foundation. And then I learned that powder can help create a smoother and lasting appearance and that it also seemed to work better on slightly open wounds. I then started using all three and tried every drugstore brand under the sun. I bought brushes and sponges, watched YouTube videos, all to perfect the technique of smothering and soothing myself. I needed makeup and started to carry an emergency kit of concealer and other supplies around so that my flaws never showed. I did not go swimming. I did not wear tank tops or short sleeve shirts. I hid in my makeup that kept me safe. I remember feeling so frustrated that I was a slave to this commodity and felt that I needed it like a junkie needs their drugs. Wearing makeup was a consolation that provided me the facade of happiness.

skin picking
Image credit: http://bit.ly/2hgUH1S

After years of misery perfecting my cover-up techniques and learning about the different aspects of skincare, I finally started working through the healing stages of my dermatillomania. I started to improve to the point that dermatillomania no longer controlled my life or all of my waking thoughts. I began to enjoy the makeup process as it did not feel like a necessity anymore. I felt attractive for the first time since I could remember.

While I can probably get away without wearing makeup most of the time now, I don’t. Makeup is still my comfort and still brings me some degree of happiness wearing it. I have even noticed that if I am having a hard time with my skin I will sometimes splurge at Sephora to make me feel like I am some how being proactive about my skin.

Learning to use makeup and learning about skincare has helped me with many self care techniques for my dermatillomania and otherwise. Would I have found this comfort and interest in makeup and skincare if I had not had dermatillomania? As I spent half of my life as a tomboy, it is hard to say. Regardless, I am grateful for what makeup has given me even if it was not something I would have chosen.

makeup tips
Image credit: http://bit.ly/2AgYZKo

For those that need it, here are some derma-friendly makeup tips that have worked we for me:

  • Primer and setting spray: I use to scoff at it. Seemed like another layer to add to my face that was already bordering on way too much but it truly helps the make up adhere better to your skin and makes it last longer so you do not have to worry about your carefully placed make up accidentally rubbing off.

  • Invest in quality concealer and foudation: Not only do better quality products cover better they are often better for your skin (oil-free, paraben-free etc). Take the time to find a brand that works best for you. Make Up Forever carries a water-resistant brand of concealer that lasted me 2-years even with regular everyday use (they have a foundation too). When applying concealer, dab it, don’t swipe it for better adherence.

  • If your skin is weeping and open, it is hard to cover and you run the risk of infection – The best course of action is to let the wound get some sort of barrier on it before you put on makeup. Here are a few techniques that can help:

    • Liquid bandages – Found at practically every drugstore, using this requires a bit of technique to get right. The key is to get the thinnest layer possible for the best coverage in the end. It sting a bit when applying it but it will protect your skin once it is dry. Make sure it is dry before applying makeup.

    • Honey, lemon and cinnamon: These ingredients are naturally antibacterial and will reduce redness. If you have time, put a mixture of these three on the area for 10 minutes or more to allow a barrier to form (the sticky mixture helps you from touching it too) then very gently wipe away with warm water.

      lemon-honey-cinnamon
      Image credit: http://bit.ly/2m0PSLR
    • Tea tree oil: Naturally antibacterial, tea tree oil can help dry out open wounds. Make sure to check the bottle to ensure that you get 100% tea tree oil as many brands like to add a small percentage of tea tree oil and fill the rest with rubbing alcohol and then charge too much (I’m looking at you Body Shop). Be aware, that the pure essential oil can be strong so if you have sensitive skin dab a cotton bud with water and then add the tea tree oil before applying it to your skin.

      polysporin cold sore patches
      Image credit: http://bit.ly/2jaTCcI
    • Purchase Nexcare acne patches or Polysporin cold sore patches (these ones are thinner and are better but more expensive) for more severe wounds. You can then apply make up on top of the patch. The patches still show a bit but chances are if the wound is bad enough it still looks better than the wound would with makeup. You’re also protecting it and it will heal faster. These are also great to wear at night time when you want something to heal fast!

  • After primer and concealer, follow with foundation and then a loose mineral powder (with or without colour) for a more natural and lasting finish: Investing in quality products and applicators will reduce the caked on look but it is also important to work within your budget! There are decent cheap alternatives. Maybelline’s Fit Me foundation and FaceStudio Master Fix primers and powder are budget friendly. Makeup brushes/sponges really do make a difference for the look, feel and coverage.

    • Flat foundation brush: Put the foundation on the back of your hand (not directly on the brush) and swipe your face in a downward motion starting in the middle of your face. Reapply more concealer after if need be and dab with a makeup sponge for a quick smooth finish after.

    • Stippling brush: These brushes are great if you want a more airbrushed finish. With the foundation on the back of your hand, dab the makeup on to your face. Do not swipe or twirl the brush as it defeats the purpose of the technique. Give your skin a chance to absorb the makeup afterwards as well for best results.

    • Powder: Loose is better than pressed and mineral is better than not. Use a kabuki brush and dab it on wounds instead of swiping in order to get it adhere better. Powder ensures the longevity of your makeup. For those with mature or dry skin, loose powder can set in wrinkles and dry patches so just stick to a good hydrating liquid foundation and setting spray.

    • Brushes don’t always have to be expensive: Granted quality ones last longer but it is still hard to cough up the money for them, even if they do make a difference. Check out these cheaper sets by ELF Cosmetics. Amazon also offers plenty of options.

    • Setting spray: Essential for hot summer days or a humid climate, a setting spray keeps your make up locked in place and your skin looking moist and fresh.

  • Keep your makeup tools clean: Whether you use your fingers, brush or a sponge to apply makeup it is even more imperative for those with dermatillomania to keep these items clean to avoid infection. Use a daily spray cleanser on your brushes and sponges and then deep clean once a week. If you use a sponge make sure to replace them once every 3 months.
    dirty make up brushes
    Image credit: http://bit.ly/2haYsCj


    • Homemade brush and sponge cleanser: Mix water, rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, antibacterial dish soap, olive oil, and micellar water in a spray bottle. Use daily.

  • Less is more: I know it is tempting to smother on the concealer but it is important to apply it on in smaller layers in order for it to look natural and blended.

  • Blotting papers: These are especially imporant for those with oily skin. They remove excess oil but not your makeup. It will help to keep the shine down and keep your makeup looking fresh. Tissue can be used in a bind but will remove more makeup.

  • Wash your makeup off before bed: It is tempting to leave it on sometimes and I have definitely done it many times but you are ultimately making your skin worse in the long run by leaving it on. Your skin can become infected and will be more prone to break outs and wrinkles.

  • Face masks: These can as sooth your skin, pamper it, and can help you to stop touching it. Find ones that help reduce redness, like clay masks.

  • For immediate relief of redness: Stick a spoon in the freezer or on ice and apply it to your face. Witch hazel (though try to avoid putting it directly on an open wound, it stings), moist tea bags and cucumber slices are also great redness relievers.

  • Make your routine about self-care, not self-loathing: Touch your skin with kindness and allow your makeup routine to become a positive aspect of your derma struggles. Make an effort, no matter where you pick, that you will touch your skin with kindness and that every act of your routine is done gently.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

Books likes this come only ever so often. I have not loved a book like this in years.

Love grows from the rich foam of forgiveness, mongrels make good dogs, and the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things.”

5/5 stars.
Hardcover, 897 pages.
Read from March 28, 2017 to April 5, 2017.

I can go for years sometimes without reading a book that truly blows me away. A book that I need to devour, can’t put down, and find few faults with. This book has become one of those rare books for me. The last time I read a book a like this was back when I read  Jane Eyre, which was back in 2012.  Like Jane Eyre, this book will give you all the feels. Unconventional and real, this book brought me to near tears numerous times. That is a feat that almost no other book can claim.  This book is now one of my personal favourites.

Dominick and Thomasare identical twin brothers. While the two of them may look identical the brothers have remarkably different temperaments. Dominick is masculine while Thomas is soft and fragile. As children, only Dominick seemed to be able to withstand the harsh and abusive nature of their step-father. As the boys grow, Thomas continues to exhibit peculiar behavior until it finally becomes clear that Thomas is more than just different; he has a severe form of schizophrenia. Dominick has spent his whole life trying to get away from Thomas’ shadow as tragedy seems to envelop the two men.

As adults in the present day, Dominick is regrettably divorced and still in love with his wife but he is unable to deal with the anger and emotions of a lifetime of living and dealing with Thomas. Dominick loves his brother and would do anything for him but the turmoil of dealing with the severely mentally ill takes its toll. When Thomas acts out violently in a public place Dominick is there to help him. As more tragedies befall Dominick, he attempts to sort out the legal mess his brother created and reluctantly start on his own journey of self-healing and forgiveness.

What is beautiful about this book is that it highlights the real trouble, guilt and anger that comes in loving someone with a mental illness over a lifetime. The imagery of emotions in this book is full spectrum. At one point, I remember thinking that it there is no way that Dominick could handle another major incident in his life but really, it was because as a reader my heart was aching for the character that I was now so attached to. Dominick’s journey is one of resilience, understanding, and ultimately about forgiveness. Mostly towards himself. Thomas’ story is also one of resilience; one that is often less understood. His inner turmoil to make sense of the world around him with his paranoid and invasive thoughts is exhausting. Thomas truly believes that his acts of paranoia will save the world from war. He is genuinely distressed that he cannot control any aspects of his life and that no one listens to his ideas and pleas. Can you imagine how that would feel? As is the case of many people with schizophrenia, the comprehension of their world is so different from our own but it does not make it any less real for them.

The style and approach of this book is both delicate and masculine, an intentional approach to help address the frail concept of North American masculinity and the trouble that it causes so many men. Dominick hates that Thomas is gentle and soft but really it is because he was afraid that he too might also be like that. Dominick treats these traits as if they were the worst fault a person could have; a testament to the harsh upbringing of his overbearing father and passive mother. The themes of forgiveness and growth demonstrate everyone’s journey and progress through life, though both the ups and the downs.

While many readers have found fault with the length of this book, I could not. I was sad when I finally finished this nearly 900 page tome and regretted reading it so fast.  I found that the author’s work was concise, necessary, intricate and well-thought out.

I want to recommend this book to everyone as I believe there are many facades of life that the characters in this book either embody or go through that few adults would not be able to relate to.  Do not be afraid of the length of this book, I assure you that every page is well worth it.

A Moth To The Flame by Debbie Sands

I knew Amy. Lots of people I grew up with could say that but did anyone know her struggles?

5/5 stars.
ebook, 162 pages.
Read from September 14 to 15, 2016.

I knew Amy. Not as well as I would have liked or for very long, but we grew up in the same town and had solid year together in the Studio Theatre class in our high school, the very one mentioned in this book. Her death hit the community and anyone that ever knew her hard. Perhaps this review is a little biased because of that connection but I am thankful that Debbie shared Amy’s story and her struggles.

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Amy as I remember her in 2003 – Studio Theatre – Foothills Composite High School -Okotoks, AB

Amy passed away in the summer of 2012. She was shot through a garage door with a bullet that never should have been shot and was not ever intended for her. She was 27 years old. Amy was eccentric, fun, independent, beautiful and confident. I’ll never forget some of fun times we had or the few inside jokes we created together. I remember envying her. However, few would have ever known the struggles that she dealt with and the problems it would cause in her adult life. Even more, few would have known about the struggles Amy’s family went through in trying to help her.

Amy had borderline personality disorder (BPD). A mental health condition that is characterized by overt and unstable emotions as well as abnormal behavior and relationships with others. Sufferers often have an unstable sense of self and extreme sense of abandonment that can often lead to dangerous behaviors.

Amy’s condition drove her to abuse drugs and mix with a crowd of people that ended up resulting her death. The book details the intimate struggles that her family had to endure while trying to deal with Amy. I cannot fathom the amount of pain and how trying it would have been trying to manage Amy. Her family loved her dearly but at the same time did not want to be enforcers to her behavior. They knew she was troubled but it wasn’t until after Amy’s death that they came to determine that she had BPD. The book spares no details and gives the deep down trauma of living with BPD and what it does to loved ones. While the book was heartbreaking to read, it is also immensely insightful.

I had the pleasure of working with Debbie on during a Dewdney theatre production of The Importance of Being Ernest around 2005. Debbie made a stellar Lady Bracknell and she never ever showed any signs of the potential turmoil that was effecting her private life. I am so glad that she wrote this book. Not only has she shed light for all that loved Amy but she is spreading awareness of about BPD. I hope that the writing process has been a healing one for her. No mother, or family for that matter, should ever have to endure what she went through. It was very brave of her to publish this book.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone with BPD or has a loved one with BPD. Or for those who have had mental illness effect them or someone that the have loved. And especially for anyone that loved or knew Amy.