Trichotillomania, often known as Trich, is a mental disorder that may cause a person to pull out their own hair. Those with trichotillomania will suffer recurring urges to pull out the hair on their head, as well as eyebrows, eyelashes or other areas of the body.
Trichotillomania is most common in female teenagers and young adults however, it can affect anyone. It can result in bald or patchy areas of hair causing significant distress to the sufferer. The severity of the condition will differ from person to person, with some able to manage whilst others will require treatment. Treatment can help to reduce the hair-pulling behaviour or even stop it completely in some cases.
What Causes Trichotillomania?
It is not entirely clear what causes trichotillomania however, it has been linked to a number of different factors. It is believed that trichotillomania could present itself in a person in response to stress or anxiety. Another theory is that it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, similar to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
As trichotillomania is most commonly found in teenagers, the cause has also been linked to changes in hormone levels during puberty. In some cases, it is believed that hair pulling is used as a form of self-harm for emotional relief.
In reality, the cause of trichotillomania is unclear. It could be a combination of the above. It is thought that a family history of trichotillomania may also increase a person’s chances of developing the condition themselves.
What are the Symptoms of Trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania has a range of symptoms. Those suffering from trichotillomania may experience some or all of these symptoms. If you experience any of the below symptoms and feel that you may be suffering from trichotillomania, you should visit your GP.
- An intense and overwhelming urge to pull out your hair
- An increasing level of tension just before pulling out hair or when trying to resist pulling out hair
- A sense of relief or pleasure after pulling out hair
- Noticeable hair loss or thinning of the hair. This refers to both the scalp and other areas of the body e.g. sparse eyebrows or eyelashes
- Repeated failed attempts to stop pulling out hair
- Playing with pulled-out hair e.g. biting or chewing on hair, rubbing hair across the face and lips
Hair pulling may be automatic or focused. Automatic hair pulling occurs when the person does not realise they are doing it. It is an absent-minded action; they may pull out their hair while reading, watching TV or when they are bored. Focused hair pulling on the other hand is conscious. This kind of hair pulling is usually used as a form of relief to emotional distress. A person is not necessarily one or the other, their trichotillomania may be a combination of both focused and automatic hair pulling.
The Effects of Trichotillomania
Whilst the physical effects of trichotillomania present themselves in the form of the symptoms above, it can go much deeper than that. Many people who suffer from trichotillomania try to keep the condition to themselves and associate it with feelings of shame. Bald or thinning patches of hair may also result in low self-esteem and/or anxiety.
In addition to this, trichotillomania can have a detrimental effect on people’s social lives, even leading to them becoming isolated. Embarrassment can cause sufferers to stop going out, or becoming close with people in fear that their condition will be discovered.
The constant hair pulling may also physically damage your skin and hair. Consistent strain on the same areas may permanently affect hair growth in that area. It can also create scar tissue and the area may become infected. It is therefore essential to visit your GP to get treatment if you feel you may be suffering from trichotillomania.
As it is not known specifically what causes trichotillomania, there is no one set treatment for it. The most common way to treat trichotillomania is via CBT. This helps people to replace a bad habit with a habit that is not harmful to them.
In order to do this, a person will usually have to keep a diary that helps them to identify triggers to their hair pulling. One they have worked out their triggers, they must then take steps to try and avoid them in future. Many people also try to replace hair pulling with an alternative action such as squeezing a stress ball.
Having a strong support network around you has also been shown to improve the effects of trich. This is likely because, for many people, the underlying cause of their hair pulling activity is due to emotional distress. With support, they are able to navigate their emotions more easily and therefore reduce hair pulling behaviours.
The NHS also recommends some things you can try yourself to resist the urge to pull hair:
- squeeze a stress ball or use a fidget toy
- form a ball with your fist and tighten the muscles in that arm
- wear a bandana or a tight-fitting hat
- come up with a saying that you repeat out loud until the urge to pull your hair passes
- take steps to reduce stress or anxiety such as taking a soothing bath, practising deep breathing or exercising until the urge to pull goes away
- put plasters on your fingertips
- cut your hair short
How Can We Help?
Here at The Hair Alchemist, we are a trichology-led salon. Our in-salon trichologist is able to identify hair conditions and refer you to a specialist should you need it.
For those who have had treatment for trichotillomania and are now left with thinning hair or bald patches on the scalp, we can help you to get your confidence back. We create luxury wigs, that look super natural to give you back the hair of your dreams! We also offer damage-free hair extensions for thinning hair and hair loss that blend seamlessly into your natural hair.
For more information or to book a free consultation, get in touch on 07538970628!