Cold Sores & Canker Sores from Cheek Biting & Lip Picking

Have you ever gotten cold or canker sores from cheek biting or lip picking? Let me tell you how most of my blisters and sores result directly from my Body-focused Repetitive Behaviors and how I got them under control. 

Since my youth, I’ve struggled A LOT with painful sores on my lips and the inside of my cheeks.

It took me ages to make the connection that I get cold sores from lip picking and canker sores from cheek biting. 

I’m glad I’ve reached a point in my BFRB recovery where I rarely get them anymore (knock on wood).

Below I’ll show you what I’ve learned and which BFRB coping methods have worked so far.

Getting cold sores from lip picking and lip biting

As a teenager, I got one cold sore after the other. I already got a new one before the previous one was fully healed

Picking my lips made the cold sores get bigger and out of control. It got so bad over a weekend that I went to the hospital, where I got a prescription drug. Since then, I’ve made sure to always have the medication at home.

Finally, in my twenties, I realized that when I’m nervous or worried, I pick my lips or bite the inside of my lips. And whenever my lips bleed, I get cold sores quickly.

At the time, I didn’t know how to control the lip picking and lip biting nor the emotions that caused the behavior. 

Fortunately, with the help of some coping methods, I rarely get cold sores anymore. In this post, I will share the coping techniques that have worked well for me so far.

4 ways to help with lip picking and not get cold sores 

1.     Moisturizing lips:
I apply lip balm every other hour or so. Moisturizing lips helps prevent chapping and mask rough patches—the stickier and thicker the lip balm, the better. When you unconsciously touch your lips, the tacky consistency reminds you not to. I mainly use Vaseline Lip Therapy, but please comment below if you have better recommendations! 

2.     Exfoliating lips:
My lips’ rough and cracked skin triggers the urge to pick and bite. To smooth the skin, I exfoliate it with a mixture of honey and sugar (2/1). Don’t overdo it—you shouldn’t do it more than once a week!

3.     Wearing finger cover:
I wear finger covers as a barrier against picking the skin around my fingers. But they also help against mindless lip picking. Wearing a thumb cover makes picking impossible!

4.     Fidget toy for busy hands:
Fidget toys are always helpful to keep the hand busy and from feeling the skin on the arm, face or lips which triggers the picking urge.

Getting canker sores from cheek biting

I don’t even know when I started biting my cheeks. I engaged in that BFRB without noticing it. I often got painful canker sores, but it took me forever to realize that I got them from cheek biting.

It usually starts by nibbling the insight right corner of my lip. The rough skin then triggers to bite even more and increases the urge to create a smooth surface. And this is where the never-ending biting cycle begins.  

Cheek biting is the most accessible BFRB for me, and that’s probably why I do it most to seek comfort and relieve frustration, anxiety, and overwhelm.

I find cheek biting particularly difficult to control as it’s nearly impossible to create barriers and easy to hide the damage.

I got my cheek biting somewhat under control—more nibbling than biting—through awareness and these BFRB coping methods. 

5 ways to control cheek biting to avoid canker sores

1.     Rinsing with Mouthwash: 
Mouthwash has a burning sensation. Despite the slight discomfort, I rinse my mouth with it until the burn fades away. I feel like it distracts a bit from the urge to bite. 

2.     Wearing a mouthguard
The mouthguard is the ultimate barrier against biting your cheeks, lips, and nails. I wear it to prevent cheek biting and to give the skin a chance to heal when it’s too late.

3.     Nibbling & Snacking:
Chewing gum, hard candy, or the intense sensation of sour candy are the good old classics to keep the mouth busy or distracted. Healthier alternatives include snacking on nuts and sunflower seeds or crunchy veggies like carrots, celery sticks, or kohlrabi. (Hunger is also one of my BFRB triggers, so snacks help with that too!)

4.     Chewy fidget toys:
Snacking obviously is not a long-term solution, so I often use a chewy fidget toy to get the nervous energy out of my jaw. It sometimes helps to curb the urge to bite.

5.     Puffing out my cheeks 
I puff out my cheeks when I notice that I bite my cheeks. This little pause allows me to create awareness of what I am doing. I find it especially helpful when I’m out and about. 

Wrinkles from making weird shapes with my mouth

I don’t know if it’s age, but certain lines around my mouth seem to be caused by my mouth distorting when I bite my cheeks.

I have no solution for that. But I’ll just leave that statement here as it is. Maybe it serves as a motivator or reminder not to bite your cheeks 😉


Tire out Your Hands with a Stress Ball or Putty

Squeezing, stretching, shaping, and popping are the keywords for gel-filled fidget balls, stress balls, or putties.

This type of fidget toy comes in all sorts of textures and intensities. Whatever your sensory needs, you can get everything from super soft and dense to doughy.

People with BFRBs often have restless fingers that constantly wander around, leading to picking and pulling.

Squishy stress balls and putties are great for getting (nervous) energy out of your fingers and keeping your hands busy. 

Fiddling with these fidget toys will help relieve anxiety and tension. Some stress balls even have sensory features like different colors or scents. They have a calming effect and can improve concentration.

Strengthening hands with the stress ball

Another advantage of the stress ball and putty is strengthening the hand, fingers, and wrist muscles. I’m a rock climber and used training putty to improve my grip even before I knew the term BFRB.

I’ve noticed my hands get tired and calmer after playing with the putty. After some time of kneading, they don’t wander as much anymore.

I like to get two benefits from using the stress ball and putty–finger workout and BFRB relief.

In general, I prefer a firm putty to a softer stress ball. I like the playful stretching, rolling, and kneading. It’s like adult Play-Doh! 

But everyone has different experiences with body-focused repetitive behaviors and preferences regarding fidget toys. I recommend trying different toys to see what you like!

TIP: @pullyoselftogether uses a kneadable art eraser which makes a great fidget putty. I like that idea a lot!

Click here to learn more about how to find the right fidget toys for your sensory needs.


Exfoliate Your Skin to Reduce Triggers

Do you pick your fingers when you feel something rough or bite the dry parts on your lips? How about the tiny bumps on the upper arms or thighs?

Rough, dry, and bumpy skin is a huge sensory and visual trigger for me. While I try to accept that textured skin is perfectly normal, I still find it hard sometimes to resist the urge to “fix” things.

I try to get the best version of my skin to reduce triggers. Through proper care, I try to prevent hangnails, reduce breakouts, and manage the symptoms of keratosis pilaris as best I can. 

I’ve never been a big fan of an elaborated skincare routine. In fact, I didn’t have one at all before I started my BFRB healing journey.

So, on a quest to get happier skin, I’ve tried too many, in my opinion, useless skin care products. But two have caught on and made a positive difference—exfoliating and moisturizing. Well, I also no longer say no to a cleanser with salicylic acid.

Exfoliating removes the dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. Moisturizing the skin keeps it soft and prevents cracking, which is especially important after exfoliation!

How to exfoliate the skin of fingers, lips, face, and body

These are the different exfoliating techniques I use to smooth the skin of my fingers, lips, and the rest of the body. I don’t have a strict regimen. I do it preventatively before my skin triggers the urge to pick or bite my skin.  

⚠️ Do not exfoliate on open wounds, cuts, or other sensitive or sore areas! Only exfoliate once the wounds inflicted by your BFRBs are healed. 

1. How to exfoliate your fingers 

I’ve been picking and biting the skin around my fingernails for decades. The new skin that grows is much stiffer and tears easily. To smoothen the skin around my fingernails,

  • I sand the skin next to my fingernails with the rough side of the nail buffer or a paper file. A regular (glass) file probably does the same job. 
  • Sometimes I use the pumice stone in the shower to smooth out rough edges.
  • I clean my nails with a soft cuticle brush that doubles as a gentle exfoliator. Wet hands beforehand.
  • Sometimes I use the chemical exfoliating cleanser that I use on my body on my fingers and hands as well. 

Moisturize your fingers afterward! I use hand cream and cuticle oil a couple of times a day.

2. How to exfoliate your lips

The rough skin on my lips triggers the urge to pick and bite. I make my own lip scrub to exfoliate the skin to get rid of that trigger. You shouldn’t do it more than once a week!

  • I gently massage my lips with a mixture of honey and sugar. The ratio for that is approximately 2 to 1.
  • You can also buy special lip exfoliation products in the drugstore

Don’t forget a rich lip balm afterward! I use Vaseline Lip Therapy every other hour to prevent picking my lips. 

3. How to exfoliate your face and body

The sight and touch of pimples, blemishes, and ingrown hair trigger my dermatillomania. Exfoliating helps to unclog pores and smooth out tiny keratosis pilaris bumps.

I’ve learned that chemical peels are healthier for the skin than physical ones. Scrubs are often too harsh for sensitive skin, especially on the face. But it’s up to you and your specific needs what works best for you.

When you search for chemical exfoliants, you will come across the terms AHA (alpha hydroxy acid ) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid). Check the packaging labels for:

  • Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common AHAs. The latter is made from milk and is said to be mild. In comparison, glycolic acid is derived from sugarcane and can be more irritating. 
  • Salicylic acid is well-known and the strongest. You can also often find this in cleansers or lotions. 

In addition to removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores, both AHA and BHA are also used to fade pigment spots or scars (hello and goodbye picking scars?), shrink enlarged pores, reduce fine wrinkles, and even out skin tones.

I haven’t been using the chemical exfoliator long enough to know if these benefits are true, but I really could use them all 😉

If you’ve never used an exfoliator before, I recommend researching or getting advice from a professional. I find blog posts like the one by The Skin Care Edit very informative.


  • If you’ve never used a chemical exfoliator before, it’s essential to use it slowly and in low concentrations, especially if you have sensitive skin.
  • Also, the skin becomes more susceptible to sun damage. So always use sunscreen when you go outside! 
  • Provide your skin with plenty of moisture after exfoliating! When you pick your fingers and lips, moisturize them as if your life depends on it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who said that, but that statement has stuck with me ever since I read it.

If you exfoliate your fingers, lips, or other parts of the body, please let me know! I’d love to hear your methods!


Tire out Your Jaw with Chewy Fidget Toys

I use chewy fidgets to get the nervous energy out of my jaw. And to distract my tongue and keep it off the inside of my cheeks. I also find the chewy fidget helpful in curbing the urge to bite my nails.

Almost all BFRBs involve hands in some way. Therefore, most coping methods focus on keeping hands busy or creating barriers and blocks.

This is not so easy when it comes to cheek-biting or lip biting. Nevertheless, I try to approach it the same way because, like my fingers, my mouth often has a (restless) life of its own!

As with my other BFRBs, I try to prevent or intervene in the situation before I do too much damage. Logging has helped me become more aware of when and why I bite the inside of my cheeks and lips.

This is not easy as I keep biting my cheeks to comfort myself and let go of frustration, fear, and overwhelm. I even do it to pass the time!

Cheek biting is so easily accessible; that’s probably why I’m struggling so much with it. I can do it without others noticing. Also, no one can see the damage I’ve done. It just hurts a lot.

I started using chewy fidgets to self-regulate and create a barrier—I can’t bite my cheeks or lips while having one in my mouth. I often use it while working on the computer or doing other sedentary tasks at home.

First, I used the munchie from my Invisalign treatment until I bought the chewy sticks. I chose these because they have the same shape as the chopsticks that I used before to create a barrier against cheek-biting.

But I’m glad to have something to chew on to get the energy out. I’m telling you, biting down on these chewy sticks is a full jaw workout! Sometimes it takes a while for my muscles to relax enough to fully open my mouth again 🙈

Another benefit of chewable fidget toys is that chewing can relieve stress and promote focus. Something you can never have enough of, right? 😉

Where to buy chewy fidget toys

Chewy fidget toys come in many different shapes and sizes. However, they get mainly advertised to children. They are usually very colorful and quite large. 

My chewy sticks are pretty subtle, though. I got them from my local mental health store—the amazing Odin book store in Vancouver. 

But of course, there are many options online. Just look for oral sensory chewschewy fidget toys, or chewelry (yes, chewable jewelry!). 

To save you some time, I recommend checking out the website It’s like chew toy heaven for humans!

Alternative coping strategies I use for cheek-biting 

  • Chewing gum, the good old classic, is always great for on the go. 
  • Nibbling on nuts and sunflower seeds is a good distraction.
  • I snack on crunchy veggies like carrots, celery sticks, or kohlrabi. 
  • Mouthwash has a bit of a burning sensation. I keep it in my mouth despite the discomfort. I feel like it distracts from the urge to bite at times.
  • I am wearing a mouthguard as the ultimate barrier to cheek-biting. I often use it when I know I’m going to bite my cheeks. It also helps heal the skin.
  • I puff out my cheeks when I catch myself biting my cheeks. This little pause creates awareness of what I am doing. I find it especially helpful when I’m out and about. 

Do you relate? What tips would you add for coping with cheek biting?

– Anja


I had a little BFRB epiphany when I learned about Homunculus. Have you ever heard of this? The Homunculus is a depiction of a tiny human being from 1500. It is an image of a person with the size of the body parts distorted to represent how much area of the brain’s cerebral cortex is devoted to it. For example, the mouth and hands are enormous, whereas the legs and feet are tiny. I found this image very interesting as I feel like my mouth and hands sometimes have a life of their own. Which explains a bit the automatic body-focused repetitive behaviours.


Tactile Design of Acupressure Rings—Perfect for Fidgeting

Do you have restless fingers and like tactile things? Then the acupressure ring might be something for you. It has definitely become one of my favorite fidget toys.

Through my BFRB healing journey, I realize how much I love the touch of something rough, uneven, or textured, like open zippers, zesters, and exfoliating washcloths. Even as a child, I loved the touch of terry cloth or the newly grown hair on my mother’s legs.

The acupressure ring is a perfect, easily accessible, and discreet alternative. It has spiky tips that dig into your fingers and irritate the skin enough to provide a soothing sensation without damaging the skin.

These rings stimulate and promote blood flow when rolled up and down on the finger. Apparently, they also improve focus and energy levels. I can’t confirm that, but I welcome that benefit if that’s true.

The tactile design is perfect for fidgeting while reading, watching TV, working, or problem-solving. I also carry an acupressure ring in my pocket wherever I go. When I’m uncomfortable, I can fiddle with it without anyone noticing.

Where to Buy Acupressure Rings

Acupressure rings seem to be quite popular lately. Or maybe it’s because I like them so much, and that’s why I keep stumbling across them in different places.

These are the places I found the acupressure rings:


I got mine at London Drugs. Maybe your local drugstore has them as well. The brand is called Kikkerland, and its quality is fantastic!

Mental health or bookstores:

Bookstores often carry fidget toys too. I’m fortunate to live in a city (Vancouver, Canada) with a mental health bookstore. The Odin bookstore has acupressure rings, among other fidget toys.

Climbing gyms or climbing departments in sports shops:

I’ve been to many climbing gyms that sell acupressure rings. Climbers use the acupressure rings to massage their fingers to help with injuries or to warm up the finger before climbing.


If you search for acupressure rings online, you will get endless hits. I haven’t had the best experiences with Amazon, though, as they break easily. So maybe look at the price or reviews for better quality.

I hope you find this tip helpful!

photo of hand rolling an acupressure ring
photo of acupressure rings