Introduction 

Trichotillomania is a condition where a person feels compelled to pull their hair out.

They may pull out the hair on their head or in other places, such as their eyebrows or eyelashes.

Trichotillomania is an impulse-control disorder (a psychological condition where you are unable to stop yourself carrying out a particular action).

You will experience an intense urge to pull your hair out and growing tension until you do. After pulling out your hair, you will feel a sense of relief. Pulling out hair on the head leaves bald patches.

Trichotillomania can cause negative feelings, such as guilt. You may also feel embarrassed or ashamed about pulling your hair out, and may try to deny it or cover it up. Sometimes, trichotillomania can make you feel unattractive and can lead to low self-esteem.

Read more about the symptoms of trichotillomania.

What causes trichotillomania?

It is not known what causes trichotillomania, but there are several theories.

Some experts think hair pulling is a type of addiction. The more you pull your hair out, the more you want to keep doing it.

Trichotillomania may be a reflection of a mental health problem. Psychological and behavioural theories suggest that hair pulling may be a way of relieving stress or anxiety.

In some cases, trichotillomania may be a form of self-harm, where you deliberately injure yourself as a way of seeking temporary relief from emotional distress.

Read more about the causes of trichotillomania.

Seeing your GP

Visit your GP if you are pulling your hair out or if you notice that your child is.

Your GP may examine areas where the hair is missing to check nothing else is causing the hair to come out, such as a skin infection. In trichotillomania, bald patches are an unusual shape and may affect one side more than the other.

Read more about how trichotillomania is diagnosed.

Treating trichotillomania

Little medical research has been conducted into different treatments for trichotillomania.

The most effective treatment is therapy to change your hair-pulling behaviour, combined with a network of emotional support.

Psychotherapy is a type of talking therapy that can be used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions. It involves discussing emotional issues with a trained therapist.

In particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that may be recommended. It helps you manage your problems by changing how you think and act.

CBT often involves behavioural therapy, also known as habit-reversal therapy, which aims to help you change the way you behave  for example, reducing your hair-pulling behaviour.

Read more about treating trichotillomania.

Complications

Trichotillomania can have a significant impact on your quality of life, and can also cause medical problems.

Trichotillomania can often cause feelings of guilt, shame, isolation or embarrassment, which can affect your social life and have an impact on your performance at school or work.

Read more about complications of trichotillomania.

Support

If you have trichotillomania, it is important you receive emotional help and support. This can be from family, friends or self-help groups.

Organisations, such as Trichotillomania Support, are good places to start if you are looking for support.

Trichotillomania is an overwhelming urge to pull your hair out 

How common is trichotillomania?

Impulse-control disorders are common among teenagers and young adults.

Trichotillomania often starts at around 11-13 years of age, and may affect up to four in 100 people. It is more common in girls.

Teen girls 15-18

Read about teen girl health issues, including healthy eating, skin problems and having sex for the first time

Page last reviewed: 30/08/2012

Next review due: 30/08/2014