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Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2012 Jul;159B(5):605-10. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32067. Epub 2012 May 22.

Prevalence and heritability of skin picking in an adult community sample: a twin study.

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Department of Psychosis Studies, King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK.


Skin-picking disorder (SPD) is a disabling psychiatric condition that can lead to skin damage and other medical complications. Epidemiological data is scarce and its causes are unknown. The present study examined the prevalence and heritability of skin-picking symptoms in a large sample of twins. A total of 2,518 twins completed a valid and reliable self-report measure of skin-picking behavior. The prevalence of clinically significant skin picking was established using empirically derived cut-offs. Twin modeling methods were employed to decompose the variance in the liability to skin picking into additive genetic and shared and non-shared environmental factors. A total of 1.2% of twins scored above the cut-off, indicative of clinically significant skin picking. All these participants were women. Univariate model-fitting analyses (female twins only, N = 2,191) showed that genetic factors accounted for approximately 40% (95% CI 19-58%) of the variance in skin picking, with non-shared environmental factors and measurement error accounting for the remaining variance (60% [95% CI 42-81%]). Shared environmental factors were negligible. It is concluded that pathological skin picking is relatively prevalent problem, particularly among women, and that it tends to run in families primarily due to genetic factors. Non-shared environmental factors are also likely to play an important role in its etiology.

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