Shining a light on trichotillomania: the compulsion to pull out your own hair
You may have heard of the "hair-pulling disorder", but how common is trichotillomania?
For many women, the idea of moulting in the shower is worthy of a sad face emoji. But imagine developing bald patches across your head, or losing your eyelashes or your eyebrows altogether. Not because of any nasty disease, but because you just can't stop pulling your own hair out. If you're a nail biter then you'll probably understand just how this happens. No matter how many times your mum tells you to get your fingers out of your mouth, somehow, they always end up back there again.
What is trichotillomania?
"Trichotillomania" is the name given to the compulsion to pull out your own hair. Whether it's from the head, the eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, chest or even genitals.
It affects up to two in every 50 adults worldwide, according to the TLC Foundation. And in the US alone, an estimated 2.5 million people suffer from the condition at some point. And while these may seem like high figures, it is still considered to be a hugely under-diagnosed condition.
Trichotillomania is different from simply picking at split ends. It's diagnosed according to a criterion of a growing urge to pull out the hair and a building of tension before pulling. It is coupled with a sense of relief once the hair is removed.
The condition is closely related to stress and anxiety issues, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How common is trichotillomania?
Although trichotillomania is around four times more common in women, either gender can be affected. it is predominantly found in teenagers and young adults, having started in childhood. Like the split end snipping that your hairdresser tells you off for, it often begins as an innocuous habit.
Trichologist Philip Kingsley tells, Get The Gloss:
"It is normally a benign and pleasant habit, but something triggers it to become serious, leading to trichotillomania. Not only is it more common in women, but it occurs mostly around puberty and menopause."
If you need proof of just how common the condition actually is, there are a number of famous faces who have all spoken out about their own experiences with trichotillomania. These include Megan Fox, Justin Timberlake and Charlize Theron.
Actress Olivia Munn opened up about her own compulsion to pull at her eyelashes in an interview with the New York Daily News, commenting:
"It doesn't hurt, but it's really annoying. Every time I run out of the house, I have to stop and pick up a whole set of fake eyelashes."
Trichotillomania has other side effects
Many sufferers also experience depression and social isolation. Blogger Pretty and Polished explained:
"I used to avoid certain social situations because of trich, severely lacked confidence, and every time I left the house would be filled with the utmost dread that someone (even a stranger) would notice that I didn't have eyelashes.
"I hope that people can stop minimising its severity by telling sufferers that it's a habit, or they will grow out of it and acknowledge it for what it is. But only increasing awareness of the disorder, educating and openly discussing it will do this. I can still hope though, right?"
How can it be treated?
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford movie star hair treatments.
Or even to be able to pick up a pair of falsies every time they need to. So what can help?
There's a method of cognitive behavioural therapy known as habit reversal training. This is where sufferers keep notes on their triggers. They then use distraction techniques, such as using a stress ball.
And in order to prevent further pulling, sufferers have reported putting on gloves, wearing false nails or applying hand cream.