Hair Today…Gone Tomorrow: How to Help Your Child Deal with Trichotillomania

Losing 100 to 300 hairs from your head every day is normal and no reason for concern. Washing, combing, styling, and even running your fingers through your hair cause many to fall out. But what if you lost enough hair in one day to create a bald spot…or if you lost nearly all your hair in a single day? That’s exactly what happens to people with trichotillomania. They pull their own hair out, strand by strand—some to the point of becoming bald.

Trichotillomania (or trich, for short) is classified as an impulse control disorder. It’s similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, skin cutting, and even anorexia and bulimia. Trich affects women more than men, and it typically begins during adolescents, with some hair pullers being as young as age eight. While no one knows what triggers trich in people, some researchers suspect it may correlate with the onset of menses. Current statistics shows that up to 10 million Americans suffer from the affliction.

In addition to pulling hair from their head, people with trich can also pull their eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic hairs, beard, chest, and other body hairs. In severe cases, they may even eat the hair they pulled. In fact, some trich sufferers have had to have their stomach pumped because they had eaten so much hair that it obstructed their intestines.

Why Pull?

For people with trich, the sensation of pulling their own hair gives them a feeling of relief. They like the stimulation of it and the way it sounds when a hair pops out of their head. And while a regular person feels a slight sense of pain when they intentionally pull out a hair, trich sufferers claim hair pulling does not hurt; rather, it feels good.

But despite the good feelings they get from pulling hair, trich sufferers often have low self-esteem because of the bald spots and how they look. As such, they go to great lengths to hide their problem, wearing wigs, wrapping scarves on their head, and pinning their hair up to hide the bald areas.

Complicating matters is the fact that many people with trich don’t even realize they are pulling their hair. They do it when they’re focused on something else, such as reading a book or watching television, or when they’re falling asleep.

Since trich typically starts at a young age, parents play a large role in helping curb the disorder. So if you notice your child’s hair thinning or developing bald spots, or if you find unusual piles of hair hidden in your child’s room, consider the following steps.

  • Confront your child about your suspicions.

In a gentle and loving way, ask your child about the bald spots or piles of hair you’ve found. Despite any evidence you may have, expect your child to deny that they are pulling their hair. This is normal and part of the condition. In any event, let your child know that you want to help and will support them through any treatment.

  • Refrain from ultimatums.

Remember that your child isn’t pulling her hair out because she wants to. People with trich generally have a neurologically based predisposition to pull their hair as a self-soothing mechanism. In other words, this condition is part of her and how she’s made. So saying things like, “Stop pulling your hair or I’m taking away your cell phone (or computer or TV privileges, etc.)” won’t do any good. You might as well tell her to stop blinking her eyes. It’s something she can’t control.

  • Find the root of your child’s stress.

Stress usually plays a role in triggering trich in people. So you have to find out what is at the root of your child’s stress. Perhaps something at school is bothering her or someone is bullying her. If your child claims that everything is fine, you may want to take her to a therapist to help uncover why the hair pulling is occurring. At the very least, the therapist can help the child navigate through any emotions and teach the child coping skills so she doesn’t feel compelled to pull her hair.

  • Seek medical and/or holistic treatment.

Trich is not something most people can tackle on their own. Therefore, getting medical and/or holistic help is essential. From the medical standpoint, cognitive therapy—a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders—may be helpful. Other physicians may prescribe antidepressants in order to increase serotonin levels. Holistic practitioners believe people with trich are suffering from an imbalance somewhere in their body and will seek to alleviate that imbalance. Investigate what’s best for your child and your family, and don’t be afraid to use a combination of therapies.

  • Help your child’s self-esteem.

Trich is as much an emotional problem as it is a physical one. You have to deal with the disorder on a raw level to get down to the core of why someone is pulling their hair. In the meantime, your child still has to be out in public—bald spots and all. In order for your child’s self-esteem to not suffer any more, help her find a good hair replacement option. Wigs and scarves are two common choices, but it’s not realistic to expect a young teenager to wear a wig or scarf every day. Surgical hair replacement techniques exist and are a viable option. Realize, though, that the child may simply pull the hair out again. A non-surgical technique called Microdot infuses healthy human hair strands around and over the areas that have been affected by the hair pulling. It further helps reduce the occurrence of trich because it limits the child’s ability to reach the hair root, thus allowing the scalp to heal and hair to grow back. Whatever option you choose, the most important part is to help the child regain her confidence and help her in the fight against trich.

  • Hope for the Future

Unfortunately, few people outgrow trich. And no matter how bad the person may look or feel inside, the hair pulling gives them some sense of pleasure that overrides that negativity. As such, beating the disorder takes time and patience. However, when you commit to working through the problem as a family and get the right medical, holistic, psychological, and hair replacement team on your side, you can minimize the effects of trich and help your child live a normal, healthy, and happy life.

At The Hair For Life Salon our certified cosmetologists provide a non-surgical approach for hair loss that changes lives one head at a time.