Ever since I was an itty bitty kid, I’ve had a not so itty bitty problem: I pulled my hair. Like, I pulled my hair a lot. In fact, I still have a hair pulling problem today, and while it’s something that happens on and off in unpredictable waves, I know I’ll likely always have it: trichotillomania.
Trichotillomania is an impulsive disorder in which the person suffering from it has urges to pull their hair out; it can also cover people who are obsessed with picking at their skin. My trichotillomania has largely given my eyelashes the most grief. Before I know it, I’m pulling at them and suddenly have bald patches on my lash line. Eyeliner usually covers up my handy work, but it’s still incredibly frustrating to wait for them to grow back, only to do it all over again a few weeks later.
What was less easy to cover up was the hair from my head. In my senior year of college, I pulled out so much of my hair that I had a massive bald patch on the left side of my head; it looked like a janky attempt to rock a Rihanna haircut circa 2011. But one day, I stopped. Why? Because my parents were coming to town for graduation, and I didn’t want them to see my hair like that. I largely stopped pulling from my scalp, and even though my hair has largely grown back, my hair is still significantly shorter on one side of my head than the other. Ugh!
I say all this to say that trichotillomania is messy and unpredictable. I stopped pulling the hair out of my head from pure willpower, but my eyelashes still take a beating. I went years without pulling my eyelashes, only for the habit to come back in full force down the road. It’s maddening, but there are some things that can help reduce the urge to pull. Here are eight of them that are worth trying. I can’t promise that they’ll kick the habit for good, but a little help here and there never hurt anyone.
Identify And Avoid Your TriggersThis kind of mindfulness can be essential to dodging your trichotillomania in your most vulnerable states. If you usually pull when you’re laying on a couch and watching TV, sit in an armchair instead. If being in a low light room puts you in the mood to pull, change the lightbulbs or chill in a room with brighter lights. If you tend to pick at hair on your leg when it’s exposed, wear leggings, skinny jeans, or—better yet—tights around the house to avoid temptation. If you have a tendency to pull at hairs when you feel an itch, instead of relieving yourself with your fingers, grab a wide tooth comb and gently run the teeth along the itch instead. If you have a tendency to be a skin picker or pull at coarse, raised, or bumpy hairs, rub a smooth stone against those problem areas instead of plucking them to recreate a sense of smoothness. If you have a tool of choice that you use to pull your hair, throw it away (yes, it sucks, but it can be a bit help). Essentially, find your trigger and do what you can to evade it. Istock.com
Find A SubstituteIf you have an urge to pull, it can be helpful to keep your hands preoccupied with a stimulation substitute instead. This could be anything from putty, to rubbery toys, to velcro, to bubble wrap, to a rubber band tied around your wrist, etc. Go for a texture or sensation that you like messing with. Some people even peel off dried skin-safe glue from their skin to get a similar satisfaction that pulling brings with less damage. Just make sure whatever substitute you use is safe! Istock.com
Get Grossed Out By Side EffectsFor some nail biters, reminding themselves of all the crud and bacteria they’re munching on can be enough to resist the urge to bite. Well, you might as well know the side effects of hair pulling too, especially if you’re a little squeamish. You’re already aware that pulling your hair can lead to bald patches, right? Well, the consequences can be permanent; the hair from your favorite picking spot can get progressively thinner and thinner. Some hair pulling can even result in permanent damage to the root, stunting or ceasing growth. Imagine that bald bit of your eyelashes just never growing back. If that’s not enough to squick you out, it doesn’t help knowing that hair pulling and picking can lead to infected scabs and sores thanks to the bacteria on your fingers. And for those of you who have a tendency to chew or swallow the hairs you’ve pulled, you’re putting yourself at serious risk developing digestive blockage called a trichobezoar. It’s literally a hair ball, dude, and it’s a lot more severe than the kind cats get. Sarah Wintner Illustration
Moisturize Your Skin And HairFor some, the urge to pick at your hair can be heightened when your hair or the area around it is on the dry or tangled side. Moisturize your skin or put a leave in conditioner in your hair to soothe the area you feel tempted to pull. You might even want to use this as a good opportunity to detangle your hair if you et the urge to pull twisted and tangled strands. Exfoliating the skin around areas that are prone for picking might also be helpful! You’re doing your body some good and reducing the chances of pulling your hair out at the same time. Cantu
Wear Gloves Or BandagesThis might seem extreme, but this might be an option of choice for some of you. A physical inability to pull or get the kind of grip on your hair that helps satisfy your urge to pull can really help prevent another bald patch from cropping up. Sure, this might look a little silly, but it’s definitely worth a shot, especially around the house. If you have a specific time of day when you’re more likely to pull, throw on those gloves before too much damage is done. Pinterest
See A TherapistSeeing a therapist to help tackle your hair pulling or skin picking is a great step in the right direction. The most highly recommended therapy for trichotillomania is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on identifying and conquering the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, moods, etc that lead to problematic behavior (in this case, hair pulling). You know those triggers I mentioned earlier? This therapy might help figure them out. Empire Records
Hvae Your Friends And Family Hold You AccountableIf you confide about your problem to your friends or family, ask them to help keep you in check. They could notice you pulling your hair when you don’t and give you a reminder. But please, make sure that they know to be gentle about giving you a heads up. This could easily turn into shaming behavior, which won’t help you get any better. My So-Called Life
Get MedicationMedication is by no means a cureall to tackling trichotillomania, but some can help counter the urge to pull, especially in conjunction with the aforementioned tips. Taken regularly, medicines used to tackle anxiety and depression might show positive effects. If you’re experiencing a lot of anxiety and find yourself in a hair pulling tailspin, light tranquilizers like klonopin can help take the edge off when used as needed. If your trichotillomania is chronic and you’re looking for a last resort that might help you out a bit, medication might be the way to go. Again, only take this route if you feel like it’s right for you; don’t let a doctor bully you into it. And stop taking them if you feel negative side effects. Also, it’s worth noting that some medication you might take for other conditions could trigger your urge to pull, especially stimulant medication. So be careful. Istock.com
Do you have a hair pulling problem too? Do you have any suggestions for other ways to stop pulling your hair or picking your skin? Tell us in the comments!