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What Is Trichotillomania? Learn More about the Obsession Compulsion of Hair Pulling. And What Helps.

Updated on June 8, 2013

Help Me Stop Pulling Out My Own Hair.


What Is Trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania is a disorder that involves pulling one's hair out. The person has an obsessive thought to want to pull their hair, and the compulsion to actual pull their hair out. Sometimes, people with trichotillomania eat their own hair.

The hair can be pulled anywhere on the body including- eyebrows, eyelashes, underarm hair, top of the head, legs and pubic area.

This impulsive behavior can not be easily stopped even when there are balding spots and the hair is becoming thinner. It seems to affect women or girls more than men or boys. Young children can develop trichotillomania, the peak age for trichotillomania is between 9 and 13 years old. Most symptoms of a hair pulling disorder begin before the age of 17.



Trichotillomania is a greek word. Broken down means- hair pull madness.

trich- (hair)

till- (to pull)

mania- (madness)

A French dermatologist Francois Henri Hallopeau named the disorder.

Have you ever heard of trichotillomania?

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Why Would Someone Choose To Pull Their Own Hair?

Everyone has to deal with everyday anxiety and pressure. Some are innately more prone to anxiety than others. People with trichotillomania disorder have difficulties managing anger, anxiety, sadness, self-esteem and depression.

The pulling of the hair offers a sense of relief, pleasure and can even be gratifying.

The cycle goes like this:

  • Feelings of anxiety, and increase tension
  • The thought to relieve this tension by pulling own hair
  • The thought ruminates in one's mind and becomes obsessive. The urge grows stronger to pull one's hair
  • The person begins to either pull large handfuls of hair or pull out their hair one strand at a time
  • Some look at each strand after pulling it, or play with their hair. Some may even eat their hair
  • After the hair is pulled gratification or relief is felt

The gratification and release felt is only momentarily. Then the urge comes back to pull the hair again. Some may pull their hair for the duration of an hour or more. The obsession is reinforced by the habit of pulling the hair and feeling the release immediately after. The cycle continues as the mind wants the urge to be satisfied- like the satisfaction of scratching an itch.


Side Effects of Trichotillomania.

  • Feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, frustration
  • Bald spots
  • If the hair is ingested it can cause major stomach problems since hair is not digestible
  • Shame keeps trichotillomania secret
  • Self-conscious
  • Feelings of powerlessness to stop


Ways To Help Stop Hair Pulling

  • Therapy
  • Medication to decrease the obsessive compulsive behavior
  • Learn what situations trigger the need and either decrease these situations or find alternative solutions to decrease the anxiety
  • Learn other coping skills to deal with anxiety
  • Art Therapy


Needle and Thread

© Tetjusheff | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Tetjusheff | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos | Source

Art Therapy

An art therapy intervention to decrease the need to pull hair is to create with cross stitch or plastic canvas art.

Here are some reasons to introduce cross-stitch or plastic canvas art to help someone with trichotillomania:

  • The hands will be busy doing something else
  • It is small enough to carry in a purse or bag and pull out when needed
  • The tugging of the thread imitates the tugging of hair
  • The thread size is similar to hair
  • The needle can prick the person momentarily, offering a similar quick sensation as hair pulling would
  • There is a finished product that can increase self esteem and self reflection, instead of a balding patch of hair
  • They can see their art progress and change as they create, satisfaction and sublimation for hair pulling can be achieved


What Is Plastic Canvas Art?

Plastic Canvas Art is a type of craft. The artist uses a plastic canvas, that has repetitive holes. It looks like graph paper. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and color. The artist uses yarn and a large soft plastic needle to create by stitching. The artist can change yarn colors much like someone would use color pencils to create an image.

Because trichotillomania effects children, plastic canvas art is a better medium than cross stitch since the yarn is larger than thread and the needle is larger and doesn't have a point.

It is a great project for a therapist and child or a parent and child to learn together. Try to encourage the child to make things on their own. It is fun and easy to master.

Some craft stores have plastic canvas art for smaller children. They come with bigger holes and a big dull plastic needle.

Plastic canvas art is cheap. You can gather all your supplies for under $5.00


What Is Cross Stitch?

Cross stitch uses thread to make a picture. The technique is exactly as it sounds. The stitch used is in the shape of an "X" or criss-cross. Thus a cross stitch. Partial cross stitches are sometimes used in patterns that require fine details. Stamped cross-stitch, the most popular, is when the pattern is printed onto fabric and the stitcher simply stitches the image in.

Cross stitch can become more intricate as the stitcher grows in confidence and technique.

For teens and young adults, who are dealing with trichotillomania, cross stitch may be a type of therapy to help transfer the emotions and sensations with hair pulling.

Highly intelligent clients can create their own designs with cross stitch.


About The Author.

Carly Sullens is a practicing art therapist who has worked directly with clients who suffer from trichotillomania. She has encouraged her clients to use plastic canvas art and cross stitch as an intervention to decrease hair pulling. Although not scientifically studied, she has noticed her clients decrease their hair pulling, and for some they have completely stopped pulling their hair.

© Copyright Carly Sullens 2012. All Rights Reserved.



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    • profile image

      Dirtyboy07 4 years ago

      This is amazing!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      I had not heard of this disorder, at least not by name though I think I knew some people did it. Your explanation of why those types of needlework are effective in reducing the hair pulling was fascinating. A very interesting read, and it is so good that such a simple practice can help people with trichotillomania.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I have heard of this, but never really knew the depth of it as you described here. How sad. I am glad that there is a method of helping those who suffer from it. Art therapy is so helpful in many ways, glad it helps here as well. Great read on this post.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      I have heard of this, many times over the years and have spoken to pts. who have this frustrating well as cutters and PICA... Rather difficult to deal with. I find your art therapy fascinating......UP++

    • christin53 profile image

      Ann-Christin 5 years ago from UK

      It was interesting reading this. My son started pulling his hair out when he was 11 it went on for months and I never found out what was causing him to do it. He did eventually stop when his friends noticed and commented on his bald patches.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Plastic art and cross stitch for therapy. That makes sense, keeping the hands busy and occupying the mind.

      I was aware of this condition. It always gave me sympathy for those so young with such amounts of stress.

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Thank you Janine, my mind is always thinking of ways we can be creative, or how art making can help. It is just as natural as breathing is for me to think about creativity. I love to implement creative ways so that other's can feel empowered.

      As always thank you my dear friend for stopping by.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Carly, I love how you always show how Art Therapy can indeed help with so many different psychological disorders. Years back my neighbors granddaughter was doing this, because her parents were getting a divorce and she was having anxiety issues. I wish I would have known more about Art Therapy to have helped her back then. My neighbors have since moved and honestly sure whatever became of this kid though. Great job as always. I have voted and shared all over!!