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Shamir Benji: Hair Pulling - Trichotillomania

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Most of us love hair. Hair is associated with beauty, youth and vivacity. The more hair we have, the better we feel. But there are some individuals who are so emotionally tormented that they pull their hair. Known as trichotillomania, this emotional disorder induces an irresistible urge to pull out one’s own hair.

While in most cases it is pulling out hair from the scalp, some may even pull the hair out of other eyebrows, groin and extremities. Hair pulling from the scalp is readily visible and some individuals go to great lengths to disguise this behavior.

Trichotillomania is more of an impulse control disorder rather and an obsessive or compulsive disorder. Individuals who have this disorder simply can’t resist the urge to perform an act that is harmful. While hair pulling is usually done with the fingers, it may occasionally be removed with instruments like razors, blades, combs, brushes or tweezers.

For some individuals the hair pulling is intentional and focused. They are aware of what they are doing, but for other individuals, hair pulling is an automatic event and they may not be aware of it.

The cause of this bizarre condition is not fully understood. Scientists have identified mutations in some brain neurons that may trigger the urge to pull out hair. In others, changes in the neurotransmitter serotonin and dopamine have been identified. But these discoveries are academic and have not helped treatment.

It is estimated that about 1-3 percent of the population may have some degree of trichotillomania. The disorder can affect both adults and children and may be seen as early as age 2-3.

Why people pull hair is puzzling. Some individuals pull their hair out because the hairs may not be of a particular color, texture or shape. Others develop delusional thinking that certain color hairs are bad. Sometime hair pulling is done during a mood disorder like anger, frustration or tension. Other individuals pull their hair when they are lonely. There are individuals who find that pulling hair makes them feel good and they continually try to seek that kind of positive reinforcement.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.