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What It's Like Living With A Hair Pulling Disorder


It’s no secret that when you’re having a bad hair day, the last thing you want to do is leave the house. But what if it wasn’t just a bad hair day? Imagine if every day you looked in the mirror and tufts of hair, bald patches, and lashless eyes stared back at you—how would you muster up the courage to face the outside world day after day? This is what it is like for people who suffer from trichotillomania. Unless you have trichotillomania, chances are good you’ve probably never heard of it before. As someone who suffers from trichotillomania, however, I know all too well how the lack of information can make you feel like an outsider when all anyone can see is your missing hair.

In an effort to bring more awareness, I’m opening up about my trichotillomania journey and sharing tips from hair stylists who are making it their mission to help clients with this condition.

Photo Credit: @sheilachung_hair.

What is trichotillomania?

If you’ve heard about trichotillomania before, you probably know that it involves some type of hair loss, but what is it exactly? In short, trichotillomania is a hair-pulling disorder that’s categorized by the repetitive pulling of one’s own hair. It’s not the hair that falls out when you’re showering or the random eyelash that happens to be on your face. The condition is centered around the act of pulling, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. Those who have trichotillomania typically pull from any part of the body, but the most common areas include eyelashes, eyebrows, and the scalp.

Take a second and think about the people you know who bite their nails when they’re nervous. Most times, they don’t even realize they’re doing it until someone points it out. The same thing goes for trichotillomania. When I pull, most of the time, it’s subconscious and not something I notice right away. While it might sound painful, for those who suffer from this condition, myself included, the hair pulling is usually painless and actually soothing. As you can imagine, that makes the condition even harder to treat because, in a way, it feels good.


My Experience With Trichotillomania

For many women, having long hair and voluminous eyelashes is viewed as the pinnacle of femininity. While I do have pretty thick hair, I haven’t had long eyelashes in nearly half a decade. There have been points in my life where I was ashamed of not having any eyelashes, especially as a woman, so I’ll be the first to say that sometimes writing about hair tips doesn’t come easy.

It was that comment from a random boy in my class that started my trichotillomania journey. Imagine sitting at your desk in elementary school and having someone come up to you and say, “You have no eyelashes, gross.” At the time, I was humiliated because I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Making up excuses like they just “fell out” or “my dog ate them” didn’t go over too well. It was pretty obvious I was lying, but I didn’t know how to respond. Almost immediately, my self-esteem and body image plummeted. I thought that I was no longer pretty or girly enough since I was missing a part of my body that society deemed as “beautiful,” and worst of all, now people actually noticed.

While the condition consumed my life for a few years, it wasn’t until high school that I sought serious treatment. Let me tell you—it was life-changing. After a few years of therapy, I found coping mechanisms that helped me to manage my urges better. After a few years, I was able to grow out a full set of eyelashes, and to this day, it is still one of my biggest accomplishments.

Some coping mechanisms that help me to maintain my progress include using fidget toys, playing with silly putty, and of course, writing. It’s important to understand that although these worked for me, that doesn’t mean they will work for everyone. Everyone is different, and it’s important to find the methods that work best for you. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of setbacks along the way. It took nearly three years to get the long, beautiful eyelashes I dreamed about. I’ve relapsed several times since and know that there’s a possibility I will again in the future. However, I’ve worked to accept the fact that while I might have this condition, it doesn’t speak to my worth, and I am beautiful.

Going To A Hair Salon With Trichotillomania

I think the worst part about having trichotillomania is that you are constantly worried about judgment. Whether it's from your peers, friends, or relatives, hearing over and over again that you don’t have eyelashes isn’t a pleasant experience. Prior to trichotillomania, I was extremely fond of going to get my haircut. It was one of the few hours I could actually relax. However, that relaxing experience quickly changed when my stylist asked me where my eyelashes went. Not only was I humiliated, but I also assumed that as a hairstylist, she would have been more aware of the condition. What I once enjoyed doing now felt like a death sentence. Why would I possibly want to put myself in a position to be criticized by someone who is supposed to know about hair? That’s when I decided to do some research and find stylists who specialize in caring for clients with trichotillomania and creating a safe space for people like myself.

Sheila Chung, a private studio owner and stylist at Salon Ziba in New York City, knows how a trich client’s poor first experience can affect their future salon experiences.

“One big concern I see with my trich clients is that a lot of stylists do not know about trich and how to handle the situation...The client will then have a traumatizing experience because of something the stylist said or did and never wants to go back to a salon,” Chung says.

This is exactly what happened to me—until I realized there were stylists out there who were knowledgeable and understanding of the condition.

Chung has made it her mission to create a safe space for clients with trichotillomania. Chung lets her clients know that she is there to offer a non-judgmental ear and private space for them to enjoy their salon experience. For once, I felt seen. As someone with the disorder, having a hair stylist who understands the condition makes the experience more enjoyable and way less stressful.

“I think it's important to create a safe space for trich clients because it is such a sensitive subject. Some of them have never even told anyone else, not even their parents. They already have so much anxiety about someone seeing their spots, and being out on the floor where everyone can see them will just give them more anxiety,” says Chung. “I've realized that having the safe space and them knowing that I am aware of what trich is, helps them to feel at ease to open up to me more easily.”

Photo Credit: @sheilachung_hair.

Hair Products For People With Trichotillomania

I know from firsthand experience that when hair grows back after pulling, it can be coarse and dry. If you’re dealing with trichotillomania and are looking for products to add to your hair care routine, Chung has some suggestions.

“At Salon Ziba, we carry Kérastase and Shu Uemura Art of Hair. When someone has trich, their hair usually grows more coarse and curly from pulling,” Chung explains. “I would usually recommend Shu Uemura’s Ultimate Reset Shampoo and Conditioner because it's so moisturizing, and that's what they need for the coarse hair.“

Aside from shampoo and conditioner, Chung also recommends products for styling hair regardless of the stage you’re at in the regrowth process.

“I also love the Shu Uemura’s Essence Absolue Overnight Serum for when they want to blow out their hair,” Chung says. “For the clients who like to wear their hair more natural and wavy, I like to recommend Shu Uemura’s Wonder Worker Multi-Benefit Hair Treatment to help them air dry with less frizz.”

Dealing with trichotillomania is not easy, but having the right support, especially in the salon, can make the experience a positive one.

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