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Trichotillomania: The Compulsion to Pull Out Hair and Eyelashes

My trichotillomania—pulling out my eyelashes.

My trichotillomania—pulling out my eyelashes.

What Is Trichotillomania?

Here's the obligatory, easily understood definition for those who don't know what trichotillomania is:

Trichotillomania (I prefer "trich" or "trichy") is a strong, often uncontrollable urge to pull out your own hair.

Pulling out your hair is the only factor common to every person diagnosed with this disorder. Often, the disorder is self-diagnosed, although sometimes it is diagnosed by a medical doctor or a psychologist.

The symptoms vary greatly among those diagnosed. I pull out eyelashes, eyebrows, and all short hairs that I consider "out of place." Some people pull out scalp hair. Some use their fingers while others use tweezers. Some just pull their hair, some rub it between their fingers, and some eat it (that one's called trichophagia).

The causes also vary. It usually begins in childhood or adolescence. Pulling often occurs when we are anxious, concentrating, looking in a mirror, or just plain bored.

My Name Is Lashes, and I Have Trichotillomania

(Hi, Lashes.)

As I said, I pull out my eyelashes and eyebrows. Sometimes little hairs on my stomach or on one of those gross moles or "beauty marks" that grow hair. I go back and forth between using tweezers and using my thumb and middle finger.

I'm writing for a couple of reasons. First, I want to share my own experiences to show that I and fellow trichsters are not alone. I also hope that by paying attention to myself and chronicling my actions, I can become more aware of when I pull and eventually decrease the compulsion. Finally, and most importantly, I want to start a discussion based on experience and suggestions that can help all of us trichsters find solutions together! Yay for boundless idealism!

So, feel free to comment. Post responses, suggestions, rants, whatever will help either you or someone else deal with trichy a little better.

A couple of small steps for trich, one giant leap for trichster-kind.

People with trichotillomania tend to spend a lot of time looking in mirrors.

People with trichotillomania tend to spend a lot of time looking in mirrors.

Becoming Self-Aware: The First Step to Freedom

I think that one of the most important ways to deal with having trich (or any kind of disorder) is to be aware of the ways it affects you. I've made some discoveries about my trichy tendencies.

A while ago, I was doing some reading (one of my biggest pulling triggers) on the couch in my apartment. I was eating Cheez-Its out of the box in a very repetitive way. Hand goes in the box; hand goes to my mouth. Lather, rinse, repeat. When I had finished the box, I realized that I hadn't pulled any hairs out since starting to eat the crackers. Maybe the cheesy goodness was distracting me, but I think part of why snacking seemed to replace the pulling was because of the repetitive nature of it.

Pulling out eyelashes, for me, is a repetitive action. I pull, look at the hair, rub it between my fingers, flick it away. Pull, look, rub, flick. Over and over. Sometimes, like when I'm snacking, the repetitive hand movements of pulling are temporarily replaced. I think this may be a key to helping combat my pulling compulsion. Maybe not eating constantly, because that's not much healthier than pulling out eyelashes, but doing something that keeps my hands busy.

I've found the simple act of changing my environment sometimes works to stop or at least delay pulling—especially if I'm in the middle of a pulling spree. For example, when I'm pulling eyelashes, sometimes I get up and take my contact lenses out. Other simple suggestions to stop pulling could be:

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Read More From Patientslounge

  • Sitting up if you are lying down
  • Filing your nails
  • Putting on a ring
  • Changing your hairstyle
  • Putting on hand lotion
  • Taking a shower

Pulling is all about the repetition and the monotony. Break the pattern and take control by changing something that you can control.

Break the pattern by filing your nails.

Break the pattern by filing your nails.

Know Thyself

I'm not much into biblical allusions, but I am into pithy aphorisms that give great advice. "Know thyself" is excellent advice for trichsters. You have to be self-aware and recognize your triggers for pulling to be able to overcome them.

For me, I know that when I lean my elbows on a desk, table, or any flat surface that I'm using to read or work, my hand is at just the right position to reach my eyelashes. And that's a bad thing. So I try to read leaning back with my arms stretched out. Just to be safe, I'll put something small in both hands to try to distract them from the compulsion to pull. I wouldn't have been able to find these tricks if I didn't know myself. Preventing myself from starting is much easier than trying to stop in the middle of a pulling spree.

A True Compulsion

Maybe others with trichotillomania will identify with this, and even if you don't have trich, you may be able to understand compulsions. We all have our little quirks.

What do I do with the hair once I pull it out? I put it in piles. Sometimes the pile goes on my desk, and I see a nest of tiny, spiky, black lashes in front of my computer. Sometimes I let them fall into the binding of the book I'm reading for me to find later. When I pull in front of a mirror, I put the sticky end of the hair follicle onto the wall or door and make a vertical pulling pile.

I have certain spots where I always pull. Trichsters are nothing if not creatures of habit. I make giant piles of lashes and eyebrows, the remnants of multiple pulling instances. The piles are like memories of me, evidence that I was there. Maybe it would be better for my health if I just scrawled, "LASHES WAS HERE" in big letters.

Part of my trich is an obsession with everything being "right." In that way, I do see a resemblance to obsessive-compulsive disorder. I pull new, tiny hairs because they feel stubbly and like they don't belong. I feel the tiny hair, either with my fingertips or because my eyelid itches, and I really, really, really want to pull it out. It doesn't "feel right." In my mind, it doesn't belong.

The piles are part of the obsession with feeling and looking right. It's hard to explain. I want everything in its place, or more specifically, in the right place. It doesn't "look right" for a random eyelash here, an eyebrow there. The forlorn, fallen follicles (I love alliteration) need to stay together.

This is my attempted rationalization.

Piles of hair equals "LASHES WAS HERE!"

Piles of hair equals "LASHES WAS HERE!"

Not Everyone Will Be Understanding

I tried to explain some of my internal reasonings to a psychologist once. In reference to one particular rationalization, I said, "I guess that one makes a little more sense."

His insensitive, abrupt response? "Well, none of it makes sense to me."

That was the last time I went to see him.

I guess I understand now what he was trying to do. He was trying to show me that, for all my rationalizing, trichotillomania isn't something that's rational. It isn't something I should make excuses for, and it isn't "normal" behavior. In fact, it's destructive behavior. We have hair for a reason.

But he could have been a little more sensitive. Find a therapist or psychologist who is understanding, helpful, and works well with your personality. There are really good ones out there.

Reactions to Trichotillomania

Most of my friends have been supportive. The most common reaction I get when I say I have trichotillomania is, "Huh?" When I explain what it is, most people are initially fascinated and have never heard of such a disorder existing. After a moment, though, most people remember someone they know who has no eyebrows or who pulls out their eyelashes or hair.

Some of my closer friends who know about it yell at me or hit me when they see my hand moving towards my face because they know it's often subconscious for me. Sometimes I thank them for it, and sometimes I get angry. Maybe it's because I'm embarrassed at being caught. I know they are just trying to help.

The person in my life with the reaction most upsetting to me is my mother. She doesn't nag me or yell at me about it, but she sometimes talks to me about how sad it makes her that I pull out my eyelashes. That makes me feel worse than if she would nag me or tell me I'm ugly without eyelashes (okay, that would hurt, too). She constantly urges me to see a psychologist, saying that I can't just pull out my eyelashes my whole life. I tell her that obviously, I don't want to do it, but some people DO have it on and off their whole lives. That doesn't mean I'm not trying to stop pulling or at least reduce it. Sometimes disappointment and sadness hurt worse than shock or disgust.

Trichotillomania Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

48 on January 24, 2016:

I've been pulling since 5th grade. It's still embarrassing. I now wear false lashes and I hate it. I've used Vaseline, gloves keeping myself busy.. they grow back and I pull those also. The doctors I've gone to could care less. Reading these different posts is scary, because I have been through a lot as well. Hopefully this will help us all. Prayers going up blessings coming down. We can do it.

Johne690 on July 22, 2014:

Im not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I'll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. Cheers ggdgafcbbega

Not alone on June 22, 2014:

I am currently 24 years old and live in Minnesota. I started pulling out my eyelashes when I was in fourth or fifth garade. I remember the first time I did it, I was sitting in my room, crying cause my parents were arguing on the phone (they recently divorced) and I felt like everything was my fault. I pulled them all out in one sitting. I didn't realize what I did, until it was to late.

Still to this day, I still pull out my eyelashes. For some reason it is just the top lashes. I also have started to pull at my eyebrows.

Some things I have done include, tattoo eyeliner, and getting fake nails. I used to wear eyeliner to help blend in the baldness from having no eyelashes but now I have tattoo eyeliner.

Sine I pull with my pointer and middle finger, I have found that when I get fake nails put on, it makes it difficult to pull. It also helps my realize when I start to pull.

I am so glad others pull eyelashes. It makes me feel so much better. A lot of relief has just been lifted off my shoulders.

Julie on January 22, 2014:

Hi, my name is Julie. It's comforting hearing I am not alone in my self destructive situation but it also hurts seeing how many other people struggle in this way.

I am 19 and I can't exactly remember how or why I started pulling my eyelashes but I believe it has been 4 years now and it just is getting worse. It started with tiny gaps on my eyelashes and then continued to my eyebrows too. Now I cannot even remember the last time I've had lashes on my lash line (except for the corners) and my eyebrows are so thinned out and have multiple empty patches, I cannot get up in the morning without drawing my face on.

Can anyone give advice not only on how to overcome this, but also on how to hide these bald areas, and also increase the growth for these spots?

Personally I've found that consistently massaging olive oil on my eyebrows stimulates growth a little faster than Vaseline or doing nothing

rumrunner on August 17, 2013:

I have a friend who does this to his eyebrows now he does his beard and head.is there anyway to help him he is very strong willed and I want to help him,please respond

terryjaz121224 on June 04, 2013:

I pull my pubic hair and my armpit hair out. I have it so bad that i will will ask my female friends to pull on it.[ just armpit hair]..It droves me crazy when I can not find someone to pull on my armpit hair. I would love the talk to people just like me, I am on facebook terryjaz121224@yahoo.com

Anon on January 23, 2013:

I am 29 years old and have been hair pulling for over 20 years. I can't remember the exact age I started - I think around 7 or 8. I can't remember any particular event that triggered it.

I was staying at my grandmothers for school holidays when I started. I didn't really know what I was doing. Every day I would lie upside down on her couch and pluck hair out of my scalp - strand by strand. It didn't really hurt and I remember quite enjoying the sensation. I also enjoyed the little clicking noise it would make if I pulled the hair out just right - with the full root attached. I would then pull the root off and flick the hair away.

I continued this when I went home and would do it in secret. My parents eventually caught me because they would find little piles of hair everywhere.

I have continued pulling ever since on and off. When I was about 22 I started plucking armpit hair with tweezers. I actually consciously decided to start doing this every time I got the urge to pull hair from my head. I figured - hey I don't want hairy armpits so I may as well pick it out and save the hair on my head! The problem is that now I kind of alternate between head and armpits.

I have never sought help for this but since reading various blogs online tonight I am going to make am appointment to speak to someone.

Wish me luck!

Lindsay on October 07, 2012:

My name is Lindsay and I just wanted to share my story with all of you. I have suffered from Trich for 16 years and I am 26 years old. It's been quite the roller coaster with this disorder, I have a lot of ups and downs. Just when I think this is gonna be the last time... Bam! It starts again and very heavily. I wear a bandana to hide the shame I have in myself. With my disorder, I pull the hair and eat the root only. I recently underwent hypnosis and I had quit doing it for a few months. My hair was long and beautiful; I thought I was cured so I quit listening to my recordings everyday. As soon as I quit listening to them, the urge came and I started pulling again. Will this vicious cycle ever completely go away for me so I can feel beautiful again? Maybe one day there will be relief for us all. Good luck to you all!

PearlJammer on October 04, 2012:

I know this is a super old thread, but I had to add my two cents. I'm 33 and I'm an eyelash/brow puller for 10+ years. Your hair WILL grow back. It does seem to take longer than it used to. After a year of pulling out all of my eyelashes I DECIDED to let them grow back. It has taken 3 months.

Now that they are back, the new madness begins. I must look at the lashes constantly. I let myself pull on them but not pull them out. Once I have pulled off all the mascara, I must reapply and start all over. Eventually a lash comes out and I must jump up and run to a mirror to inspect the damage. And then start all over. Ugh. It is exhausting. How long will it last before, in the midst of a pulling spree, I decide that I already pulled out so many, might as well go ahead and finish the deed. And then it starts all over. 3 more months of REGRET and waiting at the mirror, inspecting the most minute appearance of a hopeful follicle...trying to ignore the itch and not go after the weird one with tweezers and allow the less than perfect to regrow. I will again obssessively admire what should always be there in the first place, and ... start all over. The Never. Ending. Story of a Trichster.

Since I am pretty good at drawing on eyebrows, I don't really worry about growing them back. However, I believe that if I did gain enough self-control to grow those back, it would not take long. I have pulled ALL my eyebrow hairs out for 10 years and they continue to grow. God made us with eyelashes and brows for a reason. Our bodies WANT to protect our eyes (not to mention protect us from looking like freaks for the rest of our lives).

I would also like to speak about Latisse. I have been using it for about two years now and what I have noticed and that it does NOT make my eyelashes START to grow faster. I mean, it WILL take at least 2 months to develop new hairs in the follicle. But as soon as I can see the hair, Lastisse DOES appear to speed up the growth at that point. Does it help keep or develop viable follicles as we constantly ravage them? I don't know. But aside from growing lashes, applying the Latisse is aalso a nice diversion or ritual to add to your effort of not pulling.

Good luck and God bless you....and me too :)

Latisse from UK on September 09, 2012:

I noticed that some people have mentioned the use of Latisse. I am a doctor and have found that Latisse can help people that pull out their eyelashes sporadically. If you have been pulling them out for a long time and the hairs are not regrowing then the lashes might not respond to Latisse I am afraid.

Source:

https://www.mylash.org

GladICanRelate on June 17, 2012:

im 13 and ive been pulling my lashes out since the 6th grd. so probly bout 2 years. its aweful and i always feel like im a weirdo or a freak cuz of it. before i strted wearing makeup it was really bad cuz people noticed more and always asked me what happened? when they asked me i culdnt think of anything to say so i got scared andd upset and wuld walk away. its not as bad as it was wen i started.my eyelids used to b completely bald but now r almost fully grown back. but i still occasionly pull them and now have 1 small bald spot on each lid :(. i ussually do it wen im watching a movie or bored. so today i decided tolook it up on google and was so relieved to fiind that im not the only one. and reading many of te stories from people im happy that i can relate to people with out them judging me. im wrking very hard to stop pulling for good. i wear lots of liner and mascara on the lashes i do have now and it wrks pretty good.the bad thing is i dont barely tell anyone cuz they willl judge me about it like few people have in the past. the only people who know r my mom and my dad. they were always yelling at me to which only made it worse. but now ive stopped mostly and so have my parents yelling. but thanku guys so much for sharing ur stories and i hope u guys make it through.. stay strong everyone .i will too. this deffinitly doesnt make me feel alone anymore :)

mandypoole from UK on June 09, 2012:

I used to have this disorder and for me it was to release stress. I was suffering from severe OCD and depression, plus I was being bullied at school, so all these factors contributed to the way I was feeling. I used to lie in bed and just find myself yanking my hair out and I found that it was strangely comforting. Even now, on occasions, I find myself pulling my hair out, but its rare these days and I can recognise that its because I'm feeling very anxious about something. Great hub x

Aryn on May 29, 2012:

Im 14 and i've had tricho for 2 years now. I've been trying to stop but its hard. Ive known about what i have for months now but is so weird to me still. My mom dad & sister know but when my friends ask me why i have no eyelashes i lie and say that a weird drug a docter gave me made the fall off (which is the made up part) when i had a bad bike (yes the 1 u pedal) accident. My friends don't notice though. Only 5 people in my 8th grade class know about the lie. They all said they didn't notice until someone else brought it up or i took my glasses off. In addition to pulling my eyelashes i also "shape up" my eyebrows, and pull the hairs on my arms and stomach. Ive come to terms with it but im not gonna expose myself to school ridicule. My mom ALWAYS asks me why i do it but i don't think theirs a deffinate answer to why we pull honestly. Its just normal to our brains and it may or may not be for stress relief (for me its not its just an sort of unconsious "habit" if u will) even though i wouldn't anounce to the world that i have tricho i feel it makes me different from the social norm and even though i would love for my eyelashes to be fully grown back like how they used to be i know that others my age can learn from me and ditto.

Katrina on May 23, 2012:

I had the same problem until just recently. I used to pull out my eyelashes until I had none, and would wait for them to grow back to do it again. I started when I was 8 because the girls at school made fun of my thick eyelashes. I am now 22 and have recently bought the product lilash. It has made it so inserted of it feeling relaxing to pull out my eyelashes, it made my eyelids very sensitive to pull. O now have full eyelashes again just months after starting. They also have a similar product for eyebrows

Lori on May 14, 2012:

My situation is the same as Claire's. I am 32 and have been picking my eyelashes since 5th grade and still am. I too use eyeliner to hide it or so my face doesn't look so bare, but it does get old wearing it. I know i'll never be able to stop. Mine too is a stress reliever and my eyelids itch a lot and it makes me want to pull them especially when they are coarse. Don't know what to do to stop.

Anonymous on May 08, 2012:

IT CHANGES WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE, NOT WHO YOU ARE .

this is primarily for those with low self-esteem because of this. It is a ruthless disorder, but don't feel like you need to be sad. You don't.

JK on May 03, 2012:

I had no idea this was a condition/mental illness. I guess I have this. Started pulling eyelashes at age 7, now 40. Only one person mentioned itchiness. I have really bad allergies and always attributed it to that. It feels so good to pull them out because my eyes itch so much. I notice that if I don't wear my contacts or makeup, I leave my eyelashes alone longer. I hate that I do this! I do worry because of my age...if I don't stop now eventually they won't grow back! I've always wondered if prescription eye drops to prevent itching exist but I'm too embarassed to ask my doctor. Heck, I rarely see my optomitrist because I have to plan so far ahead to make sure I have lashes. This condition sucks!

Mck on April 29, 2012:

Hi there I have been really all of the above comments over te part two night as I have a habbit of always playing with my eyebrows I don't tend to pull them out I just get my finger and rub then and get the hair under my nail (if that makes sense) I don't no I have found myself doing A lot laterly when I'm a work when I'm watching tv and I have noticed it everytime I do it I stop then 20 seconds later I notice myself doing it again... I notice

Most of your comments above are posted two years ago of you have the same problem is there anything you may be able to tell me as to how you stopped yourself from doing this??

sharon on April 21, 2012:

i am glad that i came upon this website. I am 45 years old and have been pulling my hair out since i was 17. i have a bald spot on top of my head and i have been wearing my hair in a bun since i was 17. i do not know what makes me do this. i am so glad that i am not alone. now, i am trying to find out about hair regrowth ways to grow my hair back. i am getting older and my hair is thinner and i do not want to be bald anymore. if u have any advice on hair creams for hair regrowth i would

appreciate it very much. anybody in the same boat?

mom on April 19, 2012:

thanking you so much for telling your story. Im a single mom an my son has just started to pull out his eyelashes eyebrows an has started recently to rub his hair out. He also has ADHD which his doctor says could be the cause of it. Im trying to find ways now that would take his mind off of doing such but I must admit that it is very hard. I hope you will continue to post more information about the condition.